brainstorming, research and ROI

 

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“The measure of greatness in a scientific idea is the extent to which it stimulates thought and opens up new lines of research.”

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Paul A.M. Dirac

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“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

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John Wanamaker

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So. I thought about research, and brainstorming, the other day as I perused an article about a good friend of mine <and a gangbuster research group I would highly recommend –studyhall research: http://www.studyhallresearch.com/ > who was just named one of the top 20 research moderators in America.

Couple of thoughts hit me:

–         I have a love/hate relationship with research <we tend to torture numbers & methodology to say what we want to say>.

–        I hate brainstorming.

So. Nifty thoughts <you may say> … but what the hell do these two thoughts have to do with each other? <other than the fact any viable business thinks or does both>

Well. Speaking of hell. Both are devils in their own way.

roi IntangiblePerson-1Research can be devilishly tricky <mostly because business people want to use it incorrectly> … but when done well … it can inform some great insightful decisions and idea.

Brainstorming can be devilishly painful — like visiting the devil at his home type painful and even when done well tends to dull <not sharpen> the good ideas.

I have seen both devils … have danced with both devils … and I would suggest you dance with the one you know the best <at least that’s what I say>.

I would choose to dance with research. No hesitation. Not just because I know it better, but it is better when done well, more cost effective and actually delivers an ROI.

Oh. And let me discuss ‘cost effective’ for a minute. Far <far> too many business leaders & managers suggest “brainstorming doesn’t cost us anything <and we gain value thru ‘involvement’>. Well. That value equation is so far <far> out of fucking wack I am not sure where to begin.

So let me begin with something safe.

Real costs. Like real tangible dollars & cents when addressing the ‘no cost’ theorem. Salary rates are always calculated on an out-of-pocket <what I actually have to pay someone in their paycheck>, overhead and margin model.

This is based on taking the direct salary cost and multiplying it by an overhead factor. The overhead factor is to cover the indirect salary costs such as healthcare/benefits, support staff like the receptionist and accounting and useless management, plus space rent and utility costs, IT and capital expenses.

This overhead factor can vary from 60% to 120% depending on a number of factors. Then you have to add to this cost the profit margin of anywhere from 10% to 25%. And then let’s figure your staff works a 1920 hour annual year <that’s 40 hours a week minus 2 weeks’ vacation and 2 weeks personal/health/whatever>. I won’t bore you with hourly rates per person I will shove into a brainstorming meeting which I will conservatively put in the ‘waste-of-time-thinking-session’ for 2 hours but lets just say you are going to end up dropping maybe $3 to $4,000 in non-billable or ‘producable’ wages on brainstorming.

That is one brainstorming session.

Say your organization does 5 of these gangbuster ideation ‘future’ sessions. Uh oh. I’ve just put 15 to 20,000 buckaroos on brainstorming.

roi research wordsWell.

You have.

I haven’t.

There are so many ways and things you can spend $20000 in research <… and please … no one tell me zoomerang or survey monkey as viable ‘I will bank the future of my business’ research options> your head could explode exploring all of them.

Look. Good research is worth its weight in gold. Even better? It can actually generate ROI.

To be clear. Bad research is worthless <which is typically why I tell most businesses to not do their own research … and hire someone who knows their shit>.

Brainstorming has no ROI. Well. At least I can’t find one.

Good ideas get rejected because they are deemed too obvious <or not innovative or ‘breakthrough’ enough>. Whatever value <ROI> you gain in employee involvement & inclusion you tend to lose quickly with lack of results <i.e., simply waste of time as net employee response>.

Anyway.

Today’s business world is built differently than it used to be. We enter market more quickly <with less information>, move faster and adapt faster. This certainly takes a different kind of leadership & management skill set than many of us older folk learned in management. But more relevantly to what I am writing about today’s business world demands a different research vision that it used to be.

It needs to move faster and adapt faster. Long arduous research projects which are built to create “a solid foundation from which to carve out a space in the marketplace” <which is mostly bullshit anyway> are most often obsolete before you even get into market.

Why? That space, that window, is now closed. Research can’t measure static time & space <well … it actually can … but the information is practically useless because time & space doesn’t stand still nor repeat itself>. Research simply gives you a snapshot in the swirling seemingly chaotic space in which you are going to conduct your business.

That snapshot gives you a glimpse of what could be. I found a great article calling this way of thinking ‘directional research’ < http://gwkuhn3.com/tag/market-research-roi/ >.

The guy who wrote it says this:

“… businesses want answers right away and many times high statistical reliability is not worth the cost it takes to achieve it.”

and

“Insights that point decision-makers to go “left” or “right” is innately good enough. Leaders are oftentimes not willing to pay for “turn left at a 30 degree angle” or “turn right at an 115 degree angle” because it may cost too much money and takes far too long to obtain those precise next steps through drawn-out methodologies.

holding universe together ballWell said.

More people need to be thinking is way.

Shit.

More research companies should be thinking his way.

Unfortunately not only do most people & companies disagree with me about the lack of value of brainstorming <and using that investment on research> but most senior people in business these days do not agree with ‘directional research.’ These business people do not want to be informed … they want decisions made <with research> for them … and then they use the research as ‘one lane highways to drive the company down.’

<note: as an example of how businesses misuse research – for advertising creative – you can see this:  http://brucemctague.com/testing-creative-how-it-sharpens-and-how-it-dulls-the-idea >

That is old school thinking.

Well. It is just old thinking.

I am no research expert, but I know I don’t want to be dumb in bringing a business to market and I know I don’t want to be oblivious to thoughts & ideas that would make the business more likely to be successful initially. But I also know that being 80% close-to-being-right and in business making money <and adapting> is better than being 99% sure and being late to being in business <and being less likely to adapt because … well … shit … we are 99% sure aren’t we ?!?>.

Old school research thinking makes you late to market and encourages less flexible thinking and less adaptable behavior. You just get stuck in the old slow business people lane always getting passed by faster thinkers and adapters <shifters>.

Last two thoughts.

First. Don’t waste your money <or time> on brainstorming.

Second. If you are going to invest in research look for the adaptable directional research ROI.

I will end where I began … ‘the measure of greatness in a scientific idea is the extent to which it stimulates thought and opens up new lines of research.”

 

Great research not only informs <and does not make decisions> but it stimulates thought and inevitably opens up new lines of questions. Research can make sure you get some good basics right but it can also help you course correct and it can always make you think.

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Written by Bruce