No Apology for Optimism

My current mantras:
  1. Be present, not perfect.
  2. No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.
  3. Listen twice as long as you speak.
  4. Passion is my superpower.
  5. It’s easier to say no. Just say yes.
  6. Live as if everything is rigged in your favor.
I used to feel the need to apologize for being generally positive. I know it bugged some people that I was relentlessly optimistic. My tendency to try to find the softer side of the jagged edges, to be able to say something “nice” in situations where finding that flicker of light was less obvious, well, I know it seemed superficial to some.
But you know what? I don’t care anymore.
I am authentically optimistic and no longer feel the need to tone it down. It’s who am I am and what I do. I’m totally OK with looking for the good, and finding it. This attitude has spurred my success in relationships and in business, and helped me see the way out of myriad problems. In the murkiest times I can not only see the silver lining in the clouds, I can envision the sunshine on its way.
Part of this is nature, some of it nurture (thanks, Mom and Dad, for making sure my glass was always half full). I’m starting to view optimism as an ability, something that I have and can use. My decision to use this ability is a gift to myself, and if I’m doing it right, to the world around me.
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How I’m living my mantras:
  1. Perfection is a myth. I hold out hope that in being present, I can find the good in that moment, that person in front of me, that situation or problem that needs to be solved. Finding the good makes the next step easier. Move toward the good.
  2. At least 85% of the time it’s better to be kind than to be right. Go with the odds. Every time I show real kindness to others, I get something wonderful in the moment, and usually in the future as well. So really, being kind is awesomely selfish.
  3. Listening for meaning and real understanding takes discipline. Listening is also harder to do when you’re reloading, getting ready to fire off a response. Yes, listening twice as long as speaking is a challenge for an extravert, even one who wants to learn, grow and connect. I’m working on exercising my listening muscles every day.
  4. Passion is a catalyst for good, so use it. You may be able to fake enthusiasm, but not passion. When I do or think about things I’m truly passionate about, spectacular things happen both for myself and those around me. I’m not a polymath, and I have limited time left on this earth, so I’m focusing on my passions.
  5. Saying yes puts you on the path toward bravery. Saying yes when I wanted to say no has forced me to learn new things, to keep growing, and to get comfortable with looking foolish on occasion. You know what? Looking foolish actually feels like bravery. I’m a big fan of bravery.
  6. The Universe is always conspiring to help you. Whenever I remember that everything is rigged in my favor, I get what I want or need eventually. My absolute certainty that everything will be OK means that it is now, or shortly will be, OK. Good things are always on the horizon if you look for them.
Optimism works for me, and being intentional about it has made all the difference.
What are your mantras, and how are you putting them into practice?

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Curation is everything

I curated a conference where one of the major themes turned out to be the power of curation. It wasn’t INTENDED to be a theme. We never mentioned it in the Call for Submissions, or in any of the marketing of the QRCA Worldwide Qualitative Conference, but here’s what I noticed: of the 28 main stage presentations, at least 6 of them discussed curation at some level. I may have missed another reference or two, but it was an unmistakable theme.

What does curation even mean in the #MRX and #QUAL world, where we have and will always be synthesizers of complex data? Our good friend Wikipedia has an excellent entry for “Content Curation,” relevant mainly in the world of social media, which I’ll post here.

Content curation is the process of gathering information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest. Services or people that implement content curation are called curators. Curation services can be used by businesses as well as end users.

For the conference we held earlier this month in Vienna, the curation started from the moment we considered “What will make this event special, meaningful and valuable?” This is especially true in this area of conference overload – we no longer have a “conference season,” but a year-long string of opportunities to learn and gather with colleagues, both online and in person. So, we invited potential speakers to bring us their edgiest, most thought provoking material, and to think of ways to present it in 20 minutes (or less!) that would be compelling to colleagues and potential collaborators from around the world. There would be no clients, so no selling, just sharing our best thinking among friends. We asked potential presenters to be bold.

Once we received the 90+ proposals, the 4-person evaluation team (2 from the US, 1 from the UK, 1 from Canada) reviewed them in spreadsheet form, BLIND, so that we would not be influenced by the presenter names. Each reviewer awarded each proposal a total of 4 points, then opened it up to see who had sent the proposals; we awarded an additional 1 point if we thought the speaker(s) would be particularly compelling, intriguing, or inspiring, for different reasons. Each evaluator then wrote a few notes about each proposal, we tallied the point totals, and we began our deliberations. It was my job to “bucket” the presentations into thematic groups. With that as our mid-point, we invited the speakers and waited to see who might fall out for any reason. That’s when the curation fun began in earnest.

I looked at this opportunity as a way to create an EXPERIENCE for attendees and presenters, alike. I thought carefully about flow, pacing, and mitigating the risk for cerebral overload. (Anyone who has been to a content-rich conference knows this can happen and it’s not pretty!) Our program committee deliberated about the session blocks and timing that I proposed, and this made the program even stronger.

