Musings: Planting Peas and the Low Growth Trap

June 8, 2016 - Leave a Response

Dear Readers;

It’s been a long tradition of mine to plant my seeds for sweet peas in the ground on Patriot’s Day (this year it was on April 18). I get to harvest them before the 4th of July. As I was working the damp, rich soil, I thought of parallels to the work I do as creative catalyst, consultant and qualitative market researcher.

I plant peas in early Spring with the expectation of a hearty yield in summer. I become “Earth Mom” to my seedlings, committing to nurture and protect them with water and compost, thinning when needed, and providing support stakes as they grow. I know from years gone by that I’ll worry about their conditions when my business takes me on the road and hope my husband has the good sense to water them. Of course, there are no guarantees! Peas need the sustenance of natural forces–sun and warmth, a kind wind and non-invasive pests. As a gardener for many years I know the success rate is never a 100%, but it’s always bountiful and delicious.

I’ve heard that peas can grow under artificial light, but if they receive just a one second burst of natural, full-spectrum light they will open their leaves every 24 hours after that to look for more? I like that I don’t have to teach peas how to be peas; growth decisions are built in if they get what they need, when they need it. If the afore-mentioned clueless husband forgets to water them for 3 days and then drowns them right before I come home, in hopes I won’t notice, I will…and the plants will suffer. Delivering the right stuff but too late for the growth cycle just encourages decay, pests and the wrath of Mother Nature.

A report just issued by an international economic agency, The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development noted that there is increasing pessimism about global economic growth. This is due to volatility in financial markets, the potential British exit from the European Union and Europe’s inability to find a common response to the refugee problem. OECD said that this weak growth was becoming chronic. “This low growth trap involves a cycle in which diminished expectations become self-fulfilling,” said Angel Gurria, the OECD’s Secretary-General.

We’ve seen this cycle repeated many times. In periods of uncertainty many firms cut back on expenditures, and are cautious about innovation. While this financial strategy may make sense for the short term, we all know that it’s sure to have impact on what can be brought to the table in the future. Conserving resources, especially during drought, is prudent for the crops we have in the ground already. But planting for future crops we’ll need is an absolute requirement so we don’t eat up all our past work.

How to get more “bang” for the investment dollars you do have? Perhaps this year’s innovation activities are not focused on new products, but on ways to make better use current resources.

Some years ago we worked with a major brand that was being asked to slash 10 million dollars in business expenditures! A mind-boggling number for sure, and the first reaction was to consider letting go of large numbers of personnel. Fortunately a visionary leader intervened. We worked closely together with him running a series of innovation meetings with different business stakeholders: from first line supervisors at the plants, to members of the executive leadership team. It was the creative factory workers who first noticed significant ways to save money through some easy-to-implement changes. Continued idea development resulted in short term net growth! The long-term result was huge savings to the business and no one was let go! We’re very proud of that work.

For other clients, innovation investment in lean times has focused on developing deeper insight into existing customers’ needs, creating more distinctive and compelling communications or improving upon product packaging to make it more user-friendly.

Would your business like to have a great harvest this year? If so, let’s talk! We can strategize about an ideation or research plan that’s effective, productive and mindful of your dollars.

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises, laurie@practical-imagination.com

Office: 908-237-2246; Mobile: 908-399-9460

Musings: Engaging Research Respondents, vs. Bribery

April 5, 2016 - One Response

April 5, 2016

Dear Readers;

The remark almost went unnoticed: “Is there an extra incentive in there if we do this exercise?” At the time I was facilitating a Co-Creation Session and I asked my research participants to sketch out their ideas for an eye-catching package that would succinctly tell our new product’s story. I breezily responded: “Well I certainly hope that everyone feels that they’ve been fairly compensated for their time and brainpower!” (Our panelists were being paid $150 for 2 ½ hours of their time.)

In the flurry of analysis and report writing I forgot about the incident until a week later. I was listening to a webinar on the use of Gamification in online consumer research. It’s a growing trend in our industry. Research platform providers are incorporating video game-like elements into research design to incentivize participants to answer questions or to do activities. While respondents get paid for their overall attendance in the online discussion, they are also rewarded with points or money for completing particular exercises. For example: upload a selfie eating your favorite snack for an additional $15. Answer a question in another section of the discussion and get an extra $10, etc. The providers’ rationale is that these games and rewards engage respondents and make the research more fun.

I’m all for fun and making research engaging, but I can’t help but feeling uneasy.

