Robots won’t replace insight professionals, will they?

Sarah Beams

February 21, 2017

The Insight Innovation eXchange Europe 2017 explores what’s new in the world of insight and storytelling. Maru/edr’s Managing Director of Consumer Services – Sarah Beams – shares the most prominent themes emerging from what has so far lived up to its claim to be the boldest and most disruptive IIeX Europe yet.

How soon will robots replace us?”

Within five minutes of the conference opening, a 400-strong audience of insight professionals were left contemplating early retirement. A thought-provoking start that set the tone for the day ahead. The CX industry is built on the premise that people and insight should be at the centre of every business decision, so why are we all talking about robots? Well, the debate of man versus machine underpins many of the challenges facing the insight industry for 2017 and it seems some are struggling to see where artificial intelligence ends and human intelligence takes over.

We now access facts rather than knowing facts

The need for humans to be knowledgeable is gone. The speed with which we can access the information we need from a quick Google search or database query leaves the notion of striving to obtain and retain facts somewhat redundant. Robots can access information just as quickly as we can; ask your question loud enough and ‘Alexa’ will tell you the answer.

The volume of data points captured globally on a daily basis empowers people to state without misplaced arrogance “I have the Answer, what is your Question?” This has shaped our expectation as a day-to-day consumer, and it’s quickly becoming the expectation of businesses commissioning strategic research too. What results is the distraction of being able to answer any and every question, when it’s only the sought after insights in the data that really matter.

We mustn’t misunderstand or misuse the power of Data Visualisation

A key challenge is how to best present these insights in a way that gives maximum confidence with minimum risk of distraction. With a sincere ambition to avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’ we’re increasingly looking to data visualisation for the answers. Live dashboards most definitely have a valuable place for monitoring and case management, but we must be clear that data visualisation isn’t intelligent and it doesn’t take on a storytelling role. It’s effectively a robot that leaves stakeholders to perceive what they like from the information they receive.

Determining which questions we need to ask, and how best to interpret our results, is arguably what defines Human Intelligence and gives us a competitive edge over the robots. It’s the skill of connecting the right pieces of information in the right way to prompt the right interpretation of the data, whether that’s then brought to life in an Infographic, an immersive video or, dare I say, a manageable PowerPoint presentation.

Combining human intelligence with information minimises the risk that we’ve confused causality with correlation, or failed to appropriately consider the unique context of the data points. Businesses want to make faster but safer decisions. Simple but fact-based stories prompt decisions. We’re the difference between the right and wrong decisions being made. No robot can claim that. So we’re safe, right? Maybe.

We must make the courageous leap from Insights to Ideas

As insight professionals, we aspire to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something. If successful, we can offer insights. But the real magic happens if we convert valuable insights into invaluable ideas. Commercially viable ideas drive businesses forward, not insights.

“In 2017 we must be brave and we must be bold”

But what if we’re more like robots than we thought? It is estimated that over 80% of our waking time is spent on autopilot. Why? Well when we are doing routine activities our subconscious takes over to save energy – it is self-preservation. Transforming insights into ideas requires us to be sufficiently conscious to spot the opportunities, and to break away from routine to unleash our creativity. Whilst staving off the threat of artificial intelligence, we mustn’t ourselves become the robots.

Our mission to create compelling and actionable points of view that help businesses to move forward relies on us being less robotic. In 2017 we must be brave and we must be bold. We need to think of the unthinkable, so that we’re readying our clients to retain competitive advantage if the unthinkable were to happen. Not only will this prompt us to ask the right questions, but it will also result in us generating confident ideas.

Sometimes we may get it wrong, other times it may be the start of something incredible. But two quotes used at IIeX 2017 will really resonate with me: “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster” (Jonathan Swift), and “The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles” (Oren Harari).

So when will we be replaced by robots?

Not yet. People will rightly remain at the heart of insightful storytelling and idea generation for the foreseeable future, supported by innovative and ever more capable technology. We’re safe until robots can replicate our child-like curiosity, and when they find something more powerful than people sitting down to share stories and co-create ideas.

“People will rightly remain at the heart of insightful storytelling and idea generation for the foreseeable future, supported by innovative and ever more capable technology” 

At Maru/edr we aspire to ‘Paint Better Pictures, Faster’ through a unique blend of outstanding in-house technology and advisory insight services. We believe that putting information into context and viewing it in a holistic way drives better understanding, hence the notion of painting better pictures. At the same time, speed of delivery is vital if we are to capture and influence moments that matter within a customer’s journey. We believe technology should be used to drive the collection process, the analytics, reporting and the overall pace at which we deliver this understanding, hence the notion of speed.

Our superb in-house customisable technology combined with collaborative research expertise provides our clients with a uniquely flexible professional service partner.