Catalytic Thinking

Disruptive thinking to get results


How disruptive are you prepared to be to find out what people really think about your brand?

Surveying is a difficult thing to get right – whether you’re trying to find out what your employees think of the company’s status or whether you’re attempting to gauge true customer satisfaction.

For a start, you’ve got to get the right questions and the right options for people to choose from. Ask the wrong question or give the wrong options (e.g. choosing from 1-5 when a free text reply would be more appropriate) and you can influence the outcome dramatically. Even laying out the questions badly can throw answers off beam.

Then there’s the dilemma between anonymous and attributable surveying. There are pluses and minuses to both approaches, which again influence the answers given. And don’t even get me started on the ways that you can make an anonymous survey completely attributable – there are organisations that have done this in the past to track the feedback to a particular individual or department… It’s unethical, yes, but I’m sure it still happens…

Just to add to the confusion, think about entering an online competition to win a family holiday to the Seychelles plus £10,000 spending money. All you have to do is give feedback on a recent interaction with the company.

How are you going to answer? Are you going to tell them what they want to hear (i.e. the interaction was good but here’s a few ideas for improvement) or actually what you want to tell them (average service, average product, probably won’t buy again unless there’s a price promotion)? What do you think will get your questionnaire to the top of the pile and get you on that once-in-a-lifetime holiday?

The principle holds true with surveys. If people won’t speak up in a meeting or air any concerns because they are worried about the reaction, do you think that they will answer a survey truthfully or just tell you what you want to hear to avoid rocking the boat?

So – the question is how to get around this.

One answer is to be completely disruptive. When someone is asked if they’ll take part in a survey, they think they know what they’ll get – a form to fill in or a phone interview. So disrupt the process – give them something different and run a thought experiment.

Thought experiments are hardly scientific, but they are a brilliant way to build insight. I’ll briefly outline the steps below to get your experiment off the ground and then give you an example I ran a while back.

First of all, you need a question – remember that most thought experiments can only really deal with one question at a time. And it must be a subjective answer – not Yes, No or Maybe. Something like: How does the consumer really feel about my brand?

Then you need a format. Thought experiments can take place in any number of creative ways but you need to find one that will give you results which you can interpret.

You need a hypothesis to prove or disprove. Obtain this by completing the experiment yourself – this gives you what you need to prove or disprove i.e. I believe that the brand is an all-inclusive, family friendly organisation which values my input (as a communicator, you’ll be trying to build the internal networks to support your own view of the company – but what if your view isn’t everyone else’s?).

And finally, you need to phrase your question in such a way that it won’t lead the audience to give you the answer you want. This will probably mean something really, really vague – but don’t be tempted to over-explain or you will taint the results.

So, the example. I wanted to know how people felt about the company I worked in at the time, what it’s current situation was and how it should develop into the future.

By knowing these two things, I (as the Communicator) would be able to work out a way forward which would bring people with me – and ensure that I wasn’t simply moulding the company into the organisation that I wanted, rather than the organisation that it should be.

If I surveyed them (i.e. Rate on a score of 1 – 5 how you feel about…) I could have predicted the results perfectly – rendering the whole exercise useless. There are only so many ways that you can ask people how engaged they feel…

Therefore I asked them to draw a picture of the organisation as it was today and how it should be in the future.

There were many blank faces. For some, the disruption was too much (a great result in itself because it confirmed certain thoughts and feelings about those individuals and led me to develop a different way of interacting with them); for others, it was a bit ‘out there’ but they were prepared to give it a go.

Lots of people tried to question me about the experiment. And all I could repeat was the initial instruction to draw a representation of how they saw the company today and how it should be in the future. I couldn’t say anything else without giving them some idea of how to complete the task and thus influencing the result.

The results were perfectly in line with my original hypothesis. Diverse, disparate individuals came back with creative representations of exactly the same thing. And I know that they didn’t collaborate, copy or have the opportunity to check out each others work.

OK so the pictures were slightly different – some people used colour, other people scribbled and a few obviously took about an hour colouring in between the lines they’d created. But the results, when pinned to the wall and viewed as a collective, were exactly the same.

On the ‘Now’ side, lines were jagged, corners abounded and there were lots of boxes floating around with no links to each other.

On the ‘Future’ side, it was all softer, more joined up, links had been made between different facets of the organisational representation.

My original hypothesis – that the company was currently fragmented and that people are crying out for a collaborative structure to be developed – was supported and gave me complete ratification to develop a strategic brand structure and communications plan to move from the ‘Now’ to the ‘Future’ sections of the image.

The only time that I presented the results was at an internal conference. Many of the people who had completed the experiment were sitting in the audience and a couple actually clapped when they saw how the results had come out…

So why was this experiment so disruptive? Because it asked individuals to engage their brains in an entirely different way. They weren’t used to having to draw a picture of their mental image of a company. They weren’t used to trying to describe how they felt about a company without using words. It disrupted their daily patterns.

And, I believe, it was for exactly this reason that the thought experiment worked. It gave me a chance to take people outside of their comfort zone and to get them to engage in an entirely unexpected way. A way – I believe – was probably more truthful than filling in a Very Satisfied – Very Dissatisfied continuum.

So how disruptive will you be to find out what people really think about your company?

I’ve you’ve ever run a similar experiment, please comment below – I would love to hear more examples!

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One thought on “Disruptive thinking to get results

  1. Pingback: An ode to the future (or… Who’s hiring?) | interacter

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