Need facilitation? I'm sending out a "reverse RFP" to give back a bit!

I'm having a good year. And a wise woman named Jane, who has since passed away but her words of wisdom stay with me, once told me that you get even more when you give more. So I'll give, just a little bit more, as a karmic thank you. (Miss you Jane.)

Each year I end up facilitating one or two workshops pro-bono for a variety of reasons. I usually take the pro-bono requests as they come: a school here, a start up there. This year, however, I'm being deliberate about who I work for "free of charge" and putting out a "reverse RFP" so that organizations can tell me why I should facilitate for them pro bono.

So if you're a non-profit, a start-up small business or even a grassroots community effort, and you recognize how you could benefit from facilitation yet you don't have a line item in your budget for it ... here's your chance.

Karen Lynch & Associates is putting out a call for proposals of a different kind ... proposals from non-profit organizations and small businesses in need of pro bono facilitation for strategic planning, problem-solving, insights seeking, team-building and/or ideation purposes.

This "reverse RFP" is ideal for organizations local to Fairfield County, CT ... but if there's room in a travel budget and your cause is worthy, I'll come to you with an agreement that your group will pick up the travel expenses.

Here's the Reverse RFP PDF.  I look forward to reading the submissions. Make sure you read carefully to check the deadlines. I'm sure you're a worthy cause.

Why KL&A Gives

It's #GivingTuesday ... which means it is a day for non-profit fundraising efforts. I know I'll be barraged with requests and that has me thinking about who I give to, when I give to them, how I give to them and of course, why I give to them.

Let me start with the American Cancer Society (ACS): I am a two-time breast cancer survivor. When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003, two of my three children were babies, and I was completely freaked out about my diagnosis. Within the first 24 hours, before I'd sleuthed out a support group or met with a social worker at the hospital, or seen a nurse in my doctors office, I called the ACS hotline and spoke to someone who talked me off the ledge. She coached me in the ways I could talk to my children about cancer so as not to scare them. She pointed me towards ACS resources to help (a coloring book that helps kids process their feelings). 

I give to the ACS because I was SERVED.

Since that day, my mother battled cancer, my sister-in-law battled cancer and a few too many mothers I know lost their battle with cancer. I'm currently figuring out how to deal with the pre-cancer cells that now appear on the epithelial lining of my vagina. I HATE cancer cells and I want them eradicated. So I donate to the ACS. I've been a volunteer speaker for The Society, I've been a Team Captain for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks, I've helped my children as Team Captains for Relay for Life events. I give time and money because, quite frankly, they were there for me when I needed them most and they work hard to find breakthrough cancer treatments.

Be a part of the next breakthrough cancer treatment by clicking on this sentence.

Now, let me tell you about the Creative Education Foundation (CEF): In 1994, I attended the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) at the University of Buffalo -- CEF's annual, international conference -- and had my mind blown. I was in my early twenties and found myself surrounded by people who were innovative thinkers, who led change, who recognized that creativity is a skill that can be taught not just a talent that people possess.  Thanks to CEF, I learned that anyone can apply their imagination and deliberately approach life's challenges in such a way that novel ideas arise and solutions are doable. I started facilitating creative problem solving (CPS) as part of my work. I started using CPS in my life.

I give to CEF because I was CHANGED.

Since that year, I've been to CPSI 12 times. I'm 'on the faculty' as they say, voluntarily leading core workshops for CEF on Creative Problem Solving as a methodology and a facilitation tool. I've also brought all three of my kids to CPSI. One of my sons received a CEF Scholarship to attend CPSI's Youthwise program for the first time -- he's been every year since and is heading to college next year with a strong foundation in skills like creative thinking, innovation and applied improv. To date, all three of my children have participated in the Youthwise program (that's actually one of my boys on the landing page that link brings you to).  CEF's mission is to spark personal and professional transformation by empowering people with the skill set, tool set, and mindset of deliberate creativity.

Help make the work of the Creative Education Foundation possible by clicking on this sentence.

