What are insights? They aren’t just data or observations. Insights are deeper than that; it’s latent, an underlying truth that reveals a person’s motivations and emotions. Design Thinking teaches us to dig deeper into what a user is really saying, by uncovering what a user is feeling.

What about ideas? Ideas are representations of our pre-existing knowledge and imagination, often abstract and intangible.

Although we’re keen proponents of both insights and ideas, we believe that having a clear insight allows ideas to actually address something real and true, instead of relying on our imagination just because we can.

As innovators, our role is to solve problems for the end-user, but to do this, we need to first understand who we’re designing these solutions for. Instead of relying on superficial information we obtain through observation, we need to dig deeper and uncover insights; hidden emotions and motivations that can get us closer to understanding our user at his or her core.

To do this, Design Thinking practitioners employ “empathy”, a tool that involves asking a lot of “why” questions. Take for example, someone who wants to solve the problem of heart disease in his or her community. Instead of asking users surface-level questions such as their weight or diet, empathy teaches us to ask why they choose not to adopt a proper diet, or why they choose to live a sedentary lifestyle.

This could lead you to discovering unexpected patterns that you might have missed otherwise – perhaps, the real problem here is that there just aren’t enough facilities in the community that could promote a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps, all there is to choose from is a plethora of fast-food restaurants, and that the nearest park or gym is in the next town, a half an hour drive away.

This is an insight. Instead of focusing on the prevalence of heart disease within the community, you now need to reframe the problem based on the insights you gathered – that is, the lack of amenities that could help the community live a healthy lifestyle.

Imagine if you had gone with your instinct and ideated a solution based on your initial problem. You wouldn’t have been able to see the bigger problem – and you wouldn’t be able to see that the solution lies in helping the entire community, not just a particular group of individuals.

Without leveraging on insights, we’re addressing surface problems rather than addressing deep needs. We will always be in maintenance mode, responding to needs rather than creating from the need, for instance, putting out fires rather than innovating fireproof ways. The moment we act impulsively on our assumptions, we minimise the likelihood of coming up with feasible, viable, and desirable solutions to the real problem at hand.