Today we live in a complex world where causality is not direct. One change in the system can lead to a change in an entirely different part. As such a systematic research process is beginning to keep us away from thinking about the issue at hand in a creative and inspiring way. Research follows an established linear process because the conventional wisdom is that process, routine and control ensure quality of analysis.
In a way, research ends up operating like a packaged tour guide when what we need is a learning journey that allows the traveller to make detours and explore alternative interesting avenues to discover something new and surprising.
That is why we believe that it is important to allow for serendipity in research analysis process. This is particularly true for a Qualitative project where although discussion areas are planned, the consumer behaviour and response cannot be predicted. (last year we blogged along similar lines: Creative structuring, Inspiration during the research process: http://consumerfaces.com/blog/page/2/).
There is already the well-established idea that planned serendipity is a way to enable creativity with chance for better success in business. Our belief is that research analysis process needs a dose of planned serendipity to provide more innovative answers and perspectives to the consumer world we observe today.
In this blog we will share some of the ways we have built serendipity into our analysis process.
Strengthen surprise sensors
James Carse said: “To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated”.
There is evidence that emergency responders e.g. fire fighters who succeed in moments of crises, do so by falling back on identifying certain patterns based on past experience and applying that to the situation confronting them.
Similarly in a Qualitative research project, we encounter behaviour and attitudes which is distinctive. It is important to be prepared for such unfamiliar patterns so that we can make unusual connections when they present themselves to us. We normally begin our projects by researching already existing data and theories in the field we are researching and related fields.
In a recent study to understand cooking habits of women we had understood theories on Food, Gender and Power; Kitchen as a cultural medium, women’s empowerment and changing roles before we even began to speak to our study participants.
Conceptual side explorations
We don’t see analysis as a distinct stage that happens after data has been collected. Like a tree grows under sunlight, gathering information during a Qualitative project adds new understanding as the project progresses.
Even as fieldwork is ongoing, we conduct daily coffee conversations within the team. Through this new ideas may emerge and we begin conceptual explorations of emerging issues.
For example in a recent study we were talking about a new product idea that promised family bonding. Turned out that in today’s time starved world, family time was under considerable strain and convenience was an important element. So we began to explore the idea of convenience visible around us in mass media, retail stores etc. We looked at convenience in food, convenience in lifestyle, new product introductions related to convenience, how other brands were targeting the time starved individual/family in the market. This provided us interesting perspectives on family bonding and essentially helped us contemporize a traditional concept of family bonding.
Enabling chance encounters
Dating common sense (in the real not virtual world) is that to improve your chances of finding someone, you need to go to places you may have never tried.
Similarly in Qualitative research, we often immerse ourselves in spaces and times beyond the immediate contexts that often lead to interesting chance encounters.
So we often undertake morning trysts as the city is just awakening, conversations with people in public spaces or in spaces where people are willing to open up e.g. hair salons.
In a recent study on beauty in Vietnam, we spent time walking around neighbourhoods looking at people’s balconies. Every single balcony had laundry hanging out! It told us what was fashionable, what was in and what was out etc. (besides being a visual treat) and provided us more insight into how Vietnamese women define beauty.
Looking at change makers
Research is often focussed on the present. However, it is important to look at what change makers in related fields are talking about/ doing and how they see the world. It helps us get an interesting perspective on what the future might look like, the drivers to change and how this may be related to the issue at hand.
On a laundry detergent study we spent time reading interviews among women entrepreneurs talking about their personal challenges in balancing family and personal life. This gave us a unique insight on the pressures women are likely to confront as more of them begin to work in more responsible jobs. The respondents we had interviewed were not game changers but we understood where the world was heading
Perhaps you are already doing side explorations not part of the core/initial project as part of your Qualitative projects. We would love to hear if you have different ways in which you enable planned serendipity in your business/work.
There will always be serendipity involved in discovery – Jeff Bezos