My concern is that as a research industry and culture, an emphasis on gamification is potentially creating a monster. We may end up attracting even more people who are just looking to “game” the system. We already know that there is a danger in the “professional” recruits, the “Cheaters & Repeaters.” Abby Leafe and I reported results of our study into this problem (50 Shades of Respondent Grey) at the QRCA National Conference in 2013 and we continue to share new ideas and strategies to mitigate against this danger.

How can we increase engagement without ”bribery” — buying completion of discrete sub-tasks?

In my experience, the major responsibility for engagement rests on the shoulders of the research consultant who should create an environment that is comfortable, safe, non-judgmental and friendly, even if it’s not filled with fun activities.

Nurturing engagement starts at the very beginning of a research conversation. I like to begin a group or interview by thanking my panelists for taking time out of their busy lives to join us. I underscore how important these conversations are for company personnel to learn how they can improve their products and services for all who use them. At the conclusion of the discussion I confirm that their voices have been heard, and thank them for their contributions. I’ve received enough feedback over the years from participants to know that these actions contribute to feelings of accomplishment, enjoyment and personal satisfaction, and they are not linked to the financial compensation they receive for their participation.

I also think we can also do more to recruit the “right” participants in the first place. Beyond demographics, product usage (and even) creativity and articulation questions, we can include some recruit questions to help find those people who are also more intrinsically motivated, internally satisfied. These are the people who feel enjoyment from doing a task itself.

Contrast that to those who are predominantly attracted to external rewards, or are extrinsically motivated.

Dr. Teresa Amabile, currently Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, has developed an extensive body of work on motivation and creativity in individuals, teams and organizations. I have oversimplified her findings in this article. Teresa and her colleagues have produced landmark studies on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and how the work environment can influence creativity and motivation. The following is an excerpt from What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It (Harvard Business Review, April 25, 2012) by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer.

We all need equitable, sufficiently generous compensation for our work, to avoid the distraction of financial worries, and to feel that we (and our work) are valued by our organizations. Recognition is another essential form of reward; it, too, signals that the person and the work are valued. Neither of these extrinsic motivators need damage intrinsic motivation or creativity. But when people feel that material rewards are being dangled before them like carrots on a stick, they come to feel externally controlled — a primary damper of intrinsic motivation.”

It strikes me that these findings should be applicable to our world of market research. In my quest to “up my game,” I’ll be experimenting with additional approaches to recruit and nurture more of these intrinsically motivated research participants. And I will continue to design ways to engage them in candid interchanges within the research arena.

Surely more to come on this.

I invite your comments!

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

Musings on Pi, π 3.1415926…and so on

March 14, 2016 - One Response

March 14, 2016

Dear Readers;

Some days when I start to feel like I’m running around in circles I start thinking about Pi.

While I must confess that math is not my strong suit, I’ve long felt a connection to Pi, which is expressed as 3.14 with an infinite string of decimals trailing behind it.

Here’s a little primer on Pi and some of my associations:

  • Pi is a mathematical constant; the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter which never changes.
  • Yet, Pi is an “Irrational” number, meaning it can’t be calculated exactly, there’s always something that goes beyond a limit.
  • Pi is a Transcendental number, which is any number that is not an algebraic number.
  • I find it intriguing that Transcendental brings with it other realms of meaning –spiritual or non-physical world, visionary and idealistic.
  • Now one of the world’s greatest scientists, Albert Einstein, is a Pi baby, born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany. But he moved to Princeton, NJ in 1935 where he lived and worked for the Institute for Advanced Study until his death in 1955.
  • Princeton is a short jaunt from where I live and work. And Pi day has long been a cause for celebration with many events scheduled, from the playful to the intellectual.
  • My last connection to Pi is my company name, Practical Imagination Enterprises (PIE). As we consult in market innovation and qualitative research, we don’t express our findings as numbers, but as insights, stories, concepts and ideas. My work honors the practical, logical and rational, and goes beyond that to encompass the intuitive and the imaginative. We make space for meaning as well as measurement.

Drop me a line or give a call if you would like to know more.

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

908-399-9460

Happy Pi Day!

Musings: Senior Lives Matter too

March 8, 2016 - 2 Responses

Dear Readers;

The world is focused on Millennials, that sexy segment of the population that is under age 34. As a market researcher I continually see client requests seeking insights into the hearts and minds of Millenials. What makes them tick? What attracts them to brands? How can we motivate them to shop our products?

Millennials are important of course, but senior lives matter too.

