The Fog of Research

Are you familiar with the phrase, “the fog of war?” You can get the idea from the image here, from a computer strategy game: the pieces in the center of the image can see the terrain for only a short distance, shown here as the brighter area. The rest is obscured by the fog of war.

Some days, bad days mostly, I think there’s something like this that goes on with most business research. They create the fog of research. It’s like the fog of war. Poor vision. Partial vision.

I think this happens all the time with focus groups and surveys. The research is almost always flawed because it’s almost impossible to get random people lists. Questions inadvertently distort results. People answer what they like to hear themselves or think of themselves answering, not the truth. Often they don’t know the truth. Surveys ask “would you buy this?” for example. “What price would you pay?” People often project who they want to be as they answer these questions. And focus groups: they depend on randomly chosen participants, but that almost never really happens. People can’t gather random people. And then one person — bad day, good day, some outside annoyance — can influence the whole group.

Then comes the problem of fog of research: once there is research in house, discussion gets fogged. People stop thinking fully, fairly, unwilling to question assumptions, and quick to devalue common sense. “After all, we have the research,” we say. “Let’s not ignore the research.”

I realize that this fog of research idea makes me seem to be against research, against analysis, and against study. I’m not, really; I’ve done a lot of research through the years.

What I do say is do the research, but don’t believe it blindly. Don’t lose your skepticism and common sense.

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