The Folly of Not Conducting Research

Military leaders rely on quality intelligence before deploying their forces. Why wouldn't corporate, nonprofit and public leaders do the same when facing their major challenges?The military uses intelligence to detect where an enemy may strike or be struck. Organizations should follow the military's example and rely on quality intelligence to detect competitive threats or opportunities.

The Oscar-nominated movie "Zero Dark Thirty" highlights the power of intelligence in achieving a significant but elusive objective. Organizations don't have to wrestle with the question of harsh interrogation to find out what their existing or target customers think. That's the role of research.

Unlike spies or terrorists, most consumers are willing — or sometimes even eager — to share their perceptions. All it takes is careful thought about how and where to approach them and a battery of thoughtful, fair questions.

A client once said, "Research isn't rocket science." True, but it also isn't child's play. Research professionals understand the importance of drawing a representative sample, reaching respondents where they will respond and asking questions that fetch actionable information.

At its best, research is a seamless extension of marketing, business operations and human relations activities. Its core function is to put facts behind actions. You use the best key messages, make the smartest business moves and employ the wisest policies.

The days of viewing research in isolation are over. Research should be welded into strategic activity across organizational boundaries. Research doesn't just provide data; it puts everyone on the same page and produces the common ground for decision-making — from new product features to the content of advertising.

Some skeptics grump that relying on research stifles creativity. On the contrary, good research thrives on creative juices to identify the threats and opportunities to probe in questioning. Asking the obvious questions will yield pedestrian results. Asking about the unexpected or the unrealized can yield surprising and beneficial insights.

Nor is the complaint true that people who follow research results are slavish. There is no bondage in finding out what consumers or stakeholders think and acting appropriately. Better words for that approach are pragmatic and opportunistic.

The sad truth is that when the economy tightens or sales dip, research is one of the first budget casualties. Organizational leaders rationalize they can get along without research, depending instead on their instincts. Regrettably, the opposite may be true. Dark times call for clear action, based on findings on which you have the highest confidence. You can't afford to mess up when times are tight. You can't afford not to do research.

We would call it dangerous folly if military leaders plunged troops and weaponry into harm's way without solid intelligence. It is no different for corporations, nonprofits and public agencies in facing their most desperate challenges.