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Monday, 21 April 2014

How muzzy can fuzz be?

Marc Brenner's editorial

I remember my father warmly talking to me about about rayon sports shirts. He was, of course, a teen of the 1950s and as far as he is concerned, there will never be a finer age.

So it's probably for the best that I steer dear old papa well clear of Duncan Stuart of New Zealand research agency Kudos. Because Stuart argues that the 1950s introduced a stifling set of principles. It was a era of time and motion, regimentation, rules, and 'straight lines'. Still, that's all in the past now, you might think. But is it? Certainly, as far as Stuart is concerned, the research world is still stuck in the 1950s and prone to its straitjacket methodologies.

At Research 2005, Stuart gave a blunt, entertaining paper entitled Fuzz is the Buzz. It was one of the more thought-provoking papers on offer. Stuart wants the research world to throw off its shackles and its preoccupation with minutiae, to embrace a world of evidence that is based on fuzzier, more indicative and, frankly, more imaginative findings.

His presentation was certainly compelling and adhered to Jeremy Bullmore's earlier call for high-impact communication. In fact, Stuart's 40-minute gig and his accompanying audio-visuals should be used as a template for any researcher looking to impress any audience.

Stuart's thesis is an interesting one. He believes that the industry

is locked into spreadsheet-based analysis, where the individual cells of data cannot really communicate with each other, and only exist in isolation. It is, in effect, static information. He also believes that research fails to acknowledge the real world where 'random things happen.'

One might think that Stuart is being very uncharitable and that research, in whatever form, has served its clients well. Stuart points to a statistic that offers alternative evidence. He says, "Eighty percent of new product launches fail. What does that say about the accuracy of the research behind them? Hell, we'd have a better chance of predicting success if we tossed a coin."

Soon after we reported on Stuart's session on research-live.com, we received a good number of emails from readers who supported Stuart's views, and an equal amount from those who asked, 'at what point does fuzzy data become bad data?' It's a good question and one that the research industry might like to ponder further.

Which is more important: a research finding that allows for chaos, movement, and random activity; or the submission of precise data that may age before the ink has had time to dry on the report?

April | 2005

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