The result? It was a fantastic conference, one where no one wanted to miss a single session, and there were wonderful surprises throughout. The co-chairs for this event, Susan Abbott and Kendall Nash, did an amazing job weaving threads and herding cats to make it happen. My program committee partners, Pat Sabena and Sarah Davies, could not have been better co-curators in this process. I am immensely proud of them and grateful to these 4 women for creating a conference we all can look back on with great pride.

Perhaps I’m overstating the importance of curation in the success of this conference? Take a look at what one of the fantastic presenters said in his own blog. Here, from Edward Appleton of Happy Thinking People in Germany. {insert a big, fat smiley face!}

My experience leading up to and in Vienna this month has made me more curious than ever about the power of curation – how it’s being used by quant researchers (e.g. live-streaming content dashboards, infographics with daily updates, etc.) as well as by qual researchers and strategists like me (e.g. live workshops rather than presentations, visual storytelling rather than text, co-creation and mixed-method, iterative design rather than fixed, finite projects). It’s an exciting time to be in this field, where our value can come from the way we manage, oversee, interpret, arrange and present insights in an ongoing and lively way.

curator (from Latincurare, meaning “to take care”) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallerymuseumlibrary or archive) is a content specialist charged with an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material. A traditional curator’s concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort—artwork, collectibles, historic items or scientific collections. More recently, new kinds of curators have started to emerge: curators of digital data objects and biocurators.

By this definition, aren’t all good qualitative research consultants serving as curators for their clients? If we’re not, we should be. How are you doing it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The QRCA Worldwide Qualitative Conference in Vienna was truly an awesome event – IMG_3709fantastic content, wonderful camaraderie, some special cultural experiences, and an overall feeling of understated awesomeness that permeated the entire experience.  If you were there, your head is now nodding in agreement and a huge smile has spread across your face. If you missed it, well… we tried to tell you it would be awesome! Just promise me you’ll be at QRCA’s Annual Conference in Los Angeles next January. Or the Worldwide Qualitative Conference in 2 years, wherever the QRCA organizers decide to hold it.
Something tells me that curation will be on the agenda.

 

Qual & Quant are siblings, not cousins

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a lot of *family time* in the past month. For Thanksgiving, we had extended family with us for 8 days… yes, 8 days and nights…and I’ve been enjoying watching the family dynamics of my in-laws, as well as my own nuclear family, while in close confines. There was much laughter, some heated debate, a lot of cajoling one another, and a few tears, proving that we are a real family. IMG_1730

In this process I learned that great relationships between cousins are fantastic, meaningful and usually filled with joy. However, it’s the sibling relationships that really matter. They’re tougher, more important, require care, and can have daily impact on our sense of self and place in the world.
Anyone in the market research world has heard that qualitative and quantitative are like cousins – related, but not close (what, are they fearful of inbreeding?), existing in separate boxes, but not inextricably linked. I disagree. Perhaps quant and ethnography are cousins, but not quant and qual.

But it’s more like siblings – one moment loving and harmonious, other times derisive and warring. And there’s no parent to ensure they work it out, so we have to do it on our own.

I’m in the midst of a project now where I’m “the moderator” and there are other quantitative researchers, qual project managers, research strategists, and of course the client. I’m having a first-hand experience of being adopted into this crazy family, where all of us are siblings (except the client – we’ll save that for another blog post). We must negotiate our roles, and figure out how we can build on one another’s strengths to get the best outcome at the end of a long project — one that’s been designed to answer a complex, important business question. Because we’re siblings, we’ve had a few squabbles, but honestly, I have total faith that this client is getting the best deal possible by allowing us to work together, fluidly, without trying to do a mashup or hybrid approach. It’s coordinated and step-wise, with thought and care put into how we can share our strengths and minimize our shortcomings, cohesively, so that all the client sees is one, big, happy family serving up a beautiful outcome.

I read a fantastic blog post by Ray Poynter, founder of the Future Place and #newMR, which brought to mind this cousins-siblings debate in a new way. He points to the assertion that qual and quant are merging, almost as if they’re becoming one being (e.g. qual on a quant scale), and lays that one flat.

Here’s Ray’s important, and useful, blog post.

There’s no way this merger or ‘hybridization’ will happen if we, as an industry, keep focused on the differences between us, and how these matter. We need to consistently show and remind clients how quant and qual complement each other in the way only siblings can. There may be a few tussles along the way, but we come out stronger for it. We need each other and our clients need us both.

My teary-eyed brand love affair

I’m the first one to admit that I’m a total sap.

When it comes to emotion, I believe more is better, and that feeling deeply is being truly alive.

So it’s not a surprise that one of my favorite lunchtime activities, when I worked a research company across the street from Hallmark Cards’ world headquarters (Kansas City…woot woot!), was to head to the “visitor’s center” and watch the commercials. I knew what I was getting myself into. I’d stand there in front of the monitors playing Hallmark Cards ads on a loop…and I’d inevitably cry, making my ugly face, searching my laptop bag for a tissue, and end up laughing at myself. But honestly, I’d always feel better afterward, and the security guard never indicated what I was doing was out of the ordinary. It was advertising as catharsis.

