Embracing the grey

During the Bill Henson retrospective at the AGNSW some time ago, he and Edmond Capon had a “conversation” on stage one evening. The two things I remember from that night are…

  1. Edmond turning the conversation around and arond so that I felt like the session turned into a bit of an “all about Edmond” evening
  2. Bill Henson saying something so sensible and resonating that it stuck with me like glue. When asked why he felt his art was so successful, he spoke about how he was interested in the big themes (he said these were stuff like life, death, love, lust etc) and that he just wasn’t interested in art that referenced art – he found it dull and self-indulgent, and thought that his stuff resonated with people outside the “art world” because they could see their own passions in his work.

I am wildly paraphrasing here and probably if I looked at a transcript of that evening he likely never said anything like that. But at the time it stuck. I had been doing my own reflecting on the art world and what it meant to me. I have a degree in art history, yet have never worked in the arts. Yet when I got a bit of a glimpse inside that world, it seemed so self-serving and dismissive of what people outside that world are turned on by art-wise it made me more than a little annoyed. So I loved that a major artist was standing up for the “base” reactions of the everyman, and saying he could understand why an average punter would be so BORED by art that just stared up and into it’s own arse,  because he was bored too.

So why am I posting this you wonder – well, I’M NEARLY BACK AT WORK, and have been popping into the office and chatting with people there to see what I can get up to when I return NEXT WEEK. And this has begun to stir the old thought processes up a bit. The wheels are chugging slowly; there has been dust and cob webs blown away; the lightbulb is flickering like an annoying flouro tube, and before I knew it, I was walking along and thinking about stuff in the old way I used to. Well, to be honest, the thinking never stopped, but now the thinking needs to get a bit more focussed.

Get to the point, you are probably thinking. So I will.

This thought of Bill Henson came back to me today as I was walking home back from a meeting, and I made the connection with what I do. It’s taken me a few bloody years – but the way I see it is this. We have a terrible habit in market research to speak in absolutes. The time I have been on leave I cannot count the amount of ridiculous tweets from people saying that in the future the only qual we will be doing is on-line. Sort of like the whole quant versus qual debate that was raging when I first stared in research. Sort of like the group v depth debate that consumed us all in 2000. And don’t even get me started on the fuckwits that keep claiming the focus group is dead and we should all be about ethnography. You see, these debates all happen inside our industry. No one gives a flying fuck outside of it. We speak in absolutes; it’s black and white and never the two shall meet. Are you qual or quant? Are you “new research” or “old”. Are you with us or against us? The funny thing is the people that pay our bills don’t really care how we do it. They just need their questions answered, their problems solved – and if they are lucky, get their loins stirred by the way a lovely piece of research can get everyone in the room passionate about an idea, a customer, a company, a possibility.

I am not saying that the navel gazing the industry does though is a waste of time. It’s healthy to think about where we are heading; how technlogy is impacting on what we do (and our relevance) everyday; how some of the things that we do aren’t helping our clients in the long run. But what I do find a waste of time is the polemicists that demand you have to sit on one side of the fence. Maybe it’s because we are researchers and we are taught to give a tight story – that we can’t have any grey areas; that we need to remove the chaos. It certainly makes for a catchy soundbite when you broadcast to your twitter followers some pithy idea you have – but in the long run it just sounds vapid and lazy.

So what am I saying? (It’s clear at the moment that I have a lot of trouble with the tight story…)

  1. Our clients don’t care really about the “old research” v “new research” debate, or whether we feel the death of the focus group is nigh
  2. Our clients care about outcomes and the stories we come back with from the field (wherever that field may be)
  3. What gets them passionate about what we do is to do with the “big stuff” – painting them an evocative picture about what their customers really care about is the key to us doing a good job

What I am not saying is that methodology doesn’t count. I am DEFINITELY not saying that. Methodology is the bedrock as Katie Harris so righlty posts over at Zebra Bites. But chucking arrows out of your quiver beacuse it doesn’t suit your “crazy-bag-lady-man-screeching-on-a-corner-about-the-death-of-old-research” etc ideology seems a bit nuts.

So on my return to work I promise to embrace the old and the new, the digital and the analogue, the qual and the quant (and the other stuff we do) and play in the grey areas…as long as they are the right tools to help to unlock cracking insights.

And what happened with Insights since I’ve been away. It’s like a dirty word in some circles…I dunno – you go away and have a baby…

1 Comment

Filed under market research, marketing

One response to “Embracing the grey

  1. shannah

    wot, no insights?

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