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The Changing Concept of Dinner in the Age of COVID-19: Romance vs. Reality
October 9, 2020

This article first appeared in the Qual Power Blog on QRCA.org
Laurie and Donna planning on a ZOOM call.

Background

As qualitative researchers —Donna with an anthropological lens, and Laurie with an innovation lens— we often work on behalf of clients to understand perspectives and opinions related to specific brands or communications. As foodies, we enjoy working on projects related to the food industry. So, as we spoke this summer about how COVID-19 was affecting our personal lives, we decided to collaborate on a passion project to explore the nature of dinner in the age of COVID-19.

Our video interviews with folks from diverse backgrounds, life-stages, and household compositions revealed much about habits and practices around food planning, prepping, grocery shopping, cooking, and eating. We uncovered exciting insights that suggest implications for food retailers, marketers, manufacturers, meal delivery services, and others.

A central theme running across the research was the concept of taking stock, both literally and figuratively. The pandemic demanded us to take inventory as we looked through the pantry, fridge, and freezer. More broadly, it triggered us to take stock of our lives mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as we grappled with challenging issues that have become a part of our collective experience.

We learned that the question: “What shall I/we do for dinner tonight?” was on everyone’s minds and had become a central focus for the day’s events. In response to that question, we found a larger construct in the dichotomy of dinner, which we have identified as Romance vs. Reality. Although not a new construct, for many, this duality has been exacerbated by life under COVID-19.

The Romantic Dinner 

First, let’s begin by toasting to the romantic side of this equation! Without the grind of the daily commute or hectic shuttling of children back and forth to school and events, many people found more time in their lives as they hunkered down at home.

The Romantic notion of dinner is described as an ideal time when household members sit down together, relax, and talk as a family. Dinner becomes a shared social experience as well as a form of entertainment. Under COVID-19, dinner becomes something to look forward to and even the highlight of the day.

Romantic dinners take preparation. People told us they turned to recipes found in books or the internet, while some took Zoom classes and learned how to bake challah or pizza. Some discovered their inner chef and experimented with new cuisines and cooking methods, such as the Instant Pot or air fryer. A few set the table with the good china and stemware. An older couple dresses up for dinner, with attire suited to the cuisine.  

Half of our respondents regularly or frequently experience these romantic dinners. In many ways, these meals are a throwback to an earlier time, the idea of Sunday dinner with emphasis on wholesome, home-made foods, lovingly prepared and savored over the evening.  

With few reasons to rush away from the dinner table, spouses deepen intimate relationships, parents and children spend precious time together and exchange ideas. Dinner in the age of COVID-19 for them is intimate, social, creative, and soul-satisfying. The Romantic Dinner has helped people emotionally get through the lockdown and restrictions on their freedom.  

While most Romantic dinners are shared with immediate family and others in the extended COVID-19 social pod who safely dine together, some also extend this reach to far-flung family and friends virtually. Several respondents discussed sharing snacks, wine, and even holiday meals like Passover and Easter with distant friends and family via Zoom so they could keep relationships and traditions vibrant, even though people can’t come together physically.

As a form of entertainment, the Romantic dinner was described as an outlet for creativity and experimentation. People feel a sense of self-confidence in trying something new and home-made and even home-baked.

Several spoke with pride of pulling together an appealing and delicious scavenger meal from what they could find in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. Others found the pandemic a perfect time to experiment with foods from different cultures, which in some ways, was a stand-in for the travel they missed.  

For many, the Romantic dinner is an opportunity to show off in the age of COVID-19. With recipe postings and stylized photos on social media, people relish their bragging rights. And all this ties in with the plethora of cooking shows and food porn. 

The Harsh Reality Dinner  

Not everyone answered the “What shall I/we do for dinner tonight?” question with positivity and creativity.  Unfortunately, for some, dinner in the age of COVID-19 is a Harsh Reality.  

The Harsh Reality dinner is a grueling, time-consuming chore, marred by stress, strain, and guilt, and simply a means to an end. Day in and day out, people grow bored with their cooking routine and the increased demands COVID-19 has placed on them.

These sentiments are felt acutely by parents of young children, especially those who work at home.  These folks have many balls in the air—so food shopping, cooking, cleaning, maintaining safe/sanitary practices, and cooking a meal become the ultimate stressor.  