Still from Hallmark Cards' "Proud Mom" ad

Still from Hallmark Cards’ “Proud Mom” ad

I don’t know who Hallmark’s agency was in those days, but they were awesomely effective at making me feel that the act of sharing your feelings, via a very lovely and slightly overpriced greeting card, was an optimal way to make a real, heartfelt connection with someone. Or to convey something profound beyond just “thank you” or “I love you.” Those long-form, storytelling commercials – and the ability to cry pretty easily, I must admit – have stayed with me to this day.

Even today, when advertising RIVETS me emotionally — makes me think, feel and spend half the spot sniffing and trying not to give in to a flood of tears — I know it’s powerful stuff, and the brand will reap long-term benefits. That may be why I absolutely LOVE the “FeelMore50(tm)” from BrainJuicer. It’s a rating system and catalog of the most emotionally powerful, global advertising for a given year.

What’s beautiful about the ads on this list (the best ads from 2014, as measured by BrainJuicer) are the universal themes and the profoundly simple, yet emotional moments we share while viewing them. Feel like a good cry? Maybe a laugh to go along with it? Then this list is for you.

http://feelmore.brainjuicer.com/?gclid=CPnL7Kzi3cMCFYM8aQod4FwAuA

Are you in awe of emotionally riveting ads, too? Which of the ads on the FeelMore50 is the “best,” in your opinion? And more importantly…what advertising has stuck with you over time? I’d love to know.

We’re Coloradical Now

A lunchtime hike in the sunshine is good for the soul.

A lunchtime hike in the sunshine is good for the soul.

This year my husband and I did something crazy: we decided to envision the life we wanted “some day” and then make it come to fruition ASAP. We started thinking about what we wanted to DO (for fun, for work, as a family) and what kind of environment would give us that opportunity. We settled on the need to leave our totally urban (sometimes awesome but increasingly oppressive) lifestyle and to embrace something entirely different. We started looking for a location that offered more fresh air, green space, sunshine, and new opportunities for fun, relaxation and challenge. It had to have great schools, a vibrant cultural life, and excellent restaurants and fresh food. Of course, because of our travel-intensive careers, it had to be close to a major airport, and an easy commute to a ‘real city.’

So we sold our fantastic house in Chicago, and bought an even better one just outside Boulder, Colorado. Let me tell you, Boulder is just as amazing as you think it would be. As one of my favorite clients told me, “You’re Coloradical now!”

I love this lifestyle change and the impact it has had, both personally and professionally. As I wake up, I look at the Flatirons and the foothills of the Rockies. After I make coffee and get the kids off to their new, welcoming schools, I check email while looking out over the prairie and wildflowers, Aspen trees and beautiful herb wall in our lush back yard. Sometimes I zip into Boulder and take a hike during an extended lunchtime. I now enjoy conference calls while gazing at puffy clouds peeking over the mountains.

It’s a land of constant inspiration, thanks to these new landscapes and locales. I’ve met fascinating people at the local coffee roasters, and while waiting in line at the peach festival. Last week, I met an old friend at a micro (and I mean micro!) brewery and we ideated marketing ideas over tasters of some fantastic local beer on a sunny patio. This may become my new protocol for business meetings!

This change in perspective has been good for me, and hopefully for my business partners as well. I feel freer… more open, and yet more focused on helping others achieve their own objectives. I love my life, family, friends and work, and no longer feel compelled to choose between them. Everything fits together in a cohesive picture – one that my husband and I envisioned not long ago, and have somehow made a reality.

I wish the same for you, my friends, colleagues, collaborators and clients. Envision the life you want, both personally and professionally. Maybe you already have that life, and if so, good for you!  But whatever you have dreamed your life to be, keep that picture in your mind, and then move toward it without fear. Be grateful for the parts you love, and move boldly to change the parts that need an upgrade. It will be worth the effort to create the life you were meant to lead.

With gratitude,

Susan

Where Mobile, Behavioral Economics & Qualitative Collide

Where Mobile, Behavioral Economics & Qualitative Collide

At the Market Research in the Mobile World (#mrmw) conference in Chicago, the presentation by Kraft Foods and BrainJuicer showcased the best in a synergistic approach to exploratory research. They introduced their ‘Party Time’ mobile ethnography project, where they recruited via CraigsList, collected real ‘home party’ experiences via mobile app (uploaded video recordings, across several months), and analyzed through a BE lens. Then, they used this for myriad new product development efforts throughout the company. While it was initially conducted for the Velveeta brand, it truly had impact across the entire Kraft cheese business and beyond.

This was a real thrill for me (and probably the other quallies in attendance!), as the case study showed the true power of a client-supplier team who use creative thinking and aren’t afraid to try new approaches. By taking the researcher out of the physical data collection they enabled true magic to unfold. I’ve found this to be the case on multiple studies, using different online and mobile platforms. By allowing the action to unfold as it normally does (i.e. when researchers aren’t present), some true a-ha’s become evident more quickly. The ability to have the scope and scale of an observational qualitative project grow exponentially – without the cost increasing dramatically – is fantastic for everyone involved.

If only more researchers and clients would take this risk… Just think of the results they would achieve!