Market insights teams have two major roles to play in a company. First, they need to take the welter of information that exists about their customers and their markets and turn it into “insight” that is useful to senior line managers and other business decision makers and, second, they need to communicate that insight in a way that makes it as easy as possible to act on.
This second part used to be the equivalent of a bench trial in a court of law, where advocates tried to convince the judge to make the right decision, and where market insights (MI) teams had to convince a head of function or other senior person. Nowadays, these kind of big organizational decisions can feel more like trial by jury, as much shorter decision cycles and the proliferation of stakeholders with a genuine stake require consensus from a far larger and more diverse set of people.
Three Tips from Social Science
The fact that corporate decision-making is now more like trial by jury makes for at least one piece of good news. Juries’ deliberations have provided a long standing opportunity for social scientists to study group decision-making dynamics, and now we can use the same findings to learn something about what goes on once MI teams have rested their case and are awaiting a verdict.
In particular, there are three concepts that have been observed time and again in studies of jury deliberations.
Heuristics: Individuals often rely on heuristics, or mental shortcuts, to solve problems or make decisions quickly. But heuristics can lead to individual errors, which can then be amplified in a group. For example, several jury members might use the same heuristic to reach an incorrect conclusion.
When they see other jury members using the same flawed reasoning, it enhances their certainty in the soundness of their own thought process and ultimate conclusion. For members of CEB’s network of MI professionals, here is a list of cognitive biases that MI professionals see often in their day-to-day jobs.
Informational cascades: Group dynamics can create informational cascades. One variant of mock-jury studies asks participants to write down their initial verdict and their level of confidence in it. After the participants record their verdicts, an informal poll is conducted prior to deliberation in which each mock juror reads out his verdict. These studies have found that this dynamic can cause an informational cascade in which strong initial support for a particular verdict sways other members to adopt the same view, even if it is contrary to their initial position.
MI professionals can use information cascades to their advantage when it comes to getting insights acted upon. General Mills runs small-scale insight pilots with select business partners to lower the perceived personal risks for others who could benefit from acting on an insight.
Group polarization: Group polarization happens when members of a group move from their individual position to a more extreme one in line with the rest of the group after discussion. Consider, for example, that juries often award punitive damages in amounts higher than the median award indicated by jurors before deliberation. This is especially true when jurors enter deliberations with a high amount of individual outrage, as jurors see in their peers confirmation of their own beliefs.
For Market Insights, this issue often arises when challenging business partners’ own gut intuition. Leading MI teams engineer “learning moments” to help shake executives’ confidence in their knowledge and re-shape their understanding of customers.