Increasing visibility

John recently wrote an interesting post about (good) planners being invisible.

It is a similar story for researchers. After all, aren’t planners glorified researchers? (Well, to some extent, it depends on the type of research but, generally, no.)

John suspects this inherent invisibility, coupled with a desire for recognition, is the motivation behind the many blogs and conferences. It does seem to be a particularly vibrant environment, and from it I’m even able to know the picture I’ve chosen for this post is doubly relevant.

Sadly, this is where the similarities with research end. There are notable exceptions (and I REALLY need to update my blogroll to reflect this), but vibrancy is not a word I would associate with the researchersphere, if such a thing existed. Which it doesn’t.

So why are so few researchers blogging, and even fewer researchers engaging in stimulating discussions? And why is it that research conferences are almost without fail dull and repetitive?

I suspect it may be due to the following reasons:

  • Both planning and research are a combination of ideas and execution. In planning, the former tends to be the most important but in research it is usually the latter. Ideas are harder to replicate (and get away with) than processes, so planners are more willing to share, while researchers are more protective
  • Planning will at worst cover a campaign, and at best the entire product/service direction. Research tends to be project based. It has a definite start, middle and end. There is little chance for serendipity or reaction, and less opportunity to note and act upon interesting opportunities
  • The fruits of a planner’s labour are visible for all to see. Most research is initially designed for an internal audience, who then cherrypick the story they want to tell for an external audience. This inherent, proprietary, knowledge gets locked up and never seen nor spoken of
  • There are far fewer planners than researchers (I assume, I actually have no idea on numbers), and it is a harder profession to get into. Therefore average ability and motivation is higher, fostering a vibrant environment

There are probably many more reasons, but those are just from the top of my head.

Can this be changed? In the widest research sense, probably not. But there are pockets of innovation, some truly excellent researchers and massive differences in the nature and scope of project work. So there is some hope.

On January 1st, I said I wanted to read less things, but better. I ended up switching to a more time-consuming job, so just ended up reading less. This blog also became noticeably quieter since I switched jobs, and my link updates stopped.

This coming year, I want to move more from passive to active. There may not be a researchersphere, but I want to do my part in fostering thought and debate among my readers (thank you for persevering with me) and those I read.

Jeremiah Owyang says he likes to pay himself first – he does that through his blog concentrating his thought processes and the recognition he receives for it. I’m not very good at getting up before 8am (or noon on weekends), so I’m going to try to end the week by paying myself.

That will involve more time spent not only reading but also thinking, writing and talking about things. Some things directly related to research (though these thoughts may go on the Essential blog, which currently features our 2009 Christmas awards), and other things related to media, technology and marketing. And I’m also going to try to resuscitate a truncated link update.

I wish you all a prosperous 2010

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticgood01/3786273684/

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Moneyball by Michael LewisMoneyball, by Michael Lewis, is a book I had on my “to read” list for several years. I really should have read it several years ago. As well as being brilliantly written, its lessons are also highly relevant to the industries I’m interested in

The premise is that the Oakland Athletics – the A’s – are a financially limited team competing in Major League Baseball against much better resourced teams (While draft picks go some way to make smaller teams more competitive, financial  inequalities are much greater than in the NFL, for instance).

With fewer resources, the A’s will lose if they compete on the same terms as their competitors. They therefore need to change the rules of engagement. They are the challenger brand, so to speak.

They succeeded in this by becoming the first team (many subsequently followed) to employ sabermetrics – the analysis of baseball through objective measures. The name derives from the Society of American Baseball (SABR).

