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What you say doesn’t really matter

What you say doesn’t really matter, what matters is the difference between what you say, and what someone else says.

Understanding language:

The reason for this is that most of the words we use are so common that they should be regarded as the basic building blocks of language. Words like ‘at’, ‘the’ and ‘so’ make up such a large part of our discourse that we’ve trained ourselves to practically ignore them.

Consider the fact that there are around 170,000 words in the English dictionary, yet 50% of any body of language (newspapers, books, transcripts etc.) is composed of just 170 of those words.  It’s astounding to think that half of what we say is made up of just 0.1% of the available words.

This isn’t a reflection on our intelligence or the quality of our vocabularies, rather it illustrates the nature of how language is constructed. And this is why when we listen to people, we’re not really listening to the words. Instead, our brains are working subconsciously to detect the difference.  This is why at Relative Insight our approach focuses on understanding differences in language.

Relative Insight’s history in law enforcement:

Our roots are in law enforcement, where our job was to detect the difference between real people and criminals masquerading as someone they were not. The problem was that these individuals were often very, very good at hiding their true identity. Because of this, using conventional text analytics and conversation analysis in isolation would risk falsely confirming them as real people. Analysing language on its own was not the answer.

Instead, we compared suspect language to verified language. Comparison served as a means of isolating the three to five percent of language that was different between those who were masquerading and real people.  It was these differences that mattered and ultimately led to criminals being caught.

Comparison for business:

When we first talk to customers about analysing business language, they are seldom thinking of comparison.  In reality, this is the fastest way to release value from qualitative data. By comparing language across audience groups, time, or channel, businesses can gain an instant understanding of what really matters.  Comparison leads to the discovery of unique differences that can inform business strategy.

So what?

When raising investment in the early days of Relative Insight, I would use this example in investor meetings. After explaining the field we were in and the business problem we solved, I would stop. Then, to illustrate why differences matter I would speculate that they hadn’t been listening to everything I had said, and instead had been thinking of a similar company and were trying to understand how we were different. This would usually raise a smile and a nod. It didn’t mean they were lazy, it just illustrated that understanding differences is key to understanding anything.

In the end, what I was saying didn’t matter – what mattered was that what I was saying was different.

Relative Insight can compare any language data set you can imagine, literally anything with words. Get in touch to see the platform in action and for some inspiration on how we can help your business.

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