• Karis O'Leary Smith

Some people used to look at me weirdly when we talked about using human values in business & insight

Here’s why it’s not looking so weird anymore…


Ideas and concepts have their time and it often takes a shock to the system to make people start thinking differently and doing new things.And many of us have had that shock because of what is happening in the world. Many of our lives have been turned upside down, at least for a while.


Maybe we’ve been humbled a little. Maybe we’re feeling a little less bullet-proof and we’re starting to think a little deeper about what is really important to us. It does feel as if we’re starting to ask more fundamental questions of ourselves. Questions like…

Why wasn’t I connecting enough with the people I care about most?


How much do I want to work?

How much can we cut our spending by and still have a good life?


What is really worth paying for and what can we do without?

Is football as important, as I thought it was? OK that’s a personal one, but I’ve let BT Sports & Sky Sports go now and I’m not going to get them back because I’ve realised that it distracted too much from family life. There’s always Match of the Day (for free) after all.

Particularly at times like this, where we’re thinking more deeply about what’s important to us, I believe that it is crucially important that businesses follow suit and also go deeper with their insight work than they may normally.


It is a time for re-defining and for creating the future. So how can we deeply understand where audiences are and their direction of travel, in an authentic way?

We do it using 10 simple cards (digitally obviously). Each card has a statement, imagery and crucially represents a human value. It’s based on global social science (tested at mass scale) and we’ve turned it into a game. It always helps if stuff is fun too, or perhaps that’s just my Fun value coming through.



We ask people to choose which values are most (and also least) important to them and then use them to explore their lives. Their attitudes. How they feel. And how their values guide real behaviour. They take us deep into what’s important and they do it quickly.


They firstly help us understand the audience on a human level and they then give us a framework and the language to explore the subtleties and intangibilities of brand relationships. Helpfully brands are built on values just like we are. We’ve even used them to help internal teams to understand one another better.

I’ve done insight, research, whatever you want to call it for a long time, but values have transformed the quality of my work. And we have the testimonials to prove it.


If you want to go further, and I’m going to btw, they’ve even given me a deeper understanding of my relationship with my wife (“Your values are what?!”).

They’ve also helped me understand why my Mum and I often misunderstand one another – we, of course, have completely contrasting values. I kind of naturally knew this but values gave me a framework to actually understand why and where we missed one another.

Values have gone much deeper than just ‘work’ for me. I’d go as far to say that they have helped me understand life and how I want to live it better.


I’m not saying that values will have that impact on you or that they are going to solve every business issue you have. They won’t.


But if you feel that it is a time to go deeper than you usually would, that it’s time to understand your audience on a human level so that you can create things which truly take them to better places, then I’d recommend putting a toe in the water and seeing where you come out.


Paul Polman (the Ex-Unilever CEO) wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago in The Telegraph with the title ‘It is time to re-define traditional capitalism and put focus on values’. I’m going to second that

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