If you’ve been in business for more than a few years, you’ve likely seen your own organization, and probably others, launch ‘research’ that ends up on the shelf. Or someone tries to use research for purposes that were not intended when it was collected – and probably not legitimate to the methodology used – or the findings. You may have faced an executive that wants ‘big data’ because they have read about it. Why and how they will use it, well, they aren’t actually sure, but everyone is doing it!
Or, happening more and more today: ‘googling’ continues to substitute for research and online tools enable everyone with a computer to become a pollster. The result is a lot of junk findings and useless data that gets referenced as ‘research.’ This gathering of ‘insights’ may have some value at an anecdotal level, but it is not research.
The misuse and low regard for research, and the impatience to get it right when it comes to the information needed to answer a question, have been major pet peeves throughout my career. And believe me, I can play as fast and loose with ‘data’ as the next person…especially when I WANT it to be true! So I know the temptation well.
I was talking to Frank Pleticha, lead consultant for Answers to Action, about this phenomenon and what to do about it. He leapt on my frustration with equal verve. And he said, “Would you let an unlicensed teen drive a Lamborghini?!” Of course not. Most licensed drivers need a lesson when stepping into a machine like that and before they head off down the road. Other analogies spring to mind: Would you let someone set sail into the open ocean with a compass and good wishes if they’d never had a day of sailing lessons and didn’t know how to swim? Would you let a stranger hold your briefcase while you stepped away for a call? Would you encourage jumping off a cliff because someone said we’ve got to get down the hill? No, that would be crazy – or certainly not smart.
Yet you see rash actions like this all the time in the name of ‘insights’ or research. As the data gets bigger, the tools get more sophisticated, and the questions become more nuanced and complicated, we need to be more thoughtful than ever before we launch into a survey, focus group, data mining, or polling. We need to think about the basic question: How will we use the information we gather?
It has always been a waste of resources to just run out and do random research – unless it is just for your personal curiosity. It is too easy to speak to the wrong kinds of people, ask the wrong questions, or gather the wrong underlying data. If you’re doing this for your business, the risks are great. You might kill a great idea because the research approach was poor (or poorly executed). Conversely, you might spend bundles on a bad idea that gets some nominal play because the testing was poor.
Avoiding these temptations to leap to research or a tactic or a tool starts with a basic idea: Seek out professional help! Research is a profession for a reason. Just as you want a brilliant cardiologist if you have a heart problem, or the smartest tax attorney on your side if the IRS comes calling, you need professional research help. Especially the kind that will stand up to you and say, “Step away from those keys!”
You need professionals like Frank, who says, “My clients get paid for making successful decisions. My job is to provide the insights that increase the probabilities that they will make better decisions.”