Luck has nothing to do with it (mostly)

November 17, 2014

I had the pleasure of guest lecturing to the UW’s Wisconsin School of Business’s Marketing 305 Consumer Insights class a few weeks ago. Katie Krueger, my Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship MBA colleague, is teaching two sections of the course. She asked me to give her students of an idea of what kinds of careers are available that rely upon consumer insights.

I really enjoy lecturing. It affords me the chance (one not often taken) to reflect on our process, refine my perspective on why we do what we do, and preach the value of an under-recognized process/industry/methodology. However, I always find that the questions I receive from students are some of the most thought-provoking moments of the entire engagement of preparing and delivering a lecture. After showing a bunch of product examples and case studies, one question I received has stuck with me since I spoke to the UW undergrads.

“Does what you do involve some degree of luck? Do you just have to get lucky to come across these insights?”

I suppose we do, but let me qualify that. My perception is that Design Concepts has a pretty high hit rate. We’ve made meaningful contributions in a number of different industries, improving consumers’ lives and experiences, driving value for our clients, and creating repeat business for ourselves. So, how do we have repeated success without just getting lucky all the time?

Does what you do involve some degree of luck? Do you just have to get lucky to come across these insights?

The way I answered the question at the time, and what I still believe, is that we do a great job of getting smart and understanding context. In doing so, we know exactly where to begin looking thus increasing our chances of uncovering those valuable insights. Yes, we might get lucky and just uncover an insight into consumer behavior upon which we build a product/platform/strategy that wins, but we do so repeatedly because we narrow our focus and dig in to deeply understand where to start looking. We look under a lot of rocks, hit a lot of dead-ends, but if we are smartly doing so by looking under the right kinds of rocks, we increase our chances of coming across those innovation-driving insights.

This oversimplifies what we do. There can be mountains of data in the form of observations, pictures, concepts, statistics and the like, that require hours upon hours of analysis and synthesis before we formulate a strategy based on an insight. So maybe, in the end, we make our own luck.

— Written by Dan Sarbacker