• Follow Curiously Persistent on WordPress.com
  • About the blog

    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
  • Subscribe

  • Meta

Observation and participation

One of the (many) criticisms of market research is that it is based on artificial, post-rationalised claimed responses. This line of thinking contends that there have been plenty of studies showing us to be unreliable witnesses to our own thoughts and actions – therefore surveys, focus groups and the like can’t be trusted.

Obviously, the reality is no so black and white. There are some things I can recall perfectly well – places I’ve shopped in the past week, why I like to blog etc. My answers would be truthful, though with the latter example the analysis might not take my literal answer but instead interpret it into a broader motivation.

Nevertheless, what I know I know is only one part of the Johari Window (which was channeled by Donald Rumsfeld for his known knowns speech) – the arena quadrant. For the other three quadrants, these methods are insufficient.

Fortunately, there is more to research than surveys and focus groups.

To slightly paraphrase the hidden quadrant, this would involve a methodology that would provide us with previously unknown information. This can be achieved through participation. IDEO are big proponents of this – I particularly like the example Paul Bennett gives of improving hospital waiting. The best way for them to discover the patient experience was to become the patient and spend a day strapped to a gurney. The view from the gurney is boring ceiling after boring ceiling, so IDEO used this space to provide both information and soothing designs.

The blind spot quadrant is where we battle the unreliable witness through observation. This could either be straight-forward observation or a mixture of observation and participation such as ethnography (remember: ethnography is not an in-home interview). Siamack Salari of Everyday Lives gives the fantastic example of a project he did for a tea company. This tea company had invested a great deal of money in research to understand the different perspectives people had on the perfect cup of tea. For the colour, they had even developed a colour palette outlining varieties. In closed research, people would pick their perfect colour. Yet, when observed, the colour of tea would never match. This is because people don’t concentrate on making the perfect cup of tea – the colour depends on the amount of milk they have left in the fridge and whatever else is capturing their attention (such as the toaster). Valuable information though, as Siamack noted in a training session I attended, an expensive way of finding out the answer you want doesn’t exist.

Thus, two simple examples to show the role of observation and participation in improving our understanding of things. As for the unknown window…

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/colorblindpicaso/3932608472

How can research inspire?

The question in the title is predicated on the assumption that research can inspire. While the haters may disagree, I truly believe it can.

Understanding the different ways in which it can do so is trickier.

In a slight contradiction to my previous post on “insight”, I’m using the term “research in its most catch-all form. Rather than restricting the thinking to groups or surveys, I’m thinking about all disciplines and all methodologies. Research, data and insight.

In order for research to inspire, the recipient needs to be able to be inspired. Some form of creative process in order to make that new connection or leap is necessary.

In thinking about how research can inspire, I’ve come up with three initial ways. It is by no means a typology and the examples aren’t even mutually exclusive but it seems like a good start in which to organise my thoughts.

Structure:

The way in which research issues are approached and the problems framed. Examples include:

  • Methodology: The methodology itself could suggest new and previously alien ways to approach an issue. This post from Tom Ewing highlights some innovations in how research is carried out, but there are numerous examples of fresh approaches – from fMRI scanning to crowdsourcing.
  • Influences: Research is often (correctly) portrayed as insular but there are notable exceptions – Tom Ewing himself being one of them. He is able to take his knowledge and skills from music criticism and community building and apply them to research problems. Admittedly, this example isn’t research-specific but it nevertheless can inspire others to bring in people with different perspectives
  • Backwards approach: I mean this in a good way – research briefs are often issued to answer specific questions. To discover the most relevant way to get this information, researchers need to start with the answer and work backwards to figure out both the question and the way in which it is asked

Results

While a lot of research may be characterised otherwise, results themselves can inspire:

  • Exploratory research: By its very nature is designed to uncover new observations or – deep breath – insights
  • Fresh perspectives: Seeking to understand different audiences can lead to fresh outlooks as we look at the same issue from someone else’s eyes. While the Morgan Stanley note from their 15 year old intern was undoubtedly overplayed, I did like the notion that teenagers stay away from Twitter because it is full of old people trying to be young (for what it’s worth, I view Twitter as being far closer to Linked In than Facebook – it is useful connections rather than genuine relationships)
  • Holistic understanding: On a larger scale, ethnographers like Jan Chipchase offer us fascinating observations into areas we would never have even previously considered
  • Prototyping: I’ve written about IDEO before, and I love how they actually physically build things in order to better understand the problems
  • Desk research: Somewhat tenuous, but even sitting at your desk and reading, and being inspired, by different blogs or sites can be considered a form of research – whether one is explicitly looking for specific information or not

Implementation and Impact

Moving on from the results themselves, how research is used or the effects it has may also inspire

  • Workshops: Debating how research can be used can lead to further thoughts on idea implementation
  • Social effects of making data public: From last.fm to Nike+ making personal data available both encourages further participation and causes people to adjust their natural behaviour
  • Rewards and recognition: Similarly, in communities there have been noticeable effects on user behaviour and community culture when elements such as post counts or social connections have been introduced
  • Analytics: Avainash Kaushik is a Google Analytics evangelist who is full of great examples in how understanding site data has improved business performance

This question was recently posed to me by a colleague working on an assignment. The assignment is ongoing so any further thoughts, ideas or examples on how research methods, results or implementation can inspire would be massively appreciated.

