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Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Research should be providing the fact base that points companies in the direction of likely success. Instead, it stands at the corner of walk and don’t walk, selling maps to the stars’ homes. Business research today churns out mountains of misinformation that send companies confidently toward that can’t-miss opportunity at Little Bighorn wholly unprepared for the ugly fate that awaits them when they arrive.

Many business have turned their research over to well-meaning amateurs

People with little or no research training are put at the head of research departments. I see frequent evidence of this in market research discussion forums, where scores of frantic people who know nothing about the fundamental principles upon which all scientific endeavors are based. These people are grasping at straws and begging for help in open forum because they have been assigned the responsibility of conducting a research study and have no idea where to begin. 

There are three types of well-meaning amateurs
  • Some are unaware of the foundational principles involving methodologies or sampling or statistics or any of those boring things. The research these people do has no value at all.
  • Many know just enough to get themselves in trouble and blindly follow templates for sale online everywhere. Heck, they’ll even fill in the blanks for you. 
  • A few know enough to realize the fundamentals are important, but deliberately cut corners when pressured from above to deliver the research faster and cheaper. Blithely, they dismiss methodological, sampling and statistical concerns with a wave of the hand and plow forward through the fog, groping blindly. Many of this group have succeeded by producing lavish slide presentations.

The companies assigning oversight of their market research to any of these three types do so naïvely believing the research is being produced to the highest of standards

This is only made possible when supervisors don’t know enough about a research study to tell the difference between real diamonds and cubic zirconia. Can you imagine a company assigning the responsibility for the corporate art collection to a person who doesn’t know the difference between Salvador Dali and Hello Dolly?

Think about entrusting your priceless antiques to a curator who thinks Duncan Phyfe and Barney Fife are cousins. 

That’s the state of so much of today’s research. I want decision-makers to know that it could and should be better. I want to help them see they need better research because when they have better information, they make better decisions.  

Facts are the foundation of any company’s Knowledge Management Library

Think of a company’s fact base like a physical structure, let’s say a house. You begin with architectural drawings, blueprints and the necessary permits. Then you hire a general contractor who assembles a crew of specialists, including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, painters, tilers, carpet installers and more.

No matter the size or the style of your home, the crew starts building your house by pouring a solid foundation. Then in a specific order and synchronized like a symphony orchestra, they start putting up floors and walls and a roof and next thing you know, you’ve got windows and curtains and pots and pans and furniture. Every one of those things assumes a solid foundation. Research should be in the foundation business, but too much of it is in the curtain business. 

How much does a house cost? 

The answer too much research gives now is “the median home price in the United States is $374,900.” This is a regurgitated piece of data. A better response to that question is this: it depends on many things.

As an example, let’s take a closer look at the kitchen in our new house. Broadly speaking, do we want the materials, craftsmanship, performance, and reliability of ranges and refrigerators made by folks like Wolf, Miele, and Thor? Or are we okay with a slow cooker and a George Foreman grill? Do we realize if our budget is absurdly low, we’ll end up with a hotplate plugged into a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling? 

Start with questions like these

What levels of performance and quality will we establish for our refrigerator, freezer, microwave, blender, toaster? Will we get a dishwasher or will we wash everything by hand in the sink? What about floors and countertops – marble or tile or Formica? Do we want incandescent, LED, or fluorescent lighting? Recessed, track, or pendant? On and on we go until we’ve determined all the things we must take into consideration when we’re paying for a new kitchen. Geez, does a good kitchen really cost that much?

Too many people responsible for their company’s research do not know the corresponding sorts of questions they should be asking when they are building a fact base

They don’t know anywhere near as much about research as they do about building a house, what it involves, and how to coordinate it all. Their lack of detailed knowledge leaves them vulnerable to shysters and opportunists (the research contractor equivalent of ambulance chasers) until they learn how to protect themselves. Good research always begins with an architect, be managed by a general contractor and executed according to the plans by a team of specialists.

Like so many questions, you can’t give an intelligent answer because it depends on so many things

So you collect facts. You look at them from different angles and different perspectives. You sort them into groups and one by one, you look in each of the compartments to find out what things they share with their neighbors and which things are different about them. 

Even a fact guy like myself does not insist people and businesses operate solely on facts

There are always many factors to take into account before we make important decisions. One of them should always be things we know to be true. What decision-makers need is  research that can be relied on because it was designed by an architect, coordinated by a general contractor, and carried out by the coordinated efforts of a team of specialists.

Want to read more articles like this? Click here for free, no-ad, no-tracking access to the hundreds of articles David has written each week since 2016. He covers lots of topics, always showing there is more to things than meet the eye.

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