X will change the world...according to research by provider of X.

If you are reading this article, I am going to assume you are no stranger to consuming online content.  In fact you probably spend a decent percentage of your week staying up to date with what others are saying.  There is plenty to read.

As such, you are probably no stranger to reading articles that are influenced by the results of research.  'Research indicates this...  New Research confirms that!  But how much of these research findings are actually conducted with authenticity and with the purpose of discovery as opposed to reinforcement of a predetermined answer?

For example, just this week I read an article that confirms all recruitment in the future will be automated, provided by a developer of recruitment Artificial Intelligence tools.  I also read an article that suggests a high percentage of Marketing Managers will automate the majority of their marketing in the future... confirmed by independent research conducted by the developer of marketing automation tools.

I won't ground out the point any further, I know you get it.

Confirmation or discovery?

The conditions under which research activities are commissioned in the first place is an interesting one.  Normally, there is an objective or hypothesis that research activities commit to understanding more about.  There is nothing wrong with this, however there is a fine line sometimes between a hypothesis and a predetermined answer.   Collecting data in a way that isn't influenced by the result we need is difficult. Afterall, looking towards something with a truly neutral view is nigh on impossible for us humans.

Those skilled in the art of research methods know this, and have developed approaches with this in mind.  But not all research is conducted by knowledgeable professionals.  Dare I say it, a growing amount of "research" could easily be considered a promotional expense.

For example, a manufacturer of a particular product will look for the results that supports the sales of their product.  It would be a very brave company that released the results of research indicating their product or industry was about to die a slow and miserable death.  That research would likely be buried forever.  That doesn't confirm what we had hoped, let's do it again!

It is also worth remembering that research results and statistics are a spin doctor's dream - a type of alchemy that produces gold out of even the most unimpressive of starting points.  It is even easier when the questions are worded in a way to elicit the right answers in the first place.  

Beware of the echo chamber

The point to this article is a simple one that is often easy to forget.  There is very little in this world that is truly independent.  All of us think our opinion is the right one, and all of us look for evidence to help guide us towards the best actions.  There are plenty of new shiny things that are going to change the world, but how many of these are based on marketing hype?  

The problem for the modern business decision-maker is that it is really hard to know what is real and true, and what is unsubstantiated rubbish.  It's all part of the marketing game.  Just because something is spoken about a lot, does it make it good/right/accurate?  (If you want to read a wonderful thought starter about big data and human decision making, see this informative article by Kevin Gray)

The opportunity is to take what we see and hear and read and make up our own minds.  Looking to others for their opinions is a wonderful thing.  Just remember that opinions are not facts, and facts are rarely facts.

Beware of the silver bullets...

If I was a decision-maker and needed to be mindful of my budget (and who isn't these days), I would probably double down on the time I spent sifting through the evidence of what is being presented as a solution.  Not all evidence is based on fact, and so before you go and freely spend your budget in areas that seem cool (e.g. predictive analytics, tech solutions based on secretive algorithms), it is worth keeping this point in mind.

Remember to engage your crap detector that comes standard within all of us humans but often needs a voluntary activation.  Sometimes, a few questions can make all the difference.

If you are looking to discover something about people, remember there is always the tried and tested method of simply asking them!  And don't forget to check out our HR Tools if you happen to be gauging the opinions of employees.

 

 

About the author:

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Jason Buchanan is the general manager for insights and innovation of Optimum Consulting Group, a trusted and leading HR consultancy firm in Australia. He is the brain behind Optimum Direct, a web portal of the best HR tools and software for small business. He is interested in finding solutions on how companies can continue to grow without destroying the things that are important to them (employees, customers, suppliers, reputation etc).