Building a workforce full of high-performing, productive employees doesn’t happen by accident. Offering content, information, and ideas is not enough.

Great content, interesting information, and good ideas may be amusing, intriguing, or nice to know. Yet, they lack business value—for a simple reason: To be impactful and useful, great ideas must reflect meaningful observation in context and be acted on in alignment with business needs. Their results must be measured for effectiveness. When content is distilled, curated, analyzed and applied as such, it is referred to as an actionable insight.

What are actionable insights?

Actionable insights represent just 2 percent—or less—of all the content workforces consume. Actionable insights:

  • Have purpose
  • Disturb the status quo
  • Disrupt technology systems
  • Require a change in work behaviors
  • Lead to conclusions
  • Are wrapped with evidence
  • Solve complex problems
  • Inform decision-making
  • Are parsimonious

A parsimonious insight conveys the maximum meaning in the minimum number of statements.

The actionable 2 percent is generated by subtracting from, rather than adding to, content—whether in courses, documents, slide decks, emails, pdfs, etc. Distilling content to actionable insights helps leaders and employees alike cope with information overload and become more focused and productive.

A Venn diagram shows the intersection of content, evidence, and context—where employees can generate actionable insights.Figure 1: Actionable insights are the intersection of information with evidence and context. Source: Laci Loew &. Co 2017

When actionable insights interface

The most useful actionable insights combine with other actionable insights. I call these hyperpoints.

A hyperpoint is an insight born of other insights. Effective organizations enable employees—at all levels and in all functions—to spread hyperpoints across the enterprise.

Three elements characterize the spread of hyperpoints:

  1. Context: Business goals, prospect and customer needs, and the unique role of the employee play a role in creating, sharing, and spreading insights and hyperpoints. The more that an insight calls for specific action by a specific actor, the more actionable it will appear—and the more likely it is to get noticed.
  2. Stickiness: The most actionable insights and hyperpoints specify actions that could or should be taken. They connect the dots, so to speak, between evidence and an action by applying the evidence in the business context. In this regard, they reflect the knowledge and expertise of the insight or hyperpoint author. Action verbs that signify stickiness by characterizing the initial action required include: acquire, automate, reorganize, reduce, limit, etc.
  3. Brevity: The most actionable insights are succinct, aligning with the “less is more” principle. In the Pandexio insight platform, employees are restricted to 140 characters when authoring insights. This is because:
    • As Twitter proved, people can cognitively process 140 characters quickly, without losing interest. The power of the human brain lies in the speed at which an employee’s knowledge and expertise, and that of colleagues, can be consumed or applied.
    • Research on sentence lengths in analytical writing reveals a consensus sweet-spot of approximately 20-22 words, with a maximum of 25. This squares up nicely with 140 characters, given average word lengths.
    • Pandexio users have demonstrated that 140 characters is long enough to support a high-quality, well-formed insight—while also short enough to force discipline and meaningful thought into its construction.

Generate & share the actionable 2 percent

At least three key factors influence how well employees generate and share the actionable 2 percent:

  1. Enabling employee voice: A common employee complaint is lack of a voice within their organization. Employee voice is the means by which all employees communicate and share their insights to influence achievement of individual, team and business goals. Enabling voice contributes toward boosting individual productivity, creating and sustaining employee engagement and experience, and developing organizational agility to minimize business risk. Implementing an insight curation platform can contribute to enabling and democratizing employee voice.
  2. Driving insight generation: To become an insight-driven organization, it is important to help all employees become insight authors or insight consumers. Expect the majority of the workforce to be consumers and about 10 to 20 percent to be authors.
    Insight authors are critical thinkers: They look for and gather the evidence in all they read; they make logical connections between and among ideas; they draw inferences and discard assumptions; they challenge long-accepted practices and proclamations; and they ascertain what information is most relevant and important to the business goal they are accelerating or problem they are solving.
    Critical thinking is a skill that can be developed in employees by modeling and encouraging them to:
    • Reflect on assumptions and beliefs as they consume content and communicate about it with others
    • Read with an open mind and look for associated evidence before formulating insights
    • Consume content with a peaceful mindset and a readiness to share with others the logic about what they’ve read without any attempt to protect ego or previous beliefs
  3. Sharing insights: A network structure prompts employees and learners to spread insights. Any network must include not only hubs and clusters, but also ways to go around them—shortcuts that let us get from point to point more quickly. The ability for clusters to mix in unlimited ways makes social networks work the way that they do—and that makeup has the same influence on how knowledge workers build capability and share insights with each other, within and among teams, and across the enterprise.

Reap the business benefits

Digitalist says that companies with highly productive and engaged employees outperform others by more than 200 percent. A strong learning culture can improve employee focus, engagement, and retention—as can moving from an information to an insight-driven business where employees are encouraged to make critical decisions by leveraging actionable insights.

Research by Deloitte shows that organizations that enable their employees to generate and share the actionable 2 percent are significantly more likely to exceed their corporate goals.
Early adopters that have already begun the transformation from information to insight-driven are reaping the benefits. If your organization is not among them, discover how insight curation can boost your productivity and drive a significant boost in business results.

Dive into the business of learning

Understanding the role that humans—executives, managers, employees—play in the transformation and how the “actionable 2 percent” fits into a learning ecosystem is essential to successfully implementing and sustaining an insight-driven culture. Explore more deeply at the Business of Learning online conference, an eLearning Guild event taking place online November 6–7, 2019.