The fundamental attribute shared by the insights and journalism industries is simple: we’re both in the business of finding better answers. To do so, our strategies are guided by our questions. Endless questions from which we are able to deduce certain themes, observations and realities. Confirming our biases or pointing us in new directions.
However, a collaboration between Truth and journalistic storytellers has helped push us towards a different realisation: maybe we’re not quite as good at asking questions as we thought we were.
In journalism, the questions never end during the process of making a story but the starting point is always the same: So what does this mean? So what is it telling me? So what is the thing I need to care about most? So what do we want people to feel? So what do we need to focus on to make this even more meaningful?
‘So what’ is frequently the beginning of it all. Not who or why or how – they’re part of it but not the driver of the story. What journalism does brilliantly is connect the audiences to stories by chiming with and tugging at their emotions through that single question. So what?
Our industry gets there eventually. But what if we started with a question that compels us to reach at the heart of a dilemma far earlier in the process? Can we use these kinds of journalistic questioning techniques – alongside approaches developed by neurologists, behavioural economists and others - to adapt our work and make it even more meaningful?
We’ve all been seduced by the cult of ‘Start With Why’. But because we’re all following the same rule, the answers we get are often too predictable and safe. When you start with why, the answer is invariably binary – this or that. So what? Pushes us to a more urgent place that forces us to analyse our data with greater purpose.
In a world where everything is measured, our work must explain results not just present them, with stories that help define an organisation and compel leaders to take the right decisions.
That enables us to be better at explaining our value - as individuals and as an industry. Why we matter and what makes us different. Our opinions matter as much as our approach.
And focusing on so what also means we can break free and go beyond our comfort zones of robustness and objectivity, giving us the courage to provoke and agitate, in order to find more relevant and accurate truths. While post-rationalised responses or answers might once have sufficed, this world of claiming and projecting is now broken. We need to be more argumentative at all points in the research journey.
Journalistic success is often built not on simply asking why things happen but pushing further to analyse the implications. More purposeful questioning – with ‘so’ at the centre - creates a more memorable story and headline.
In the din of noisy social media opinions, evermore ambitious brand promises, an ultra-competitive market and consumers insisting their demands are met even before they’re expressed, we need to find better answers – and at pace.
Journalism does this brilliantly, on a 24/7 basis, literally changing the story on the basis of who within the newsroom answers ‘So what?’ in a way that grabs the attention because it uncovers a universal truth.
Their answers often become catalysts for change because of the responses they inspire. Great journalism – investigative, campaigning, purposeful journalism – makes people contribute rather than sit back and accept.
Using these techniques and others within the insights industry can allow us to demonstrate the importance of what something truly means, not just the importance people attach to it. We can ensure responses relate more to behavioural realities. We can enable teams to express themselves in more empowering and empathetic ways. And we can give brands and organisations greater confidence in how insights can shape their destinies.
Starting with why only gets us part of the way. We need to inject the ethos of the newsroom and, instead, start with So What?
We’ll be helping you to find the right questions to change the way you work and also to help your personal ambitions, the impact you make and success you have. Just as our work can benefit from a questioning mindset developed by journalists, behavioural experts and neurologists, so can our own careers.