Boomers, born between 1946 and 1954 buy candy and liquor and sexy lingerie. They drive Harleys and renovate homes, they exercise and do yoga. They work, they retire, fall in love and travel. They make up a larger segment of the population than ever before, and have more discretionary income. According to a Forester report in 2015, Boomers drove 35% of all discretionary spending.

So why are Boomers and even the generation beyond being ignored from consumer research except for health care products and services specifically targeted to “older people?”  Why are we continuing to recruit participants aged “25-54” in most research forums? Is it bias? Discomfort with confronting mortality? Or just the expectation that the potential for customer longevity is longer with Millennials?

I think many marketers are missing the boat!

Senior lives matter- not just for their buying power, but also for their brains, insights and experiences in living longer. Effective market research and marketing to seniors requires deep understanding of their culture, survival tactics, expression and more. As we see in Millennials, Boomers are a complex, multi-faceted generation.

Let’s not ignore them.

 

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

Musings: Do we need new technology to understand emotions?

July 30, 2015 - Leave a Response

Dear Readers;

If you are involved in the business of market research no doubt you are inundated daily with a dazzling array of tools, techniques, platforms and choices for gathering insights into consumers needs, wants and behaviors.

So many options in fact that many of my research colleagues rarely interact directly, in face-to-face conversation, with the people from whom they are trying to learn. They predominantly rely on screen based research platforms. Of course those platforms have a place! But let’s not throw out common sense, and let’s remember that the folks we need to learn from are human beings, just like us, and not “research subjects.”

As human beings most of us are programmed to intuitively understand emotional responses. It was important for survival to hone decoding skills to gather critical information. The raised eyebrow, the lifted shoulders or downcast eyes, the sharp tone of voice, often conveys much more meaning than the actual words used.

As a researcher and a new grandparent what I find disheartening is that children are being handed screens in toddlerhood. What impact does this have long-term on the ability to look people in the eyes, to read and decode emotions? I’m not the only one concerned. There have been many scientific studies raising alarms when screen time and digital friendships are not balanced with in person socialization. Bruce Feiler’s excellent NY Times article notes a few of these studies. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/fashion/hey-kids-look-at-me-when-were-talking.html

Now linking back to the world of qualitative research, is the appeal of some of the shiny new toys like Facial Coding technology due to researchers’ feeling inadequate about trusting their instincts and natural abilities to read and interpret facial expressions and body language? And will the youngest researchers, those raised on screens, feel less comfortable in the world of empirical, in-person research without the support of “objective” technology interpreters?

Food for thought perhaps. Would you like to meet me “around the campfire” to discuss.?

And, if you want to test your own ability to decode expressions, follow this link!

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/well-quiz-the-mind-behind-the-eyes/?_r=0

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

908-237-2246, 908-399-9460

Musings on Consumer Co-Creation programs: A dose of courage, creativity, and more

April 15, 2015 - Leave a Response

Dear Readers;

I had the pleasure of giving a keynote presentation in Toronto at the MRIA i3 Conference. My talk, geared to market research consultants, focused on practical tools and tips illustrated by client cases in snack foods, beverages, consumer products and durables.

Time precluded much discussion on the emotional and attitudinal components that are the backdrop for successful co-creation programs, so I will explore that in this first post and continue with more of the nuts and bolts of effective program design in later chapters.

But let’s start at the beginning.

What is Consumer Co-Creation? A buzz word today- but practiced by some forward thinking companies for decades. The term is credited to professors Venkat Ramaswamy and C. K. Prahalad.

Consumer Co-creation encompasses the way companies create and deliver value through the participation of clients, consumers/customers, providers, or partners. This process itself is an enriching experience for participants.

Co-creation these days is often accomplished via digital, crowdsourcing of ideas for new products or product improvements. But for my clients, the most effective approach has been small-scale, intimate, shoulder-to shoulder-programs in which my clients (representing diverse functions) come together with consumers (or customers) and sometimes with the added expertise and wide angle thinking of “Idea Sparks,” mostly at the very early stages of product design or marketing conceptualization.

While this in-person approach goes against the norm of many research consultants who never interact in person with their consumers, it’s really the best way to do programs for which taste, aroma, texture, kinesthetic experiences are important. (A lot of my work is in foods, beverages, health and wellness and these are multi-sensory products.)