Whoo-hoo! I am a Disruptive Innovator!

First of all, what is a Disruptive Innovator?

Glad you asked. And I’ll tell you, but after I explain why it is relevant. It’s relevant because I am one. I am a Disruptive Innovator. My award says so!

On October 20, 2016, I was presented with the Next Gen Market Research Disruptive Innovator Award along with my friend and colleague Siri Lynn for our collaboration on a new qualitative market research methodology, PlayFULL Insights™.

So I explain what disruptive innovation is first: when someone changes the way we do things, creating a new market, displacing existing competitors … that’s disruptive Innovation. Steve Jobs changed the way we listened to music when he released the iPod and then subsequently iTunes. Jeff Bezos changed the way we shopped when he started Amazon.

And Siri and I disrupted qualitative market research when we started using LEGO® bricks to bring both conscious and subconscious consumer insights to the surface.

So one who does that, one who innovates and subsequently disrupts? They are a Disruptive Innovator. I am a Disruptive Innovator. I have to say it again because that’s akin to pinching myself.

Wait … what exactly is PlayFULL Insights™?

Glad you asked! So, instead of taking the traditional approach to focus groups, Siri and I leverage the precepts of LEGO® Serious Play® and have participants build 3-dimensional metaphorical representations of their thoughts, feelings and beliefs using LEGO® bricks in response to carefully crafted moderator questions.

Storytelling is at the heart of the methodology, as participants share the stories of their models for all listeners to ultimately reflect upon. And because the hands act like a search engine for the brain, participants connect to their subconscious in a way that they aren't able to in typical qualitative. So PlayFULL Insights® allows us to go quite a bit deeper, faster than traditional qualitative research.

Coming soon ... "I'm a Disruptive Innovator" t-shirts!

I will wear this title with such incredible pride. So much pride that I would wear it on a t-shirt. (Actually, YES, I will be doing that, honestly, I kind of have to now … maybe I’ll give the shirts to clients who try the PlayFULL Insights™ methodology on for size and realize IT’S A PERFECT FIT.)

PlayFULL Insights™ is a Finalist for the Disruptive Innovator Award

Exciting news folks: PlayFULL Insights™, the engaging, effective and innovative qualitative research methodology I co-created with my colleague Siri Lynn of Idea Exchange, is on the short list of finalists for a Next Gen Market Research (NGMR) award!

We were both proud of and humbled by our nomination, submitted to NGMR by our client, Michelle Onofrio, Director, Consumer & Market Insights at Beiersdorf. (Thanks again Michelle!)

We're flying down to Boca Raton, FL, next week to be on-site at The Market Research Event where we'll find out if PlayFULL Insights™ has won the award or if the three other finalists will receive the honor. Stay tuned!

Are you a new reader, wondering what qualitative research is? It's a field of market (or marketing) research that includes conversation with and observation of consumers to gain insight into their attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, opinions and perceptions.

What is Creative Problem Solving?

Last week I was contacted by a friend who knew I was a facilitator and found herself in need of someone to help the Commission that she is on clarify their mission and achieve their goals.

Having been in social work for a few years, she understood the role of a facilitator. (If you don't, here's a succinct explanation:  Facilitators lead groups of individuals and/or teams to (1) understand their common objectives and (2) plan to achieve those common objectives.)

What she didn't fully understand was what Creative Problem Solving (CPS) was and how a facilitator like myself, trained and an expert trainer in CPS, could help her Commission understand and achieve their common objectives. After I explained CPS to her, I realized there are many people who don't know what CPS is and how it could help them ... so I thought I'd offer up this succinct explanation to the world.

Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a four-stage process for tackling problems:

  1. Clarify the challenge fully by exploring goals & wishes, exploring facts & data points and clearly articulating objectives so teams get and remain on the same page;
  2. Ideate possible solutions to your challenge, without censoring yourself and your team, to stretch and explore all the possibilities by generating many then selecting the optimal ideas;
  3. Develop the optimal ideas so they -- and you-- are ready to take action on ideas that have been evaluated and strengthened;
  4. Implement a solution by formulating an actual, workable, comprehensive action plan.

It's important to realize that CPS is NOT brainstorming -- brainstorming is another way of explaining "divergent thinking" when participants defer judgement and offer many, many ideas or possible solutions to a problem. So we brainstorm during the CPS process, but we also use "convergent thinking" which is deliberate, strategic, discerning and often critical to refine and select key statements, data points, ideas and considerations throughout the process.

CPS facilitators, like myself, are focused on the process, guiding teams through CPS without being vested in and/or attached to the content. Our objectivity is a key component to success with the process.

Here's a link to a page on the Creative Education Foundation website that more fully explains the CPS process.

And if you'd like to talk to me about the ways you can introduce CPS into your organization through my facilitation, please email me at karen@karenlynch.com.

How an Engineer Discovered LEGO® Serious Play®

Before my father retired, he enjoyed a successful career as an engineer and highly successful quality control consultant.  As his child, I learned quickly how differently someone who was left-brain dominant was from someone who was more of a right-brained thinker. Go ahead and take a guess who is the former and who is the latter in our relationship. I'll give you a hint: While I was the Research Director for his consultancy for a while, I ultimately started my own consultancy dedicated to addressing client challenges with problem solving processes, projective research techniques and creative facilitation, moderation and training methodologies. 

I wasn't surprised when my dad didn't understand why I was incorporating LEGO® bricks into my own consultancy. I understood that it made no sense to him. It wasn't that he didn't like to play, he was all for having a lot of fun. But only after all of the work was done and not a minute sooner. And playing with a child's toy as a grown-up professional at work was completely counterintuitive to him.

Then one day recently he sits to read the Spring 2016 issue of Connect -- a custom publication of Sterling National Bank -- and he comes across an article called, "Serious About Success? It May Be Time to Play."

I wish I'd seen his face when he turned to that page. I wish I'd been in his mind when he read the words on the page. Can't you picture it reeling with the reality that his daughter hadn't made up a kooky methodology but discovered one that fits with who she is and is grounded in science and research?

How many of you are like my father? Left-brain dominant, analytical thinkers, logical, rational hard-workers who believe play is best after the work is done? I'm encouraging you to rethink that strategy today and consider experimenting with a novel way to success.

Here's a PDF of the article for you to enjoy! Happy reading! And of course a call to action: contact me if you'd like to talk about scheduling a play-date at your organization.

Three Factors for a Successful Ideation

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”  ~ Dr. Seuss

Last week, in a client meeting, we discussed the paradox of ideation for innovation. We started with the concept that ideas should be grounded in consumer insights, meeting consumer needs and providing them with a relevant benefit. We dove into the idea that true innovation can actually deliver on a need consumers don't know they have.  (Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.") Then we circled back around to the concept that we can up our odds of success by ideating with the right people, in the right environment. Add to that the need for an action plan and you've got a formula that can take your organizational insights all the way to innovation.

1.  Start with the right people

Who should you invite? While it seems the questions might ultimately be 'who is willing and able' to attend based on their calendars, there are ways to tailor an ideation session guest list for success.

  • The most important invitees are the key stakeholder(s), those with ownership over the challenge; don't exclude people who have to buy-in to whatever ideas you choose to move forward.
  • The best workshops I've facilitated include team members from cross-functions. R&D plus Finance, Marketing plus IT, Customer Service plus HR. Diversity of roles means diversity of ideas, and you want those!
  • If you have relevant subject matter experts, add them to the list; they're great in those moments you could benefit from an on-site resource to clarify information and/or answer questions.
  • I sometimes bring along a few 'trained brains' as I call them -- colleagues of mine who are natural Ideators, trained in creative thinking and the processes I use when facilitating -- to inspire and energize participants as appropriate.
  • Finally, I recommend inviting a few stand-out, open-minded, enthusiastic people with a passion for the organization and it's growth -- their positive attitude will help set the stage for success (see the next section of this blog post about the environment).  

2.  Create the right environment

There's a correlation between the environment you establish, how it impacts the level of participants' motivation, and how that influences the session's output. I hope it's obvious that the more supportive and creative a climate you establish, the more fully individuals will participate and remain engaged with the process, which will lead to a more creative and fruitful output. Here's what I recommend:

  • The ideal environment from a tangible point of view: A playful, comfortable space (preferably off-site when it is possible), with opened seating, natural lighting and access to the outdoors. Coffee, water, food, treats, keeping participants satiated eliminates that distraction.
  • The ideal environment from an intangible point of view: A good amount of time -- limiting yourself to an hour will not help you get to a place of breakthrough. Guaranteeing an openness to all ideas, along with freedom and permission to take risks, will help ensure emotional safety.  Established guidelines for the stages of the process, a bit of grounding on the precepts of creative thinking, and a clear plan for healthy debate will improve the process as well.
  • An objective facilitator: Shameless self-promotion perhaps, but the objectivity of someone like myself goes a long way to ensure that bias doesn't skew the results, that everyone gets a voice, everyone feels heard and no ulterior motives take center stage over the objectives.

3.  Have a process in place for taking ideas forward

There are so many processes around today it's hard to know which is right, isn't it? Design Thinking. Human Centered Design. (Those are kind of the same.) Stage Gate.  Lean Start Up. Agile. Systematic Innovation. Some companies have their own processes, too. I typically combine CPS (Creative Problem Solving), Synectics and Lateral Thinking with the work I do. But the important thing, when it comes to ideation, is that your process has a process for (1) inspiration and ideation (2) evaluating ideas and (3) taking those ideas forward. 

  • Ideate, don't just brainstorm. Participants need to feel inspired, compelled, impassioned to move beyond an initial brain dump of ideas. I'm a natural Ideator, so nothing brings me more joy than the creative tools in my toolbox designed to stretch participants thinking and express ideas that are truly novel, not just safe. In my sessions, participants are brainwriting, forcing connections, taking metaphorical excursions and so much more!
  • Select ideas based on established criteria. The actual criteria varies by session of course. But you need a systematic approach to selecting the ideas that should move forward into development, remain in a pipeline, or be pitched if not placed on a back burner. (This is where I'm often a stickler for consumer insights ... urging my clients to keep in mind consumer needs and potential benefits as they choose ... with permission to choose an idea that simply excites them as well.)
  • Leverage the potential energy of a selected idea. So many ideas never see the light of day because they aren't workable, they are fragmented. But when there is something compelling about an idea, it deserves some due diligence! There are tools for this, too, by the way: A Balanced Assessment, PPCO, ALU, etc. These are all designed to help a team develop an idea into something that has the potential to be a truly workable solution or a breakthrough innovation.
  • Make sure you have an implementation plan. Have you heard the quote from leadership guru Robin Sharma, "Ideation without execution is delusion"? Well, now you have. It's true. If you plan an ideation session, make sure you plan for action after so you can take those ideas all the way to innovation success.

3 Learnable Things I Took Away From The Florida Creativity Weekend

Your first question might be "only three things"? Or perhaps it's "what's the Florida Creativity Weekend?"  So let me explain both before telling you what those three things are.

The Florida Creativity Weekend, the brainchild of the Florida Creativity Alliance, is an annual conference designed to explore creative thinking and innovation -- regional in feel but now international. The workshops offered during the weekend have both personal and professional development applications. 

I personally led two workshops this year: one on "Faith & Creativity" and the intersection between the two, the other, called, "Play Like a Child, Think Like an Adult" that explored personal challenges using 3-D learning modalities including the Lego® Serious Play® methodology.

The real learning for me, however, came from the two other sessions I attended and one of the keynote presentations. And yes, there are three. Not because the weekend isn't full of takeaways. But because these are three things you can learn from, too, if you'd like to.

Here they are, from me to you. I hope you learn a little something from them:

  1. Sometimes a problem that seems unsolvable isn't a problem at all. Rather, it is a polarity to be managed. I've been exposed to Polarity Thinking before but this workshop helped me see the dynamic tension that exists between poles in action as I explored a personally relevant polarity. I cannot wait to have a conversation with a client of mine who might be able to glean some insight into a polarity that exists in their current marketing strategy! (Many thanks to Liz Monroe-Cook for a fantastic session!)

  2. Failure IS an option. In fact, without failure we'd miss out on valuable learning experiences. We talked about Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, who I subsequently read said, “Failure is not a badge of shame, it’s a rite of passage.” A rite of passage. It must occur. In fact, we all left with a mandate to set goals to promote risk:  This year I will stretch and fail ten times ... and we're supposed to list the ten things we'll do that will likely lead to failure. That's next on my to-do list, by the way. (Thanks to Eileen Doyle for that beautiful activity and workshop.)

  3. You can find inspiration in anything and if you can't ... look again. THIS might be the best quote EVER for someone who likes to force connections and think metaphorically. Whether the inspiration comes directly from a conversation with someone, a video you watch, a speech you listen to, a walk outside, a book you read ... seek it out and if you can't find it try harder. (Thank you, Gert Garman, for bringing inspiration to me whenever I am in the audience listening to you.)

Entrepreneurs need Serious Play® too!

I had the pleasure of working with a small group of entrepreneurs earlier this week. What they had in common was a collaborative workspace; they're all coworkers at the B:Hive in Bridgeport, CT.

What set them apart were their businesses, all small, all relatively new, and all their own.I set out to help them reflect on their businesses and set some personal goals using LEGO® Serious Play®. 

In our two hours together, they successfully thought with their hands, accessing what they knew to be in their subconscious minds, and build metaphorical representations of their thoughts and feelings as they pertained to their current business challenges. Through personal reflection and small group discussion, they played their way to discovery, insight and creative problem solving.

Check out what two participants had to say about LEGO® Serious Play® when their small business workshop was over:

The realizations I had during this workshop were both semi-expected, but also very surprising too. Karen so easily guided us through each exploration and opened up the floor for insightful discussions and encouragement. This was seriously SO cool! I haven’t taken time to give different components of my life the kind of thoughtfulness and strategic planning that they require... this definitely jumpstarted that for me! THANK YOU KAREN!
So awesome. Karen is a skilled facilitator and the time I got to spend in the workshop (although too short) was not only relaxing, but allowed for some serious introspection!

5 Reasons Why I Can't Stop Talking about LEGO® Serious Play®

For the last 15 years my children have been playing with LEGO® bricks. Sometimes my husband and I joined them. But most of the time we watched them assemble literal models (their all time favorite was the Hogwarts™ Castle) then deconstruct them and creatively put together something else entirely from their imaginations.

Then I discovered LEGO® Serious Play® ... a process that lets grown-ups use their whole brain to conceptualize thoughts and feelings in a way that I've not seen other methodologies do.  Here are the top five reasons why I can't stop thinking about LEGO® bricks, using them in my workshops and talking about LEGO® Serious Play®:

  1. Because grown-ups need to tap into their innate creativity with a childlike passion to get out of our own way, remove self-imposed barriers and solve problems. LEGO® Serious Play® allows participants to do this, often for the first time since childhood.
     
  2. Because the LEGO® Serious Play® methodology grows strategic thinking, active listening, unconditional positive regard and storytelling skills; and it is critical that current and future leaders develop these skills.
     
  3. Because play in the workplace reduces stress and increases productivity and morale. And participants have full permission to play in LEGO® Serious Play® workshops while working on serious challenges or exploring serious topics, thus the name.
     
  4. Because metaphorical thinking can bring familiarity to the unknown, make the abstract concrete and bring personal experiences and stories to life. LEGO® bricks are used both figuratively and literally in our workshops, tapping the full potential of metaphor.
     
  5. Because the depth of insights are like none other than I've seen. I've been facilitating discussions for almost 25 years now and what I'm seeing and experiencing first hand with LEGO® Serious Play® are true and genuine "Eureka!" and "Aha!" moments.

Eureka moments. Metaphorical magic. Playful strategizing. Leadership skill building. Childlike problem-solving.

That's why I can't stop talking about LEGO® Serious Play®. Right now the big question is ... why haven't you started talking to me about it?

A participant describes her model to me at a recent workshop I facilitated.

A participant describes her model to me at a recent workshop I facilitated.

Why it’s important to hire a professional moderator

Internal researchers might think they’ve seen enough focus groups, usability interviews or bulletin board projects that they could moderate them themselves. Especially if doing so would allow them to complete projects within a tight budget. However, research conducted in this vain is akin to throughing your money right out the corporate window. And … you wouldn’t take this approach with your surgeon or your auto-mechanic would you? (Well, maybe some of you would. Oy vey!)

In-house researchers can increase the return on their company’s investment tenfold if they recognize the incredible value a professional moderator adds. Aside from the obvious OBJECTIVITY a professional moderator brings to the table, here are five of the myriad of reasons why you should hire a professional moderator:

  1. A professional moderater knows how to establish rapport, create a safe environment and encourage participants to share “no holds barred” thoughts and feelings. THAT’S what good research gets you … you want that.
     
  2. A professional moderator has … and there’s no other way to say this … they have skills. A professional knows how to handle group and individual dynamics, juggle the flow of the conversation, meet the needs of both introverts and extroverts, manage dominant respondents, avoid group think and bias, use projective and creative techniques … SKILLS.
     
  3. A professional knows when and if they need to dig deeper throughout the discussion to get you golden nuggets of insight. There’s an intuition that professionals develop that helps them know when to probe, when to ladder (e.g., to higher-end benefits from simply top-of-mind funcational), when to press on and when to move on.
     
  4. A professional knows the right questions: what to ask and how to ask it. Professionals understand how to get at the attitudes, behaviors and beliefs behind a typical response. They understand statements shouldn’t always be taken “at face value” and know how to leverage contact to understand why something is or what makes a participant feel the way they do. (If you don’t believe in the importance of asking the right questions, google the New Coke debacle of 1985 … you’ll see it matters GREATLY.)
     
  5. A professional takes insights and turns them into inspiration for innovation — alright, this one takes more than just a professional. It takes a trained, skilled, seasoned, and credible professional. A moderator who is all that and a bag of chips can lead a research team to face brand challenges head-on, come up with ideas based on insights, tease out the possibilities, develop an action plan and implement the most innovative solutions. (Here’s my shameless self-promotion. It takes me. Of course I want you to hire me because … I’m good.)

Why this qualitative researcher pushes to debrief

Eight discussion groups across two markets means sixteen hours of consumer insights to process.

And really, that’s sixteen hours interrupted by back-room conversations, mandatory conference call participation and distracting emails, texts and, let’s be honest, social media notifications. Add to all that typical road warrior woes like time zone changes, altered sleeping patterns thanks to hotel living, cab rides, airport security line hassles and the myriad of stressor caused by potentially delayed, canceled or missed flights, checked bags, overhead compartments, turbulence.

Debriefing should be mandatory after qualitative initiatives

Quite frankly, how could you expect yourself to retain AND make sense of sixteen hours of consumer insights?

You couldn’t. You shouldn’t. Debriefing a qualitative research initiative should be mandatory. It is for my projects.  Here’s what a good debrief does:

  1. A good debrief enables team members to articulate and therefore verbally process the findings, what they personally heard — which is what leads to greater personal insight that the team can harvest for brand planning. Sharing those insights aloud leads to builds and collaboration and co-creation of usable marketing strategies.
  2. A good debrief allows everyone on the team to recall important insights that might otherwise get lost in the (literal) shuffle.  This is critical because viewers walking away on the same page are more confident and effective implementing any forthcoming initiatives.
  3. A good debrief provides a forum to discuss next steps in a way that gets everyone on the same page. This is SO important because very often next steps are taken well before a final report can be produced and distributed.

Here’s a standard debrief format I use after qualitative projects

  • What … did you hear?
    Here’s where we capture and review what participants actually said and/or what we actually saw happening in the groups. The language they used. The body language. I encourage clients to share what they noticed, what facts from the research stood out to them.
     
  • So what … does it mean?
    Here’s where we identify what everything on the client team thinks or feels about our learnings. We discuss insights, patterns or conclusions we are drawing. We take all that we heard and add our own background information to make the findings USEFUL.
     
  • Now what … do we do?
    Here’s where we apply all that we heard and conclude and determine what projects or initiatives need to happen next, what actions make sense and what the next steps are.

Try it now to debrief this blog post. What did you read? So what does it mean? Now what do you want to do?

Have The Year You Have

In a scene from my new favorite movie, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the proud, nervous and excited father sends his new son off to school with a typical ‘Have a great day’ comment. The proud, nervous and excited mother immediately rebukes him, saying that was ‘too much pressure.’ So the father recants and says ‘Have the day you have.’

Now when I send my kids off to school each morning, I use that phrase. ‘Have the day you have!’ Because that scene was as funny to them as it was to me. We could all relate on some level.

Truth is, we can’t control our days, we can’t make them great. We can start each day with a good attitude, a balanced breakfast after a good night’s sleep … but without our doing a thing we might get hit with the problems we face at work, the aggravations of our society, the stupidity of those we come across, and a ‘good day’ is no longer an option. We long for the day to be over so we can start a new.

That’s not how I want to face my days in 2013. That’s not truly what I want to happen to you all. I don’t want us all to wish for great days then feel disappointed when they turn bad.

So I don’t want to start out wishing everyone a great New Year. I want 2013 to be a year that is embraced for exactly the year it is going to be.

It might be hard. It might be rewarding. It might be full of aggravations. It might be full of blessings. But it will be the year that you have.

So have it. Embrace it. Plan it. Do it. Face it. Tackle it. LIVE IT.

Have the year you have.

She’s a Repeater, But Not a Cheater. Is That So Bad?

Cheater, a photo by SlapBcn on Flickr.

I’ve a friend who frequently participates in focus groups and quant studies. She LOVES earning money for her opinion. She calls it “her job” and enjoys encouraging other friends to get on her recruiters’ list so they too can reap a financial reward for sharing her usage, behavior and point of view. It makes my skin crawl a bit, but aside from making mental notes about the facilities she visits and making sure she isn’t a respondent in any of MY groups, I’ve stopped voicing my disapproval.

Truth is, she isn’t a “cheater” … she doesn’t lie, she participates honestly and enthusiastically. But traditionally, both “cheaters” and “repeaters” were qualitative market research taboos. But lately, I’ve started to consider that “repeaters” — once frowned upon and avoided like the plague — are really no different from engaged participants in an MROC.

Now of course, there are going to be situations where I’ll ask my recruiters to fight to find virgin respondents. But maybe, just maybe, past participation worries can go by the wayside.

I’m all for the debate friends … thoughts?

On wearing different hats: moderator, analyst & writer

Hat Shop at Shrewsbury, a photo by Calotype46 on Flickr.

In this profession … the qualitative market research profession that is … MAN do we need to switch hats and tap different skill sets ALL THE TIME.

When moderating, we need to utilize our facilitation and active listening and quick-thinking skills.

After, when analyzing, we need to put on our analytical, logical and critical thinking caps.

Finally, when writing, we need to put on our creative hats. We use language skills to compose, wordsmith and edit then artistic skills to graphically layout.

Of course, we use our organization skills all around, don’t we? Organizing input for discussion guides, stimuli for groups and notes/verbatims for analysis.

Qualitative researchers wear many, many hats.

Today, my hair is a mess. Hat head.

How well do you switch roles: from moderator to analyst

Switch it up, a photo by Herkie on Flickr.

I’m one of those moderators that often exclaims in the middle of a focus group the words, “I LOVE MY JOB!!” I’m an extrovert with an insane curiosity, and I so thoroughly enjoy facilitating group discussions that I often make my family crazy with questions.

But I also love switching into analyst mode and writing reports. Maybe it’s a welcome reprieve from the feeling that I have to be “on” all the time or maybe it’s exercising the side of my brain that sits on the sidelines when I’m moderating. Or maybe it’s just that I’m really a nerd that enjoys outlines and organized notes and school supplies like colored pens and post-it notes that serve as tools to get the job done.

That’s one of the best things about being a freelance qualitative market researcher. Sometimes I’m hired to facilitate. Sometimes I’m hired to write.

Right brain, left brain, right brain, left brain. How well do you make the switch? Any tips you want to share that make the transition a little less bumpy

Up Close & Personal

Up Close & Personal, a photo by Darkstream on Flickr.

Someone writes on the Jergens US Skincare Facebook page, “Great lotion!” On Twitter, someone tweets “#Pepsi wins over #CocaCola any day.” Each day thousands of brands are mentioned via social media … and thousands of opportunities to dig deeper are missed.

So how does a brand understand what makes them great, what makes them “win” over the competition, why someone LIKES them? By getting up close and personal.

Just as our personal relationships can’t exist online only … in order to fully realize the potential of a friendship or a courtship … you have to meet. Face to face. And talk.

Qualitative market research helps brands get up close and personal with their consumers. It’s that simple.

Projective Technique: Think Say Diagram

Skilled qualitative research specialists often use projective techniques to get beyond top-of-mind information, move past the first thing that comes to someone’s mind and really go after some deeper insights. The “Think Say Diagram” is a classic: respondents are asked to jot down what they’d be saying about any given topic … and enhance it with what they were thinking at the same time. Some facilitators, like myself, have added a “feel” component to the exercise … because the language of the heart is often where true connections are made.

I decided to share this with you today because I recently used this technique on myself during a time of personal reflection. It worked equally well to bring me to a self-realization. Here’s why I used it:

At least once during the course of any given day of focus groups, I find myself saying aloud, “I love my job.” Now I’ve heard other qualitative researchers say the same thing. So I started to ponder the truth for me behind the statement.

At first I would have attributed the passion I feel for moderating to the fact that I get paid to listen to people talk about their lives. That’s fantastic enough, isn’t it? But I knew there was more to it than that.

The aforementioned projective exercise helped me realized that I love my job for two deeper, more personal, more meaningful reasons. I love my job because:

(1) I’m good at it. There, I said it, I’m a good moderator. I’ve thought it time and time again when I get respondents to open up and share things about themselves and/or their product usage that that might be difficult for them to admit. After this exercise, I was able to attribute my skill to some very tangible realities (as you can see if the thought bubble on the Think Say Diagram on the right).

(2) I have an emotional need to connect with others and moderating helps me meet that need. It’s true. I love the warmth I feel when people open up to me during an interview. That level of sharing brings me deep personal satisfaction. Once in simple brand insight groups, a bride-to-be opened up about her previously abusive relationship. In new product development groups, an adolescent girl shared with me the details of her eating disorder. In advertising testing groups, a mother revealed how her scare with cancer changed her perceptions and behaviors for life. I’m touched deeply by the humanity of people’s shared experiences.

So … the next time you hear me utter, “I love my job,” you’ll really know why. And the next time you have a project that requires taking the conversation to a deeper level, getting at thoughts and feelings behind some statements that are made … try a Think Say Diagram.

As usual, I welcome your comments below. And if you’d like to discuss the above technique and how you can use it in an upcoming project, please feel free to contact me anytime.