TEI 2-02: Research Ideation and Selection

The overall goal with your research project is to serve your clients by reducing uncertainty for them

  • Research ideation and selection 
    • Ideation in general 
      • Remember that the overall goal is to serve your clients by reducing uncertainty. There might be situations where you want to prove or disprove a specific hypothesis, but mostly your mindset should be to serve clients by reducing uncertainty.
      • Uncertainty in a low stakes situation might be annoying or frustrating, but it’s rarely costly. That’s because.... well, the stakes are low. It’s playing poker with Monopoly money, not real money.
      • So as you’re responding to the ideation prompts I’m about to walk through in a moment, keep in mind the context. Ideas for reducing uncertainty in a low stakes situation, or in the context of an easily reversed or changed decision are likely to be less valuable to your clients than an ability to reduce uncertainty in a high stakes situation, or around a decision that is not easy to reverse or change. 
        • In fact, you might generate your list of ideas, pop them into a spreadsheet, and then add additional columns where you rank each idea based on how high the stakes around the client situation it relates to are.
      • It’s OK if you generate a ton of ideas and it’s OK if you generate only a few. Either way, you need to prioritize the resulting list and arrive at the one idea for reducing uncertainty that you’d like to focus on.
    • About the ideation prompts 
      • I’m going to walk you through a bunch of questions, and some I’ll add some additional context to.
      • There will be a lot of redundancy in the list of questions. This is because they’re based on just a few simple themes. Those themes are... 
        • How can you reduce uncertainty around important decisions for your clients?
        • How can you reduce consequential risk for your clients?
        • How can you create other efficiencies for your clients using data that you collect and interpret for them?
      • So like I said, just a very few themes, but I expand those into a bunch of questions because the variety in this basket of questions is more likely to elucidate ideas than just those three themes I identified.
    • What causes or increases uncertainty for your clients?
    • What’s the biggest risk to your clients (that you could do something about at your current level or 1 or 2 levels of involvement higher)? 
      • What causes or increases risk for your clients?
      • What specifically are the risky parts of your work with clients?
      • If you don’t have a guess or know what this is, then there’s a potential research project!
      • If I were you, and you currently do mostly implementation work, I’d assume that this research will eventually get you access a few levels higher in the client organization. No guarantees, of course, but if you bake this assumption into your choice of topic selection, then the research you do is more likely to be of the sort that would help you gain that new access to higher levels in the client org.
    • What increases ROI for what you do? 
      • Why do projects fail to work at all?
      • Why do they underperform their potential?
      • What functions as insurance against project failure or underperformance?
      • What acts as a force multiplier or accelerant on project performance/results/outcomes?
    • What decisions do your clients make under high stakes + low data conditions? 
      • Where do you see your clients or prospects making decisions without good data or evidence or best practices to support those decisions? Likewise, where do you see them making decisions based on bad data, evidence, or outdated/wrong best practices?
    • Is there a perennial question your market tries to answer without evidence or data or useful models?
    • Is there a problem you're in love with but can't solve without data? 
      • Is this an “unrequited love” or does your market also love this problem (or rather, do they crave a solution to this problem)?
      • The “in love” language is not accidental.
    • Where specifically do your clients do work that's sloppy, misguided, badly planned, or held back by errors or bugs? 
      • On a pessimistic day you might just chalk this up to your clients being lazy or dumb, but I hope not. :)
      • In a more optimistic frame of mind, I hope you chalk this up to well-intentioned people acting without the proper data or guidance. Your research can provide that missing data or guidance. Clients are still free to reject at, at which point you are still free to regard them as lazy or dumb, but at least at that point it’s fair to do so.
    • What areas of tech or best practice do your clients feel like they are falling behind in? 
      • Be careful about guessing here. You’re possibly an expert, and your expertise can create bias, so make sure with this question you’re responding to evidence and not assumption. In other words, if a video camera could possibly document this, then you’re probably on solid ground, but if it’s just a gut feel or intuition, don’t totally discount that but also be wary of your own bias at play.
    • What specific area(s) of performance are upper management within your clients always complaining about? 
      • ex: our IT department keeps embarrassing us with their failure to $THING. ex: our competition is kicking our ass in $AREA. Or to frame this differently: think about your buyer at their year-end performance review. Where are they going to be told they need to improve?
    • What do you wish you could prove to clients or prospects? (ex: In sales calls, I'm always saying $THING, but clients don't get how critical this is. I wish I could help them understand the importance of $THING.) This is dangerous, because it works from you -> market rather than market -> you, but the question can lead you to good research ideas nevertheless.
    • What do your clients push back about, or what do you argue about and wish you could objectively define for them?
    • What specifically are the risky parts of your work with clients? 
      • This is very similar to a prompt I posed earlier, but the difference is that here I’m giving you permission to be selfish and ask what poses a risk to your work specifically, not necessarily to the results your work produces for clients
        • Ex: $AREA-OF-UNCERTAINTY causes your projects to go over scope a lot. You’d like to have this happen less, in order to increase your own profitability. Since you work fixed price, the scope overages have minimal effect on your clients or the ultimate success of the project, but again I’m giving you permission here to be selfish, so you run with it and think about how your ability to execute for clients--even if they never see it--could be improved with data or research.
    • What new capability would represent an 80/20 win for your clients? What could they learn from your research that would produce outsized results for their business or a unit within the business? 
      • What repeatable 80/20 opportunities exist for your clients? Said differently, what are the top 20% of your client's cohort doing that the rest aren't? What are top performers in other fields doing that your clients could learn from?
    • That’s it! 
      • I hope at least a few of these questions really get you thinking. If not, just let things percolate in the back of your mind for a few days, return to this list, and see if anything new has surfaced. I’d bet money it will.
      • I imagine some of you will have a massive list. Here are some ideas for ranking the list. 
        • What would have greatest impact for your clients?
        • What research project seems the easiest to execute on?
        • You can combine the above two into a synthetic metric that favors ideas that have a lot of impact and also represent an easy execution path for you.
        • Which ideas are simply the most interesting to you?
        • Which ideas couple with a point of view that you have? Remember that a point of view is an opinion that you can support, and what better way to support an opinion than with research! 
          • I know that in an ideal world, the research would leads us to the POV, not the other way around. But we need not live in an ideal world to create outsized value for our clients. :)

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