Thinking About Insights: A Conversation With Michael Falvo of Teva

thinking about insights

Three thoughts about insights came out of a conversation I recently had with Michael Falvo, Director of Global Insight & Analytics for the pain portfolio at Teva, a pharmaceutical company. They are:

  • A research finding is not an insight. Insights come from making connections between multiple sources of information.
  • A forecast should be a strategic tool, not just a number.
  • It pays to force yourself to look at information from multiple perspectives—even if it means standing on your desk.

Making connections to generate insights

A research finding is not an insight, even if you dress it up and call it one. “About 10 or 12 years ago, folks just took out the word ‘conclusions’ or ‘recommendations’ from their reports, and they renamed it ‘insights’ and that’s just not right” Falvo says. “Call them what they are. Just call them ‘findings.’”

An insight is “a clear, deep, and sometimes sudden understanding,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. But insights don’t materialize on their own. There is a process. And an insight can’t come from just one source. It comes from combining multiple pieces of information in unique ways, building on what has been learned before.

“You need to incorporate conclusions, data, results—call it what you want—from multiple different sources, whether they be multiple primary sources, or primary and multiple secondary. You need more than one source,” Falvo notes. “As you learn what, why and how, then you sit and you scratch your head, and try and think it through. What does it all mean? And how do I build on it? How do I drive revenue as a result? Or change behaviour as a result of it?”

He also noted that sometimes you don’t need primary research to obtain a powerful insight. He related a question he was asked about a new product that was coming into an established market with two long term existing players. Product management came asking who their real competitor was—who should they position themselves against.

“And as I thought through it, I said, neither. Neither is your primary competitor. Education is your primary competitor. Physicians were being educated to use Product A one way and Product B in another, and both products were around about 50 years, and the new product offered a completely different way of thinking about treatment. So, I said, you’ve got to start from scratch. You must assume that nothing exists in the marketplace and you have to change education. To me, that was an insight.”

A forecast as a strategic tool, not just a number

Sales forecasts are an essential part of business planning. Despite uncertainties and contingencies, every budget ultimately needs a number. But a forecast can be so much more than that, Falvo explains. He sees forecasting as a perfect opportunity to build insights, by looking past the number and diving into the assumptions behind it.

“The insights come from asking ‘What do I need to do to move every single assumption?’” he says. “When one looks at a forecast as a business plan, they then realize the value of executing research that moves every single line in that model; that’s a very different way of looking at the business, and at the forecast. The assumptions that build to the ultimate forecast number are far more important than the final number alone.”

Stand on your chair or climb up on your desk—get a fresh perspective

In generating insights, it is important to question your conclusions. It is too easy to fall into the trap of confirmation bias—where you tend to seek information that validates your initial assumptions. Confirmation bias is not newly discovered. It was what Julius Caesar was talking about when he said, “Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true,” and what Voltaire was speaking about when he quipped that “The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.”

Confirmation bias is such an easy trap to fall into because everything “makes sense.” In order to guard against it you need to question your assumptions and make a concerted effort to look at the information from another perspective. Falvo says, “You have to fight with yourself if you’re trying to develop or challenge the assumptions alone.”

“You know the expression, ‘you need to look at it from a different perspective?’ I do that. I’ve stood on my desk,” he explained. Intrigued and amused, I asked him if he literally had done that. He said, “Yeah, actually look it from a different perspective. It really helps. Try it one day when you’re stuck!”

This thinking twice, sometimes charmingly called the “wisdom of the inner crowd,” has also been proven to increase the accuracy of forecasts. Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, writing in Superforecasting, report that “merely asking people to assume their judgement is wrong, to seriously consider why that might be, and then make another judgement, produces a second estimate which, when combined with the first, improves accuracy almost as much as getting a second opinion from another person.”

Thinking about insights

So, here we have three insights, courtesy of Teva’s Michael Falvo:

  • A research finding is not an insight. Insights come from making connections between multiple sources of information.
  • A forecast should be a strategic tool, not just a number.
  • It pays to force yourself to look at information from multiple perspectives—even if it means standing on your desk.

After talking with Michael, I stood on my desk. And my wooden chair. It does change your perspective. And its fun.

If you’re working from home, you should try it too. Your office mates won’t be watching. Go ahead, get a fresh perspective!

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