Research…in the Blink of an Eye

Corey_InterviewHave you read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell?

If not, get it.  It’s a great read, very short and inspiring.  In the book, Malcolm describes people who have become the best at what they do.  This is part of the description from an excerpt on Amazon, “Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing,” filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.”   Translation, when you are the best at what you do, you see things others don’t see in the blink of an eye.  And the reason is because you have come across that situation so many times in various contexts that it becomes second nature to you.  Your brain recognizes the patterns and returns to you the answer within milliseconds.  In the world of professional athletics they call this muscle memory.

So how does that relate to research?  Here at User Insight, we have refined our user experience research process since 2002.  We segment the process by skill set and position so that everyone on the team becomes an expert at what they do.  From recruiting to logistics to moderation, analysis and strategy, we concentrate on what we do well.  Qualitative research has dozens of moving parts that are all unpredictable; good research is the ability to anticipate the outcome of these moving parts in the blink of an eye.  There’s a fine line between being cocky and being an expert, what makes the difference – experience and attitude. We are researchers to our core, always observing and thinking, “How can I make this better for someone?”, it’s what we do. We can look at a question and know intuitively that it will not give the answer you want.  We will look at regional markets and know the “pulse” of one market will give you a better perspective over another market.  By asking someone a few questions we are able to predict their preferences for a particular user interaction.  I watch our people do it every day and it is as if they hold a crystal ball in their hand. When our clients see us in action I often get feedback like, “That’s amazing, it’s like magic – how did she know what I wanted her to ask?”; I can tell them it’s not magic, it’s because we have experienced so much user research and have seen patterns of behavior in so many contexts that it just comes naturally to us, we can anticipate and know where and how to follow up effectively.

I was on a project just last week and there was a heated discussion back and forth from the client and the agency on the best approach to a given part of the research.  While on hold, I asked my head of research what she thought.  Is the agency right or is the client right?  She said, “It doesn’t matter.  Get me in the room and let me ask a few questions and I will know exactly where and how to take the conversation to get the answers.”  And that is exactly what happened.

A wise man once told me, there is only one thing worse than no user data and that is bad user data.  Getting the right feedback to inform your decisions depends on many variables.  Make sure you trust those variables to a company that can anticipate the unanticipated…in the blink of an eye.