And perhaps this attempt at crowdsourcing opinion will inspire others to a solution for the issues they are facing…

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenpoff/

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Art of Innovation

To commemorate David Kelley (co-founder of IDEO) being awarded the Edison Achievement Award for his “pioneering contributions to the design of breakthrough products, services, and experiences for consumers, as well as his development of an innovative culture that has broad impact”, Fast Company have published a series of articles on the man and his company.

They are well worth reading, particularly the interview with him.

As the article states, IDEO aren’t designers but design thinkers. They use a tested and trusted methodology to redesign customer experience; not only in terms of the product but also in terms of the culture of the companies they work with. By transforming the business environment, the changes are made more sustainable in the long term. This is because the process never completes – there is always room for improvements and new prototypes.

Kelley says that “I can give our methodology away because I know we can come up with a better idea tomorrow.”

The Art of Innovation by Tom KelleyAnd indeed, it has been given away. His brother Tom Kelley published The Art of Innovation: Success through Innovation the IDEO way in 2002.

I’ve read it. And I would recommend that you do to. Below is an outline of the IDEO method, but to appreciate the nuance and to be truly inspired you really do need to read the book.

The core methodology has five steps.

Step 1: Understand the market, client, technology and perceived constraints

Ethnography is now a word overused and misused. But IDEO were pioneers of the anthropological approach and that it has now been so widely adopted speaks volumes. Of course, doing it properly is easier said than done.

Step 2: Observe real people in real-life situations to see what makes them tick

We are all now familiar with the problems of rationalised attitudes or behaviours. But again, IDEO recognised this before many. They believe observation gets to the root of the problem quicker. Small observations lead to small improvements, but over time these build into an impressive body of change. The key to observation is empathy – the observer must strive to infer the motivations and emotions of the participant.

Step 3: Visualise new concepts and the customers that would use them

This is really the power of the brainstorm. Kelley believes brainstorming should be taken seriously, and that there are ways to make them work more effectively. He finds that sixty minutes is the optimum length but within this, there should be a sharp focus. Not all ideas need to be written down but those that are should be numbered, allowing people to build and jump upon them. Although brainstorms shouldn’t be taken too seriously, they should also not be too meritocratic or too hierarchical. Everyone has ideas worth espousing, whether they are an expert or the boss or not, but it doesn’t mean that the group should go around in circles getting the opinions of everyone.

Step 4: Evaluate and refine prototypes in a series of quick iterations

Kelley refers to prototyping as a state of mind. It doesn’t matter if you have failures – you fail often to success sooner and you can often fall forwards. However, there is a balance. Fresh approaches work and rule breakers can change processes, but there needs to be a careful evaluation. Going too far “out of the box” can be counter-productive.

Step 5: Implement the new concept for commercialisation

Concepts should tell stories and make a human connection. Working with verbs and not nouns helps this. Kelley advocates a T-shirt test to ensure that new experiences or designs aren’t complex or difficult – the concept should boil down to a slogan that will fit on a t-shirt. Interestingly, he says that the best designers focus on the parts that are used the most e.g. the Play button on a DVD remote control.

However, these five steps only work because of the way IDEO is structured. Within the company, they cherish two factors above all – people and space.

Kelley says that lone geniuses are myths; you need a good team, and a mixed team, to succeed. He finds that characters build companies – his typology of characters includes visionaries, troubleshooters, iconoclasts, pulse takers, craftsmen, technologists, entrepreneurs and cross-dressers. This team should be dedicated, time-pushed, non-hierarchical, respectful of diversity, open and empowered. The dynamics are vital – camaraderie should be established, achievement celebrated and, importantly, a company shouldn’t be afraid of spending money to build morale.

His seven tips for cross-pollination include:

  • Subscribe and surf as much as possible
  • Play film director
  • Hold an open house to spread best disciplines
  • Inspire advocates
  • Hire outsiders
  • Change hats
  • Cross-train

IDEO look to establish “neighbourhoods” to facilitate team dynamics, and this concept of community and space is integral to fostering innovation. He advocates a blend of openness and privacy, with people having complete autonomy to personalise their space. To quote Kelley, “space is often the least considered, most overlooked tool in innovation toolbox”.

Ultimately, practice makes perfect. But the top tips to take away include:

  • Watch customers and non-customers – especially enthusiasts
  • Play with physical workplace to send positive body language to employees and visitors
  • Think verbs not nouns in products and services to create wonderful experiences
  • Break rules and fail forward so that change is part of culture
  • Stay human and scale organisational element so room for teams to emerge and thrive
  • Build bridges – between departments, to customers and to future

A follow-up book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, has also been published (the website with an overview is here), but for an outlay of less than two pints of lager, I really do recommend reading this book.

sk