Conversations on the Future of Business: Insight-Driven Innovation

In 1829, Samuel F.B. Morse was a 38-year-old American living in Paris. Morse was already an accomplished portrait painter, but after his wife died he left his three young children in the care of relatives and set sail for the City of Light to seek inspiration and escape his grief.

During the three years Morse spent in Paris, he painted his masterpiece, but when he sailed for home in 1832 he took with him something much more valuable:  the idea for a new invention. Samuel Morse’s telegraph would become the most disruptive technology the world had seen since Gutenberg introduced his printing press and movable type 400 years earlier, and as revolutionary as the Internet would be more than a century later.

How can the telegraph make you better at business?

Morse was a brilliant man, but he didn’t pull the idea for the telegraph out of thin air. He was inspired by something he saw in France.

As historian David McCullough writes in, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” what Morse saw was “a system used outside of Paris to send overland messages, a semaphore apparatus that used mechanically operated arms or flaps from atop tall towers spaced six miles apart. Messages were read by telescope. This served well enough in clear weather, but not in fog, rain, or at night.”

It was the insight Morse drew from the French system that led to his history-changing innovation—an electric telegraph that would enable people to communicate over long distances regardless of weather, at any hour of the day or night, and with no need for clear lines of sight.

Business leaders today are far better equipped for insight-driven innovation than Morse was in the 1830s, but the process is similar. Gather and analyze information, use it to gain insight, and transform insight into innovation.

Defining insight-driven innovation

Insight-driven innovation challenges business leaders and their organizations in two ways. First, African American creative professional at drafting board.they must build technical architectures that leverage emerging technologies such as big data, analytics and real-time computing, which will allow them to gain previously impossible insights into their customers and markets as well as every aspect of their business—from design and manufacturing to sales and distribution. Second, they have to create organizational and leadership structures that trust the data, and the insight it generates, to inform decision-making at every level of the business.

Insight is where the magic happens. And by integrating and analyzing massive amounts of data, we are rapidly expanding our ability to gain deeper insights into everything from emerging trends to individual behavior.

All politics is local

Dan Wagner, chief analytics officer for the 2012 Obama presidential campaign, provided a dramatic example when he applied cutting-edge analytics to electoral politics, astonishing political experts with the accuracy of his predictions and his use of big data to help the Obama campaign understand, engage and, ultimately, influence millions of individual voters.

In an article published in the MIT Technology Review, writer Sasha Issenberg describes how analytics enabled the Obama campaign to bring the intimacy of local politics to a national campaign:  “Obama did so by reducing every American to a series of numbers. Yet those numbers somehow captured the individuality of each voter, and they were not demographic classifications. The scores measured the ability of people to change politics—and to be changed by it.”

Even more than smart politicians, smart business leaders today are recognizing the value of analytics and big data to produce insights that can lead to genuine innovation—the kind that creates new opportunities and opens the door to new levels of success.

Explore insight-driven innovation with your peers on October 16 in New York.