Now here’s where Client Courage comes in. Co-Creation programs are all quite different; there should not be a one-size fits all approach. The process has to serve the Client (culture, category, desired deliverables, etc.) Custom-designed programs require enormous creativity and visionary thinking on the part of the Creative Facilitator/Research Consultant and a willingness to experiment on the part of the Client. There are no absolute guarantees. There has to be mutual trust that the Creative Facilitator has the depth of experience to invent a process approach that will yield the desired results, (whether new product, marketing or communication concepts) and the flexibility and spontaneity to change it up when things don’t go quite as well as expected.

The Client has to have a certain comfort level with ambiguity, a natural curiosity and willingness to listen well to what the market (their would-be consumers/customers) says… even if what they hear goes against their beliefs and assumptions about their company or brand. These courageous Clients have to embrace a new type of listening– without judgment, as they are listening for the subtleties, listening for the nuggets of consumer needs or desires that can potentially be met with the client organization’s expertise. This listening is active, not passive. Every “What if?” or “I Wish” or “How to” is a trigger for imagination, connection-making and idea generation.

The skills for this style of listening can be taught- we always begin our Co-Creation programs with client coaching sessions; but the underlying attitudes of curiosity and open-mindedness tend to be deeply ingrained in individuals and in certain corporate cultures- or at least groups within companies.

Find these receptive Clients and you are on the path to successful Co-Creation.

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

908-237-2246

laurie@practical-imagination.com

MUSINGS on Pi…and what’s in a name

March 14, 2015 - One Response

Dear Readers;

Happy Pi Day!

It’s 3/14/15 and the world is a buzz! Today is the only day this century that matches pi, the mathematical ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi can be rounded off to 3.1415, but in actually goes on infinitely, like imagination, it has no endpoint. Pi has been one of the central problem solving tools for centuries.

Now I have always had a particular fondness for the circle, more so than straight lines or angles. Circles are prominent in my home décor. And for years we’ve built my vegetable garden as raised beds within a large circle. Circles are power symbols for me.

In 1995, when I decided to re-form my work life and start a new consulting firm I knew I wanted just the right name and symbol to convey my offering. Self-reflection and brainstorming with my husband and close friends led to the name Practical Imagination…. a company devoted to engaging imaginative, creative thinking yet also focused toward practicality and problem solving so that “ideas” could become “reality” and brought to market. But then we playfully thought, wow, if we add an “e” we would have PIE. We landed on “Enterprises” to encompass a wide range of services and activities that we would serve up to clients to help them grow. Eureka! When I first said these three words, “Practical Imagination Enterprises” I knew it was exactly what I wanted to convey.

Practical Imagination Enterprises® has served us well all these years as we offer product innovation, marketing and research consulting services drawing upon three streams of expertise: diverse client teams, consumer/customer teams and outside Idea Sparks or Thought Leaders. We mix it all together in an approach that is multi-layered and playful.

Of course it’s no accident that our initials are PIE! But rather than “pie in the sky,” our logo is a global balloon, whose string is gently looped around the company name to signify that it is grounded.

Now for that other meaning… I think tonight is a good time for a tangy, sweet slice of apple pie a la mode.

 

Cheers!

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

908237-2246

Musings on “Rewiring”

November 19, 2014 - One Response

Dear Readers;photo 1 photo 2 photo 3

I was catching up with an old friend the other night who mentioned that his wife had retired, taken up watercolors. She was framing this stage of her life not as “retirement” but as “rewiring.” I thought that was a pretty cool idea and wanted to share it with my friends and colleagues.

Then, the very next night, my husband and I found ourselves confronted with a shocking event that is forcing us to do some re-wiring too, in myriad ways.

Ron is an oral historian and had a lovely studio, a small wood building on our property. For reasons as yet unknown, the place went up in flames Saturday night. It was dramatic for our normally quiet country neighborhood. Fire engines, emergency vehicles, floodlights and neighbors flocking to see the goings on. It seemed like a movie set. But in the next morning it was clear that all the contents of the studio were destroyed. Ron’s vast collection of books, computers and recording equipment, many personal stories and so much more, now just ashes.

We’re trying to piece together information and memories to re-create an inventory of the material possessions, so we can work with the insurance company. Then we’ll be able to clean up the debris and rebuild- but perhaps a bird and butterfly oasis and garden, not another structure.

The fire caused a great loss, sadness, thankfully not a tragedy, as our home was untouched and we are safe. And it is one of those kick-in-the-face events that forces us both to re-evaluate…how we work, how we live, what we can do better, what we can learn from this, what re-wiring we want to do professionally and personally.

Not unnoticed is the fact that we’re both Aries; fire is our element. I have a basic trust that out of the ashes will emerge something new and wonderful if we let it.

