“The first questions we ask are fateful.”
When we approach a research question, one of the first things we need to consider is the method of questioning.
By the very act of asking a question, we are forming the field of data that we are seeking to measure. It’s simply the nature of investigation to influence the thing we’re researching but we must do so mindfully and not get confused by the way we seek to gain answers and direction.
This is why we often dissuade the use of a survey to answer questions where there is not yet a clear focus. For example, a product company may wish to better understand the habits and behaviors of their customers in order to identify pain points or un-met needs. Someone may suggest that a survey be sent out to the customer list in order to see how they respond to a set of questions. The spirit of this makes sense - quickly get back a large set of data from a large number of people in order to find direction. Doing so, however will likely skew the responses greatly in the direction of the orientation of the survey author. It’s an often unavoidable effect and is to the detriment of the integrity of the data that comes back. Decisions will be made only slightly distant to the well-worn paths the company has already traveled.
In order to truly learn about your customers, we often suggest approaches that will instead result in a fertile field of new information and possibilities, ethnographic site visits, video diary studies, and depth interviews are potential options, among others. Taking this route means more listening, more learning and more insights on which new ideas can be built.