Editor's note: James Wycherley is CEO of the Insight Management Academy. He can be reached at james.wycherley@insight-management.org. This article is adapted with permission from an episode of the IMA’s ”Transforming Insight“ podcast.

The evolution from hunter-gathering to farming the land was a critical step for human society. The drive to become insight farmers is just as critical for researchers and analysts who want their department to have a sustainable impact in their organization.

In 2005 I was given the opportunity to lead the first combined insight team at banking and financial services firm Barclays, incorporating market research, market analysis, customer analysis and competitor intelligence. Keen to improve the department’s visibility and impact, I worked hard to get onto senior executives’ appointment calendars and talk to them about our projects. At that time Barclays was recruiting a lot of new senior managers from the U.S. and after a while I found myself invited to their induction meetings, marched into the room as part of these new executives’ introduction to the bank. 

But what I discovered was that the more senior the audience, the less they really wanted to know about individual insight projects. They weren’t after the findings from particular pieces of analysis or research. What interested them was the big-picture understanding that we had developed off the back of hundreds of different projects. They wanted to know how and why consumers in our markets became customers of our organization and how they then created or destroyed value for it.

The problem for me then, and I think the problem for many insight leaders today, is that while we will have usually an instinctive understanding of part of that big picture, it’s a bit hit-and-miss, for two reasons. 

First, insight projects tend to be planned bottom-up: We look back on our work each year and see a collection of p...