Insights can be developed in many different ways but to be useful they need to be acted on. Which is why marketing insights, or consumer insights often are defined to include the idea of “competitive advantage”. Because in reality, many people probably share an insight but the marketer who wins is the one who acts on it in an effective way.

So it is critical for marketing organizations to ensure that insights are effectively communicated through an organization and the better insights are identified and acted on quickly effectively. Here’s a story on a series of insights recounted by Gary Klein from his work on insight development.

Back in World War II, the British had to somehow neutralize the Italian Navy because the Italians threatened Britain’s ability to support large parts of its empire. Now the Italians were based on a supposedly “safe” base, safe from torpedo attack.

But the assumption of “safe” was that torpedoes must behave as they always did at that point, meaning, drop to a depth of up to 30 meters underwater when dropped from a plane. Because they were desperate, the British challenged that assumption and found that if they could make a torpedo belly flop onto the sea surface instead  of dive, they could make it work in shallow water (so they added a string connection to pull up the nose when releasing it). And if they added fins near the nose of the torpedo, they could ensure it would stay near the surface.
So they sank the Italians despite their having to use obsolete aircraft flying from their one and only aircraft carrier (you can see they were desperate; as the saying goes, the threat of the hangman’s rope concentrate’s the mind wonderfully).

The next insight was in seeing the implications of that British success on another supposedly “safe” naval base.

But like in many marketing situations, many see the same thing but not all identify the implications. And while more than one sees the implications, most do not act effectively.

So two opposing admirals, one American and one Japanese, heard about the Italian problem and had the insight (saw the implications) that the much vaunted Pearl Harbor US naval base was actually dangerously exposed to attack from aircraft torpedoes.

But the American admiral Stark wrote a memo that was sent into the bureaucracy, was ignored and forgotten in the daily rush to do other things. Happens to many insights. When the need does not seem great, many great ideas get ignored.

The Japanese admiral Yamamoto though developed the idea because he was already working on killing the USA (like the man from Intel said, only the paranoid survive; in business, there is always someone out there working to hurt you). He had to succeed right away with his first strike because the US was too strong to be taken on in a long fight (he was also sort of desperate). So he trained his pilots to use their torpedoes in very shallow water under the conditions found in Pearl Harbor and pulled off a very damaging attack on Pearl.

Ironically, before Pearl Harbor other Americans in their big military intelligence service were already aware that the Japanese had developed shallow water torpedoes. But again the information got lost in the bureaucracy and did not get to the people who should have acted on it.
Three lessons, especially for a big bureaucracy:

First, help many of your people learn how to develop insight. Second, encourage people with insight to send their ideas all the way to the top and make sure the threat evaluation is good (what if any enemy acts on the same idea so you prioritize well). Third make sure that threat information is fed to the top steadily and quickly so it can factor in prioritization decisions.

Benedicto “Poch” Cid is Chief Brand Adviser of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., the leader in marketing, sales and innovation training in the Philippines with the widest curriculum in Asia Pacific. Learn from him live in the 11th Pricing Strategies and Tactics seminar on November 24-25, 2014. For details, visit, email, call (+63-2) 584-5858 / 412-0034 or text (+63) 918-81-168-88.