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The 3 Questions that Lead to Insight

The best leaders don’t hesitate to confront the brutal facts that define current reality, and it reinforces their confidence. They know that problems can be solved and that at their core they are problem solvers…and love the challenge of solving problems.

Successful business journeys start with understanding the current reality by asking three simple questions:

  • Where are we now?
  • What’s working here?
  • What’s not working here?

Sounds simple, but these are vast questions. They cover every aspect of your company, your category, your competition, your customers and consumers. They demand that you acknowledge where your competitors have an edge, where your customers are less than fully satisfied, where your business model has flaws. They demand that you appreciate both the positive trends and the negative ones.

From the perspective of Reality, there is not good or bad. There is only what is. Reality must be seen clearly, it must be seen broadly, and it must be seen from multiple perspectives.

Can’t see it all yet? Got blind spots? What a fine opportunity! You have so many tools for gaining clarity:

  • Survey or interview customers, consumers, thought leaders, or stakeholders
  • Study existing research
  • Analyze raw data from multiple angles
  • Discuss with colleagues
  • Discuss with strangers
  • Brainstorm alone or in a group
  • Contemplate
  • Experiment

The goal is not to generate a bunch of facts, but rather to create rich insights that reveal underlying causes. This is not a process that can be rushed. Generating ten robust hypotheses and testing them will get you further in the end than having one premature, mediocre conclusion.

All journeys start with where you are. If you don’t know here, how can you possibly chart a course to there?

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5 Responses to “The 3 Questions that Lead to Insight”

  1. Jorge Barba says:

    Good stuff on building a point of view, I would add a few more questions:

    > What’s changing in the world?
    > What opportunities do these changes make possible?
    > How can we better exploit these changes?

    Like you said having a point of view of your own is imperative, looking broadly, understanding what it means and making sense of it all helps build unique insight.

    Great post!

  2. mpfriedman says:

    Jorge – thanks for joining the conversation! I really like “what’s changing in the world?” Great insight question.

    I like to separate Insight – the clear understanding of current Reality – from Strategy, which deals with “so what can and should we do about it?” Your other two questions absolutely need to be answered, but to me they’re more about building strategy.

    I know some thought leaders who argue that insight and strategy cannot be separated. To me, there is more clarity when they are separate. What do you think?

  3. Mark,

    I immediately clicked the link in your tweet of this post because I love questions and I want insight. Hoorah.

    Love this post. I think wisdom is simple.

    If I may, I’ll add a fourth question. I suppose it’s not one that leads to insight as much as it leads to action… “Where do we want to go?” (or something to that effect)

    Best regards,


  4. mpfriedman says:

    Thanks, Dan! I appreciate your joining the conversation!

    You’re absolutely right that insight without action is pointless. The “where do we want to go?” must be asked at some point.

    I see insight into what’s our current Reality plus a commitment to a Destination as key building blocks for any strategy. They define the start and end of the journey that the strategy must accomplish.

    See you at LeadershipFreak!

  5. [...] recently posted a discussion titled “The 3 Questions that Lead to Insight,” which triggered several discussions with colleagues. There were two areas of controversy. [...]

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