Wednesday 28 May 2008

This don't impress me much

“There aren't any surprises here. What was the point of doing this research?”

The bored executive saying this is probably dead wrong.

But he's not to blame. Unknowingly, he's giving in to a mistake that's so common that we have stopped thinking of it as one.

The word 'research' has meanings: (a) scholarly or scientific investigation or inquiry and (b) close, careful study.

Research of the first type is almost always conducted by an academic institution or R&D lab, and almost always to find something new. Actually, good researchers consider repeating previously done work and confirming others' results as infra dig, and justifiably so.

But this needn't be the case with the second type of research, more so if one is conducting it for business.

Indeed, in many cases, surprises would be most undesirable and unpleasant.

To take a trivial example, you would hardly be pleased if readership surveys show that audiences thought your ad campaign says the very opposite of what it was meant to say.

Even pleasant surprises can carry seeds of risk. Let's say research shows your new toothpaste will click with families headed by semi-urban middle-aged adults but flop with its intended market, urban teens. You are safe for now, but can it be that you went terribly wrong in some step in its designing, and this will come to haunt you in the days to come? How many happy accidents can you count?

In other words, research that confirms haunches and hypotheses may be very rewarding. All we have to do is get over our misplaced expectation that all research should surprise.

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