One of the first questions I ask leaders who want input on a new idea is, “What does your research say?” I’m shocked at how few have good research in hand before launching major initiatives. I think research scares most people. However, we have found that research is revelatory and vital. Maybe debunking these six myths about research will help demystify the process.
Myth #1: Research tells you the truth
Research reports don’t give you big, mind blowing conclusions. Instead, they provide a better understanding of the reality of your present circumstances. A good research report guides you on what some “good” or “not so good” next steps might be.
Pitfall to avoid: You will have to work to overcome “confirmation bias,” which is the natural human tendency to embrace information supporting your own beliefs while rejecting information that contradicts them.¹
Myth #2: Siri and Google have all the answers
It might be quick and easy to do a few quick searches on the internet to get started. However, you need to orient yourself by starting a thorough SEARCH of what’s currently out there concurrent/pursuant to your topic and situation. Once you have begun searching and figure out what problem you are actually trying to solve, you can see what (if any) information is missing and begin to RE-search.
Pitfall to avoid: Don’t begin searching for numbers and stats that “prove” your specific intentions. Instead, be open to discovering the truth of your situation, and be willing to pivot your original theory and course of action to suit your present reality.
Myth #3: I can throw together a quick survey
Posing a question sounds so simple. Sometimes it is, but without a tightly defined problem, posing the right question is impossible. In situations where there are thousands of possible answers out there, it’s critical to ask the right question.
Only after that initial search can we ask a good question and do a RE-search for any information that is missing. For example: when choosing the right diet, a good used car, or solving the issue of illiteracy in an identified region, a wonderfully designed research study with the most complex statistical analysis is rendered totally ineffective if we fail to ask the right questions.
Pitfall to avoid: Don’t hurry through the SEARCH phase or skip to the RE-SEARCH phase without knowing exactly what you are looking for. Otherwise, you risk asking the wrong question/s that will put you on a path you never intended…
Myth #4 Whether or not I like it, “the research” holds all the answers
No. Research won’t give you answers, it will offer a few suggestions for next steps. Research speaks in comparative language, not in definitives. It will not tell you, “Do this, but don’t do that.” What it will tell you is what might be more effective and what might be less effective, or what is probably going to be better for you to do, and what is worse. Research is neither conclusive nor prescriptive. It won’t answer your big, burning question with a definitive answer. It narrows and it suggests.
People often make one of two mistakes when judging the value of research.
- Dismiss the research.
- Believe it tells the whole story.
For instance: More often than not, single studies contradict one another — such as the research on foods that cause or prevent cancer. The truth can be found somewhere in the totality of the research, but we report on every study in isolation underneath flip-flopping headlines.²
Pitfall to avoid: Don’t use research, statistics, and reports like a crystal ball. They will not predict the future. Don’t be played or paralyzed by research. You do just as much damage leaping after its “big conclusion” as you do failing to be agile enough to make small pivots based on its findings. It’s a tiny rudder that puts the ship on a better course.
Myth #5: Research is too lofty
Research, for all of the pomp and circumstance of its vocabulary, is quite a humble process. While its rigor makes it feel lofty, the reality is that research lends subtle, humble conclusions.
One of the best definitions of research I have come across recently that helps people see research as accessible and doable is:
“A creative process conducted in a systematic way to advance knowledge.”
Pitfall to avoid: Don’t be so scared of research that you fail to use it or do any at all.
Myth #6: Anyone can do it
People believe that they know way more than they actually do.³ Thanks to the internet, we all think we are expert researchers when we employ Google, Siri, or Alexa. While not all research is created equal, what you can control in doing your own research should be held to a level of effectiveness. It’s true that some research is better than none at all, but poor research, or conclusions applied ineffectively can cause great harm.
Pitfall to avoid: Beware the “illusion of explanatory depth.” You may have good research at hand, but you, or an expert, need to know how to evaluate and apply it correctly.