Ignorance Drives Market Research
Or at the very least, ignorance should drive market research because fundamentally research should be about findings answers to questions that we do not already know.
This idea for focusing on “ignorance” is inspired by a book published last year called Ignorance: How It Drives Science, by Stuart Firestein. Applied to our industry, the argument goes something like this: Market research is not (or at least should not be) about accumulating facts and then depositing them into a market research knowledge base. It should be about inquiry, discovery, and doubt when things are unknown and when facts or knowledge do not make sense, or when facts and knowledge are not helping us make better decisions to achieve what we want.
Indeed, “ignorance is not stupidity,” a reviewer in The New York Times writes. “Rather, it is a particular condition of knowledge: the absence of fact, understanding, insight or clarity about something. It is a case where data don’t exist, or more commonly, where the existing data don’t make sense.” The reviewer continues:
Dr. Firestein got the idea for his book by teaching a course on cellular and molecular neuroscience, based on a 1,414-page textbook that, at 7.7 pounds, weighs more than twice as much as a human brain. He eventually realized that his students must think that pretty much everything in neuroscience is known. “This could not be more wrong,” he writes. “I had, by teaching this course diligently, given the students the idea that science is an accumulation of facts. When I sit down with colleagues over a beer at a meeting, we don’t go over facts. We don’t talk about what’s known. We talk about what we’d like to figure out, about what needs to be done.”
This is exactly what we suggest is the best approach for market research. It should always focus on the unknowns, on new puzzles that need to be solved. When this happens, the hand-wringing about ROI and making research “actionable” disappears. All the clichéd angst about whether research matters goes away because we’re figuring things out and doing what needs to be done.
How does one get there? By shifting focus to questions in ways similar to those we have outlined in The Art of Asking Questions. It is a simple process of surfacing five types of questions: the mission-critical questions, the nice-to-know questions, the red-herring questions, the already-answered questions, and the look-elsewhere questions.
Need help? Give us a call. We’ll help you define and embrace the ignorance that can make your research really matter.