Dan Gould, Google: Uncover Ahead-of-the-Curve Insight by Diversifying your Inputs

Dan Gould works as the Human Truths Manager at Google. In his current position, he helps his clients see trends and implement actions based on those trends. He studies demographics cross-culturally to offer the best insights to his team, and assists them in uncovering relative insight as well. Dan held a similar position at Sparks and Honey before getting hired on at Google, and graduated from Syracuse University where he received a BFA. Dan is a client of ours and uses Sharpr to help his team with insight delivery.

The marvelous part about insights is that everyone has them, especially the very smart ones. Dan Gould is one such insightful man. Pun intended. He currently helps some of Google’s top clients curate information, and then begins a dialogue with them to promote actionable next steps. I look up to Dan and all he has accomplished, so I decided to give him a call to see what he does to help his team uncover truly great insights.

“The Why Behind the What”

Dan is a big believer in the “why” behind the “what.”

“We get a lot of the what from the data,” Dan explains. “And we can use our data tools to see that there are searches trending in areas like “intermittent fasting” or “apple cider vinegar.” What we then need to know are the motivating factors behind those searches; the why.”

“Doing so allows us to pinpoint the specifics about each phenomenon, why it’s reoccurring or trending, and from there we can try to extrapolate what comes next.”

Look at Weirder Stuff

When I inquired about how he differentiates his research, Gould energetically shared the idea that if you want to expand your own ability for creative thought, to differentiate your research from others, you have to look at weirder things. “To uncover more powerful, unusual, different, ahead-of-the-curve insight, you have to really diversify your inputs and your experiences.” He compares this to binge-watching shows on Netflix, and how we all tend to binge-watch the same shows. “There’s nothing wrong with that!” Gould says, “But if you want to prime your mind for uncovering interesting stuff, you have to feed yourself different things. Things that are weird, or different, or challenging; things that might not be useful in the moment, but that will end up connecting to later trends.”

Balance Storytelling with Numbers

“Researchers and insight professionals come up with a lot of amazing ideas, but it’s very hard to break through the worldview of the people they’re presenting to. Generally, they are very focused on things that they can control, and metrics that make sense, and sometimes what we’re telling them takes time to have an impact on the market.”

Easier said than done, I know, so I was sure to ask Gould how he does that.

“Through trial and error, we found that we needed to appeal to the left and right sides of the brain. There needed to be a balance between the numbers and data involved, and telling a compelling story with images.” Each quality is essential because the members of our audience each process things so differently. Some like to read, some have to understand logistically, and some people need that visual, emotional storytelling element.

Turn Insights into Action

“When we combine the best of these efforts, we get people to buy into our stories, but then you have to take on a slight leadership role; you have to give them the next steps! What we are offering them is something that is very different.

It’s one thing to deliver your reports, explain what’s happening and wish them luck, but the most effective innovation units will work together to move ideas down the line.

“It’s about being realistic and asking the decision makers in the meeting what they’re going to do with the insights and ideas that you’re giving them, or helping create the story and giving them the information they need to sell it up and down.”

Excite the Crowd

Gould describes an experience where his team presented a relatively controversial matter to a group of clients. Despite its controversial nature, it was well-received because they had the research, the numbers, the compelling human story and they offered a new space to move into, which excited the recipient of the information.

“Our clients were focused on their competitors and on the declining market share, and we uncovered something by triangulating a bunch of different data points and conversations with people. You have to offer the big idea or some concrete ways to test next steps to truly change their mind and give them courage.”

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