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4906582_sEvery winter I get on a non-fiction reading kick. With the new(ish) year underway, now feels like a great time to think a bit about our industry and best practices, to catch up on methodologies and alternative approaches we should be thinking about, and to explore what other thought leaders are publishing.

Creativity and inspiration may not necessarily spark from dense textbook surveys of the market research landscape, but they’re a good place to start. There are two books I would recommend for anyone interested in what we do and how we do it:

  • Ray Poynter’s The Handbook of Online and Social Media Research is a helpful introduction to online research, how it’s evolved over the past ten years, and how researchers reach out into the world in different ways to consult with consumers and business constituents in various categories.  This book is a great place to start learning about marketing research and some of the newer and interesting ways in which consumer insights are being culled (social media, communities, etc.)
  • Naresh Malhotra’s Marketing Research: An Applied Orientation, now in it’s sixth edition, is an excellent textbook for in-depth understanding of how market research can provide businesses with strategic value – exploring how insights from market research studies can be applied toward bigger picture business questions, hypotheses, and problems. This text is comprehensive, providing an overview of how many diverse market research methodologies contribute to feed into the channel of consumer feedback.

In addition to these resources, the field of psychology continues to contribute meaningful “food-for-thought” to market researchers. For a fifth (!) year in a row, Dan Ariely’s name and works have come up in our conversations around rational and emotional drivers for consumer behavior. Start with the famous Predictably Irrational, if you haven’t already, and if you find it engaging, follow his thinking through the more recent The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, on the shelves in many bookstores now.


Here at W5 we recently completed a research project for a company testing a change in the way customers order one of their core products. To accurately gauge reaction to this change we interviewed people at locations where they purchase this product. The discovery process of diving down the rabbit hole of such unique and varied consumer interactions is one of the most fascinating parts of conducting consumer insights research in diverse industries. I mean, who knew that the way consumers think about and buy socks could be layered with so many levels of complexity?!

However, the real challenge I enjoy in conducting research is to frame the research question in a greater social and cultural context.  Decisions are not made, nor actions taken, in a vacuum. So while this research was very esoteric in focusing on the product itself and the ways in which customers think about how they purchase that product, the deeper issue this research raised was people’s resistance to change.

When companies decide to make big changes, for whatever reason, those decisions are not entered into lightly. The benefits of introducing change must be measured against the potential blowback that will occur as a result of those changes to any well established brand, product or process.  The classic example of such blowback being of course the New Coke debacle, which was more accurately speaking a blowback against the elimination of original Coke.

In more recent times we have seen negative reaction to change every time Facebook introduces changes to their user interface. The pattern is predictable with Facebook announcing the changes, Facebook users denouncing the changes and threatening to cancel their accounts, the changes being implemented and eventually frustration to the change dying down.

In purely rational terms it should be clear that fear of and resistance to change is irrational. Why must something that is new and different inherently be worse? I suppose that whatever the new thing is must be judged in comparison to whatever it is replacing. As the saying goes – don’t fix what ain’t broke. But on the flip side of that coin is belief that there is always room for improvement.

Change is the only constant

According to research (discussed here) that questioned the human aversion to that which is newer, or more accurately, a preference for that which is older, there is an inherent belief among humans that things that are older are better. Study participants who were told that a piece of European chocolate was first sold 73 years ago rated it as better tasting than those participants who were told it was first sold 3 years ago. Similarly, participants who were told that a painting was painted in 1905 found it more appealing than those who were told the painting was painted in 2005.

But why? What is it deep within the collective human psyche that drives us to believe that which is older is better and that change is threatening? This is a question that I don’t have the answer for, although it is something that I will continue to ponder and hopefully gain insight into through future conversations and observations.

As we well know, the only constant in life is change. The attempt to understand the unknown variable (the reaction to change) and encouraging people to embrace that change, is the real challenge.

Watch Neil DeGrasse Tyson educate Richard Dawkins on the importance of understanding context when “teaching” others. Tyson makes a wonderful point about the difference between information and persuasion.

As Marty mentioned in a previous post, the new Delicious design is a little wonky, and no longer pumps content to our blog and Twitter account. So here’s a roundup of articles I’ve stumbled across over the past month that you may find interesting:

A team of theoretical physicists affiliated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) has recently published a study with potentially interesting implications for computing technology.

It deals with entropy, a thermodynamic concept that seeks to explain how energy within a system tends to distribute towards balance…A good illustration of entropy are ice cubes in a glass of water. Heat will transfer from water to the ice, ultimately melting the ice cubes and equalizing the molecular energy of substance within the glass. Another thing to know about entropy – the energy that’s being applied to this process of distributing energy throughout a system can’t be used to do any other form of ‘work’ (mechanical processes that consume energy).

This notion is central to the ETH’s published study. Up till this point, it has been assumed that, like all computations, deleting data from a computing system is work, one that releases energy. Just like the edits you’re, say, making to a spreadsheet on your laptop when you notice that the device is warming up.

The team at ETH has invoked quantum mechanics, however, to demonstrate that a computing system is actually tied to its operator – And so when data is deleted, by law of entropy the energy that is dissipated from that work can be absorbed by the operator. Moreover, the more entangled the operator is with (or in other words, the more knowledgeable of) the computing system , the greater the amount of energy they can absorb from this deletion task.

This is fairly heady stuff, but it doesn’t take too much to see some significant applications – You know what I mean if you’ve ever seen an IT team meltdown due to an overheated server room. While the this knowledge is still far from being harnessed for practical utility, it’s still pretty neat to consider.

Infomous is a dynamic and intuitive navigation solution – perhaps soon to pop up on websites you visit.  Web developers for content-rich sites have integrated word cloud and tablet-style flip navigation over the past few years, but this is a solution that seems to combine aspects of both: reference triggers and dynamic script.  The tool is currently available in preview/beta version through a relationship with the provider, but will roll out later this year, ready for embed.  More info at Infomous – they have a demo up for world news, a version for sports news, entertainment news, science news.  It’s easy to explore and find links to try.

Okay, this one’s a little obtuse… 🙂  Check the article too, whew!

Wired: World’s Most Precise Clocks Could Reveal Universe is Hologram

I had the opportunity to attend TEDxRaleigh a few weeks back. While the event was interesting enough, there was one thing that has really stuck with me. As filler, they showed some videos from other TED events, one of which was David Blaine’s TED talk about how he held is breath for 17 minutes. It’s a great video, filled with the trial-and-error of any innovation process.

The moment that really stuck with me is when, after going to great lengths to create the illusion of holding his breath, he has a revelation: Just figure out how to hold your breath for a really long time. There’s the simple solution.

Sometimes, looking for the shortest route from point A to point B isn’t the best solution. More often, you just need to do it. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and even harder to put into practice.