First championed by Bill James in the late 1970s, sabermetricians argued that the baseball statistics given most credence to were the wrong ones, and thus the game was inefficient. Baseball statistics had been institutionalised in the 1850s by a Brit raised on cricket. As the game evolved, the flawed measures on which players were assessed become ever more misguided. For instance

  • In the 1850s, amateurs were playing in long grass. Fielding errors weren’t a consideration.
  • Walking a hitter (throwing four balls outside of the strike zone) was considered to be the fault of the pitcher, rather than a ploy to entice swing-happy hitters to chase difficult balls

However, the biggest problem was relying on dependent variables, rather than independent variables

  • For pitchers, earned run average (ERA) was prioritised. But a low ERA needs a good fielding team (explicit errors are counting as unearned, but a fielder needs to be in position to commit an error in the first place)
  • For hitters, the number of home runs is independent but overvalued, due to prominence on highlight reels. Runs Batted In (RBIs) are dependent though. If a home run is scored and the bases are empty, one run is scored. If there is a runner on each of the bases and the same shot is hit, four runs are scored. The second batter is credited with four times as many RBIs for exactly the same shot

Over time, this faulty knowledge became institutionalised. The success of the sabermetricians was in forgetting everything they had been taught to believe. They started afresh to theorise, measure and validate new hypotheses – even going to matches to physically keep scores when the monopoly for recording statistics refused to track more metrics.

In my mind, their most powerful observation was in simply stating how a baseball game is completed. A game is over when teams make 27 outs (3 outs over 9 innings). Therefore, to prolong  a game, a team should avoid getting out.

This is profound in its simplicity. Rather than swinging for the home run, a hitter should protect his strike zone. A walk is as good as a hit to first base.

This ability to walk was vastly undervalued by the market in terms of salaries. Billy Beane and the A’s therefore ignored home run and RBI stats, and focused on the ability to get on base (ie to not get out).

Internally, the scouts and staff were heavily opposed. The opposition regarded it with bemusement – Beane was taking all these out-of-shape nobodies and leaving them with the “athletes”.

Beane fought this, because he was once one of those athletes. He had the “look” and expected to succeed, but his mental strength couldn’t match his physical strength. Because of this, Beane ignored the high-school hot prospects, and instead focused on college players – since these players had a greater chance of making it in the big leagues.

The book follows the 2002 draft and season (where rookies and prospects include Nick Swisher, Prince Fielder and Kevin Youkilis – “Euclis, the Greek God of walks”). While the A’s had a wildly successful season, they dropped out of the playoffs.

This is because Moneyball is ultimately about percentages – the focus on statistics improves your probability over the long-term, over the 162 game season. In the play-offs, luck becomes more important.

Moneyball is principally restricted to baseball due to this and one other factor – being able to divide the game into individual plays, where each person has a defined role and an agreed metric for success or failure. The NFL has this, but only over 16 games a season. NBA teams play 82 games, but in a dynamic environment.

Aidy Boothroyd famously tried, and failed, to use Moneyball principles while managing Watford in the Premier League. But in football Moneyball restricts you to free kicks, corners and throw ins. And a side effect of Moneyball is the play is generally effective but ugly, since the pretty, eyecatching traits are all overvalued. His team won few fans.

As Moneyball caught on, the A’s became less competitive, since they were once again playing the same game as better resourced competitors. I’m sure Billy Beane’s principles will have been widely adopted

  • No matter how successful you are, change is good – so don’t uphold the status quo
  • They day you have to do something you’re screwed – so make your move before you are backed into a corner
  • Know exactly what everyone is worth – so place a monetary value on skills and compare to others
  • Know exactly who you want, and go after them – so you get them while others are still scratching their heads
  • Every deal you make will be scrutinised by the public – so ignore the media

You don’t need to be a baseball ban to enjoy the book. It is exceptionally well-written, and at times even reads like a thriller (Soderbergh and Pitt were at one point attached to a film version). But it is the core precis of the book that resonates with me.

Ensure that the metrics you are tracking are the right ones.

sk

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My five fives of 2009

I mentioned over on the Essential Research blog that lists (ie sharing results with respondents) are a non-monetary way of increasing interest in surveys.

However, actively asking people to rank preferences in a survey is problematic since it requires consideration. And my feeling is that few respondents actively consider their answers – the majority are gut clicks on a pre-coded option.