Is there some “re-wiring” that you need to do in your work life or personal life too?

Feel free to drop me a line and share a story. We can build collective testimonies.

Laurie Tema-Lyn
Practical Imagination Enterprises
laurie@practical-imagination.com
908-237-2246

Musings: Timeless Mechanisms to Foster Innovation

October 9, 2014 - Leave a Response

“Innovation” is back in corporate America! It’s pervading the news, the literature and increasingly requested by my clients. It seems to me that the basic principles that fostered innovation 30 years ago are pretty similar today (though the digital mechanisms for employing them may be different).

In 1990 my then colleagues and I partnered with the Babson College Center for Entrepreneurial Studies to investigate existing practices of innovation in major US corporations. We reviewed the literature, conducted a survey and interviews with marketing and technological leaders from the Fortune 500 and engaged in a lively exchange at an Innovation Summit that we hosted in Cambridge, MA.

I’ll highlight our findings here…

We found four critical mechanisms necessary to foster innovation: (1) Strategic Commitment (vision & mission); (2) Resources (appropriate time, money and people resources); (3) supportive Structure & Systems and (4) Climate (e.g. environment, values, and corporate culture.)

Like parts of an ecosystem these components are interactive, integrated and iterative. Ideally all four are in place to be successful.

Strategic Commitment, often stemming from corporate vision, fuels the innovation process. It indicates the acceptance that things need to change, is articulated from the top and circulates through the organization. Strategic Commitment needs to be nourished at all levels through ongoing communications.

Our second factor has to do with Resources. Companies must set aside real resources (focused brainpower, time and money). The people side of the equation is fascinating. In my work today I still see how the combination of depth of expertise rubbing up against “naivety” is combustible (in a good way) and often produces the most novel and feasible ideas and solutions.

Our third mechanism is Structure and Systems, which involves such matters as whether innovation will be decentralized in a Venture group or “skunkworks” or more integrated into the central business. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. This includes Planning, Communications and Measurement and Evaluation systems, all of which are too complex to go into here.

Our fourth critical mechanism is creating a Climate or environment in which people will be able to innovate. On a micro-level I see how important this is in setting up a physical meeting space for conducting brainstorming. But it’s more than bringing in color and comfy chairs in terms of  a climate for innovation. Creating a corporate climate that will tolerate, even encourage risk taking is essential and hard for many business leaders to accept. “Fail early, fail fast, LEARN FROM IT and move on!” is the motto of the companies most successful at innovation. Visible support from leadership, even when failure occurs, sends a powerful message that the company is serious about their innovation mandate.

Want to know more? Send me a note.

Warm regards,

Laurie Tema-Lyn

laurie@practical-imagination.com

 

 

 

 

Musings, memories & gratitude

September 11, 2014 - Leave a Response

Dear Readers;
There are some days indelibly etched in my consciousness. This is one. September 11, 2001.
The sky was crystal clear blue, the sun was streaming. I greeted my colleague Harvey in the parking lot of the NJ hotel we were working in. We were filled with excitement about the day. Having begun our Innovation program the day before with our team- talented professionals from two companies- a pharmaceutical company and a mid-west food company. They had decided to explore whether they might form a unique co-venture to offer innovative new products for people suffering with type 2 diabetes. We had conducted qualitative research a few weeks prior and just began to integrate those learnings into a platforms for product development.
We entered the hotel conference room that morning, welcomed our team and began our first creative activities, spreading from our conference room to the corridors outside. We were all totally immersed in our work, and having fun too. It was well after 9am when a hotel member suggested we stop what we were doing and go down to the lobby to watch the TV monitors, something disastrous was happening…
Shocked, stunned, horrified we watched the replays of the Twin Towers in smoke. What could we do? What should we do? Were our homes and families safe? A rush to phones, to reach loved ones. A dash to get rental cars so those who had flown miles to be at the innovation program could return to the comfort of their families.

Over the course of the next week we reconvened by phone and learned that all were safe at home, all were physically “unscathed” but emotionally fragile. Weeks later we decided to continue our work together- but no one particularly wanted to travel, so we redesigned the rest of our program as a series of innovation days via video-conference. The process worked well, forged in the grounding we had begun together and the bonding shared by tragedy.

As the names of the 9/11 deceased are read this morning; I feel the heaviness in my heart as well as the joy and gratitude for the many blessings of my life.

Laurie Tema-Lyn
Laurie@practical-imagination.com