Those who live alone and a few older empty-nesters were in this camp as well. They described dinner as a basic need or “fuel.” There’s nothing romantic about it, and “Netflix is my dinner guest.” For older couples who eat differently due to health issues, cooking is not enjoyable. As one retiree said, “I just wish someone would come and cook for me.”

And to a Gen X mom with two daughters and a husband, each of whom is on a different diet, it’s a veritable nightmare to figure out what to do at dinnertime to keep everyone at least somewhat happy. 

Some people who experience dinner as a Harsh Reality feel guilt and shame at not doing more, not keeping up with others who enjoy cooking or seem to cook effortlessly. They feel the strain of not meeting the ideal, and self-judge as less competent mothers or spouses.

Glimmers of Light 

Fortunately, for those experiencing dinner during the pandemic as a Harsh Reality, there are glimmers of light on the horizon. As some communities are taking control of their COVID-19 infections, many are once again easing the stress of the “what’s for dinner?” question by turning to take-out, curbside, and restaurant dining (alfresco predominantly).

The romantics are a bit sad to see these changes; but the hassled, harried parents who are juggling work, parenting, and homeschooling demands are welcoming the help that restaurant dining affords them.

Conclusion: Implications

For the Romantics… 

  • Brands and companies can provide ongoing ideas for menu planning, new recipes, ingredients, and cooking tools
  • Offer simple, low-cost, and creative ways to beautify table and ambiance
  • Consider bundling opportunities: e.g., spices or ingredients coupled with music (and video) representative of an international cuisine 
  • Design tools/services to enhance smartphone food photos styled perfectly for social media 
  • Advertising and communications can play up the multi-sensory, pleasurable aspects of cooking and dining at home

For those living in the Harsh Reality… 

  • Make it easy for the cook! Easy-to-find recipes, short cuts, and speed scratch cooking ideas 
  • Tools that simplify and make cooking faster and easier 
  • Break down recipes into individual portions for the solo householder or for households where each person has their own dietary preferences or needs 
  • And most importantly, food advertising needs to get real! Communicate in ways that acknowledge all types of diversity, and strive to de-stress, de-shame, and de-guilt the less-than-ideal cook.

About the Authors:

Laurie Tema-Lyn, Founder, Practical Imagination Enterprises®

Laurie Tema-Lyn is a qualitative research consultant and creative catalyst with 25+ years experience. She is former member of the QRCA Board of Directors. Laurie is the author of Stir It Up! Recipes for Robust Insights & Red Hot Ideas, and numerous articles which have appeared in VIEWS, Quirk’s Media and LinkedIn.
laurie@practical-imagination.com
http://practical-imagination.com  

Dr. Donna Maria Romeo, Founding Principal, Romeo Anthropological Consulting, LLC 

Donna is a business anthropologist and customer experience expert with a PhD in applied anthropology. For over 25 years, she has helped global organizations across a range of industries see the world of the consumer through fresh eyes. Her work has contributed to innovations in customer experience, marketing, service design, and product development
anthrodonnatx@gmail.com
https://anthrodonna.com

Tags:  communication  market research  marketing research  mrx  QRCA Digest  qualitative market research  research methodologies  research methodology 

Musings:
September 13, 2020

Personal Memories of
9-11 during this age of COVID-19

Dear Reader;

Watching the broadcasts and memorialization of lives lost this morning, I am instantly transported back to that day, 19 years ago. It was a crystal clear, sunny morning. I left my hotel room to pick up colored markers and creative supplies in my car and greeted my illustrator and collaborator Harvey in the parking lot. We commented on how extremely beautiful the morning sky was.

Back in our meeting room in the Morristown, NJ hotel we welcomed our clients, about 15 participants from Bristol Myers Squibb and Kraft. Our clients were exploring a potential partnership to develop a suite of new products for people with Type 2 Diabetes. My research partner Reva and I had conducted several focus groups with people living with this disease and with caregivers and we were equipped with a slew of fascinating learnings and needs-based opportunities to ground this creative phase of the program.