SIDENOTE: This is also why I feel creative testing shouldn’t be conducted using a pure quant approach – there needs to be either a deliberative qualitative element or a carefully recruited panel fully screened to ensure their cooperation and consideration throughout the process

Nevertheless, I like lists as it offers a succinct description of someone’s interests. If I tend to agree with a list, it acts as a good predictor of future similarities, and I am more likely to follow up on a recommendation.

With that in mind, here are 5 of my Top 5′s for 2009

Top 5 Films

(Released in UK cinemas in 2009, which I have seen. Links point to IMDB)

  1. Let The Right One In
  2. Gran Torino
  3. Up
  4. The Hurt Locker
  5. District 9

Note: I’m still to see Where the Wild Things Are, Avatar and Sherlock Holmes but I’m not expecting any of these to trouble the list

Top 5 Albums

(Released in the UK in 2009, which I have heard. Links point to Spotify)

  1. The XX – XX
  2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
  3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself And Others
  4. Atlas Sound – Logos
  5. A Place To Bury Strangers – Exploding Head

Top 5 Gigs

(That I attended in 2009)

  1. Spiritualized @ Royal Festival Hall
  2. Final Fantasy @ Union Chapel
  3. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Hyde Park
  4. Holy Fuck @ All Tomorrow’s Parties
  5. The National @ Royal Festival Hall

Note: I’m seeing Mars Volta tomorrow, so this could change

Top 5 Books

(That I read in 2009 – my book reading has rapidly declined, so I’m struggling to get a list of even 5 books I read in 2009. Links point to Amazon)

  1. Moneyball by Michael Lewis (review on this blog pending)
  2. World War Z by Max Brooks
  3. The Damned United by David Peace
  4. Preacher by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
  5. The Invisibles by Grant Morrison et al

Top 5 Blogs

(There are probably over 100 blogs that I enjoy reading. But with work and study, I’ve found it difficult to keep up to date with all of them. These are five that I tend to check out first. I have listed them alphabetically, rather than rank them)

  • Blackbeard Blog by Tom Ewing. Tom is the Social media guy at Kantar Research, and writes one of the smartest, most thought-provoking blogs on research (and its intersection with pop)
  • Dave Trott’s Blog by Dave Trott. Great story-telling and lessons from an incredibly successful ad creative
  • Feeding The Puppy by John V. Willshire. Lots of great ideas from phd’s Head of Innovation
  • Only Dead Fish by Neil Perkin. A great mix of original thought and accumulation of the best of the blogosphere from IPC’s Director of Strategy. Very handy when short on time
  • Quaint Living by Alice Watanabe. Alice is an amateur photographer living in Oxford, and her blog is filled with beautiful images of her various adventures – whether cooking a new meal or visiting Japan.

Note: I really need to update my blogroll

While I do like lists, the surfeit of both end of year and end of decade posts and articles is starting to get a bit much. This will be my only contribution.

sk

The Penny Drops: Olswang Convergence Survey 2009

The 2009 Convergence Report from Olswang has been released, and makes for interesting reading. Some of the key findings I took out/inferred include:

  • Over the top TV (such as Project Canvas) will only take off through inertia and a shorter upgrade cycle
  • Unless e-readers become cheap fast, they will be superseded by multi-functional tablet computers
  • Windowing (phased international release dates) is more of a threat than an opportunity, due to the difficulties it presents with existing distribution channels
  • iPhone users have much greater willingness to pay – and this is more down to the easy payment mechanism than level of disposable income
  • Micropayments are more viable for TV than newspapers

While the third point is somewhat contentious, the other four points make intuitive sense, and correspond to the research I have carried out in the area.

However, the survey was conducted online using a panel. I absolutely agree that this is the best, most cost-effective approach but it does skew the data – particularly with respect to online/digital behaviour. There is no mention in the report of sampling and weighting.

I can understand why – this stuff can be quite boring – but without it I’m left looking at figures such as

  • 8% of the sample owning iPhones
  • 38% of people streaming music
  • 65% of adults using social network sites

And then wondering what other data and findings in the report are overinflated

Nevertheless, a thought-provoking read and a useful – if flawed – resource to refer to.

sk

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