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Research schmesearch

September 16, 2012 — by Daryll Scott3

When I was young there was a kid in the playground who liked to make up quizzes.

He would come up with ten or so questions (things from his past knowledge and experience) and he would ask us the questions.

But he would play as well, and when he won having answered all of the questions correctly he would celebrate his victory and bask in his cleverness.

Now that I am older I frequently meet people who are doing the same thing – they call it research.

They design a set of questions based on what they think will happen or be observed. These questions come from their prejudices conditioned by their previous experience, knowledge, rules, and models.

This method will never provide you with…

  • What’s really happening
  • The counter examples to your expectations and prejudices
  • Surprises, coincidences or opportunities
  • Anything new

One consultant I was working with said, “I knew what the outcome would be before we began the research.” Just like the boy in the playground she was right, of course, which just serves to reinforce the delusion.

There is an alternative approach…

3 comments

  • Malc

    September 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    This is a point I am very opinionated about in everyday life, for 4 reasons (i) What you describe is exactly the reason why the scientific method depends on control experiments, and why scientific publications depend on the peer review process to validate if the questions asked, and the way they were carried out, are valid. Without this the work (and the scientific publication) has no credibility to anyone capable of critical thinking. (ii) You know those adverts that say “89% of respondents said this cream made their skin appear more radiant” (or similar)? You just know the question was “Would you say that using this cream makes your skin appear more radiant?”. Anyone capable of critical thinking would of course know that the question should be “What does this cream do to your skin?”. (iii) Exactly the same symptom occurs with the carefully-spun pronouncements of governments and large institutions that affect the populace quite considerably. (iv) Disappointingly, most of us humans seem to be incapable of critical thinking. Or at least, we choose to suspend it all too often, privately or professionally.
    In daily life, all of us can & should intuitively peer-review the research and pronouncements of others. Because we’re worth it.

    Reply

    • Daryll Scott

      September 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      Sure Malc, for science, where the intention is disproving and improving (If history tells us anything it’s that we never successfully prove something to be true – rather the paradigm seems to work for the time being). Unless of course you are standing on the shoulders of the wrong giants. Then your deep conditioning that has got you to the point where you would be considered a credible academic peer will prevent you from thinking outside of the ‘truths’ of your paradigm – I’m lead to believe that Newtonian Physicists put up a good fight. But I don’t expect you to accept that.

      You suffer from coming from the world of Physics where the science is almost immaculate – the scientific method is very fit for purpose. Unfortunately everyone has physics envy and attempts to apply the same principles to entirely unsuitable subject matter.

      However – research outside of science is not the same game, it’s seldom subject to any kind of peer review, and the intention is not precision, it’s to answer the question what the hell is going on in our organisation and what the hell do we do next? The answers are, a million things, and any one of a million things respectively. it’s a different game.

      Reply

  • Max

    May 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Ok, so a question I got asked yesterday, who owns culture ( in an organisation). I won’t bore you with the detail of my reply, apart from to say I would not be pushed into saying anyone person can ‘own culture’ rather that we can talk about who does the influencing, steering, participating, evolving……… I am left pondering was this person deliberately asking me the leading question so he could agree or argue with me if I gave a specific person or group of people (which then leads on to the next question of can a collective experience be owned by a group?) or was he looking for me to deny the concept itself? next time I see him I will ask, yesterday I was too busy responding to the question, rather than asking what the purpose of him asking the question was…………….

    Reply

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