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The power of divergence


Some of the large market research departments on the client side have gone through yet another round of soul-searching and introspection recently. Some have emerged with a new vision for the function, a vision that points out the necessity of a return to rigorous measurements and discipline and a return to traditional market research methodologies.


It seems that we have been misled in recent years by left-wing radicals who infiltrated the research departments and led us astray to extremes such as researchers sitting down in a circle with consumers, holding hands and chanting while under the influence of drugs and hypnosis; and even worse – they taught us to rely on our gut feel and intuition. Now, in the time of economic turmoil, we must come back to reason, numbers and indices.


The right-wing approach which calls for rigorous measurements would have been completely justified if events in the world moved in linear fashion. But it is not so. We can rigorously apply BASES volumetrics and feel good about the predicted 1,356 thousand tons of soap that we will sell in market X next year but we already know that this will not happen because of earthquakes, competitors, swine flu and people being what they are, (namely, irrational creatures) to name a few amongst thousands of variables.


Nonetheless, the desire to converge on one number that would offer an answer to complex questions is stronger than common sense. 


Good enough

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the difference between convergence and divergence tests for measuring individual success. According to Gladwell, intelligence matters but only to a point – in terms of future success it doesn't really matter if my IQ score is 125 or 135 – at some point it simply becomes ‘good enough’. 


"If intelligence matters only up to a point, then past that point, other things – things that have nothing to do with intelligence – must start to matter more." [Outliers, p. 86]


‘The other thing’ is creativity. And so far the best possible measure for creativity are divergence tests which measure the ability to produce new ideas by seeing new associations between existing and seemingly unconnected concepts. Some innovators in the field of market research, such as John Kearon, are already using divergence techniques to identify creative consumers who are then invited into a process of co-creation.


This ability to uncover associations and connection is close to a definition of creativity. And it is a desperately needed ability in market research if it wants to play serious role in delivering innovation: in term of product and communication for its client and also in terms of new research techniques and tools. 


Convergence is useful up to a point but its importance in research is clearly overrated. Insight, new ideas and innovations are delivered through divergence: through interdisciplinary approaches that illuminate a variety of possibilities and solutions. 

(written for the September issue of the Research World)