Don't shoot the messenger: The dangers of insight

I read this piece from Jack Morgan - a Business Mapping Specialist at Bristol Water plc.

He talks about the “Semmelweis reflex” which is something I come across quite a bit. When you introduce a new insight into the process it can be met with resistance. The problem is that real insights change the status quo and, a lot of the time, people don't like to change - especially if they are invested in the way things are right now. If a successful business has done well out of the status quo, thanks very much, why fix what ain't broke?

So, while clients come to grips with what you're telling them, you might experience a bit of push back - including questions as to whether you've done the research properly.

As an example, I remember conducting groups in Chicago for a large software company based in, lets say, Seattle. I was talking to CFO's of major businesses - quite an expensive logistical feat! The CFO of Wrigley was amongst the group I seem to recall.

Anyhow, I made these rather senior executives take off their ties and we moved away from the table to make the conversation a little more relaxed - and they started telling me things which had little to do with what the client behind the glass was expecting. It seems, given the chance to explain, CFO's chose major software purchases according to criteria that was very different from what was expected. My clients behind the glass had never heard senior execs talk in such candid terms - and as a result, they questioned my methods and the veracity of the insights which had come tumbling from the respondents' mouths.

It took a while for them to realise what they'd been hearing was far closer to the truth than all the previous research they'd conducted. For a while there though, I was given a bumpy ride! (Wasn't put in prison though or went insane like the guy in Jack Morgan's piece!).

So I was reminded of this little episode when reading about Morgan's “Semmelweis reflex”. Take a look for yourself.

"Is the “Semmelweis reflex” prevalent in market research industry? Described metaphorically as when people outwardly, and instantly reject new thinking or insight that questions their own perceived paradigm, beliefs or norms. Taken from the case of Ignac Semmelweis, the result of him questioning the beliefs & norms that the Doctors upheld, by questioning their working practices.

The Doctors were unknowingly allowing bacteria to be transferred between patients by not washing their hands between patients. Semmelweis recommended that Doctors should mitigate bacterial transfer by washing their hand’s, the outcome from the doctors was uproar. Semmelweis was subject to derision, he was banished, mocked and even put in an insane asylum. This metaphorical institutional ‘knee jerk’ reaction to a conflict in beliefs that do not align with real world insight does not instil progressive insight or even effective working relationships with partners. For Semmelweis it was too late, he was pardoned sometime after his death. Each day we all observe new findings, form insight and it is therefore less about what you find out but how you and others relate to it."

Read more from Jack Morgan here: