Over the past few years, organizations that utilize market research have expressed an ever-increasing desire for an avid advisor who can help them navigate the complexities of their business and the strategies that guide it. “A true partner” is what these research clients call out for. Sometimes they get it, often they don’t.
Now my colleagues and I have always been known to pick our heads up, search around, and try to find the broader context. But I never knew what that “made us”, or how it defined the relationship we have with our clients until I read Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise.
The book discusses forecasting and the different processes used to predict events. In the section entitled, “Are you Smarter than a Television Pundit”, Mr. Silver highlights a fascinating study performed by Philip Tetlock, who at the time was a professor of psychology and political science at Cal Berkley. The study was aimed at predicting a range of topics including politics, economics, and international relations. Tetlock began collecting predictions in 1987 from “a wide array of experts in academia and government” (51). At the conclusion of the study in 2005, Tetlock found that regardless of experience, expertise, or area of work, everyone in the study failed to even come close to predicting events. However, the study was not in vein as Tetlock discovered interesting patterns amongst the study’s participants.
Being a professor of psychology, Tetlock couldn’t help but search for underlying traits of the respondents who did relatively better in forecasting events. So he dove deeper, searching for an explanation which would highlight the “experts’ cognitive styles – how they thought about the world” (53). From his analysis, Tetlock began categorizing the participants into two groups – hedgehogs and foxes. Whereas hedgehogs are experts in one or two areas, foxes, the ones who forecasted more accurately, are much more dynamic. They are those who know a little bit about many things. While hedgehogs are quick to accept their findings as absolute truth, their crafty counterpart is willing to cautiously offer dynamic interpretations with empirical thought and multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving. In reading this section of Nate Silver’s book, I couldn’t help but see this analysis translate into what we do here every day. Sufficed to say, at iModerate, there is no hiding our bushy tails.
As foxes, one of our greatest assets lies in being able to navigate through multifaceted questions with tact and dynamism. We pride ourselves in our ability to unleash ourselves in broader playing fields. We cannot ever be hedgehogs, and here’s why: our passion and strength is rooted in bringing insightful, thought-provoking outcomes for our clients. This requires a degree of fluidity that hedgehogs simply can’t muster. We are committed to seeing the world in holistic terms.
Translated into the business realm, clients want a fox as a research partner. As opposed to seeing business strategy as fragmented or separate parts, foxes understand that every facet of a business is part of a broader whole. They place more value in how and why rather than what. How and why does this message translate into a business’ marketing strategy? Which questions does my firm need to be asking to prove we’re the smartest people in the room at our next board meeting? Why does this concept test better in different regions?
Our clients have grown to appreciate how foxy we are, and most have given us the freedom to roam around and hunt for the bigger picture. They have found that the more access we have, and the more we get our noses into, the better off they are. Therefore, we have introduced a new way of working together – a smarter, more insightful approach that allows clients to talk more frequently with their consumers, while giving us the access we need to be better partners. It’s an ongoing service of sorts, one where we are consistently on the hunt, like true foxes.
Silver, Nate. The Signal and the Noise: Why so Many Predictions Fail-- but Some Don't. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.