Our client team with members from New Jersey, NY and Chicago had joined together the afternoon of September 10th with a “Bread Breaking Ceremony” to begin its collaboration process. We began discussing the research findings and implications. The morning of the 11th, we started developing strategies and ideas. We worked feverishly for more than an hour when a distressed hotel employee interrupted our proceedings with a statement that a tragedy had struck and we should immediately come downstairs and look at the television monitor in the hotel lobby.  It was close to 10am by then; we had no idea what tragedy had taken place. We were shocked and terrified at what we saw. In a flash, everyone was on a telephone trying to find out what was happening with their communities and with their loved ones. The clients booked the last rental cars available in the area and everyone scrambled home. We learned a few days later that all made it back to their respective homes safe, but grief-stricken.

We needed time to let the tragedy and immediate aftermath sink in. When I spoke with the client team leaders a few weeks later it was clear that no one was willing to get on an airplane or travel soon. However, everyone agreed that we had made an impressive start and we wanted to move forward. We set upon a process experiment: could we continue to ideate together, but do so remotely?

19 years ago, there was no Zoom, and this idea was radical!

We designed a plan: Conduct three, 1-day sessions via video-conference. Reva and I facilitated the NJ and NY team from BMI’s video conference room and connected with the Chicago members in the Kraft video conference room. The process worked, but not quite as fluidly as in person. We accomplished our objectives and delivered a portfolio of high quality, consumer-needs based ideas developed sufficiently for further testing and evaluation. In my many years as a consultant, this project stands out as among my most memorable and meaningful.

As I reflect now on life during COVID-19 this September 11, 2020, I’m struck with parallels. As a global humanity, we are wounded and wondering when this current plague will end. I wonder, when will I feel safe to fly on an airplane again? I know that 19 years ago, I adapted to the then new normal of TSA and baggage search; now I expect to see a sea of masked travelers. For months after the Towers fell I was wary of strangers. My radar was heightened every time I took the train to New York; I looked over my shoulder. Was anything “out of place?” A package left unattended on a restaurant table? And then, some months later, I realized that life was “normal” again.  Until COVID-19 began in March of this year I looked forward to my regular excursions for work or pleasure to the city that I love without much care or worry.

Perhaps it will be another six months–or maybe twelve, till I feel comfortable enough to take that train to Manhattan again.

When will I return to conducting research and facilitating meetings in person? That’s hard to say. I’ve transitioned all my work to face-to-face via video, or using phone and other online chat based digital exchanges. The platforms work well, are convenient, save time, money and the wear and tear that physical travel entailed. But I’m missing the warmth and humanness of being shoulder-to-shoulder with others. I miss the opportunity to break bread with my clients; to do the “high-five” or spontaneous hug that would come after a good day’s work together. And the coffee talk with Zoom isn’t the same. But for now, this new normal will have to suffice.

With Wishes for Peace,

Laurie Tema-Lyn

To send me an email click here:
laurie@practical-imagination.com

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Musings: Here’s to more “mindful” actions!
September 4, 2020

Dear Reader;

I was at self-check-out at a retailer the other day, a store I hadn’t ventured into since COVID-19 hit. I found myself struggling to open the plastic bag to put my items inside and stopped myself just before I did the unthinkable! I almost licked my fingers to break the seal and open the darn bag. Oh horrors! Instead I spent a full minute- with folks waiting behind me- as I worked at it. Finally done, I walked out to the blazing sunlight and realized how much of life’s little daily actions are changed since the pandemic.

And, just this morning I left my car to venture to an appointment and realized that my face mask was sitting on the dashboard. Fortunately, a quick about turn solved that. These are just tiny examples of everyday activities that I must stop and think about before I act.

I’m sure that most of us are catching behaviors that are no longer OK, if we aim to keep ourselves and others in our midst safe.

Operating on “Automatic Pilot” is a time saver.  Pausing to think and weigh the implications or risks of action (or inaction) is also a blessing. It forces us to be in the present. Be more creative. Pay attention, and not just let things slide by.

On a meta level, during this heightened state of awareness many of us are seeing society, community and neighbors in new light. Our eyes are wide open to social injustices and changes that must be made to sustain our planet. On a micro level, we are thinking and acting differently in our daily lives: making changes in how we work, parent, attend school, shop, dine, and socialize.

A few personal examples. Since the pandemic hit I’ve transitioned my business completely to video, telephone and on-line research and facilitation. I’ve increased my daily exercise. Though cooking has been a passion, I’m venturing into new areas like baking. My family connections and social life continues with Zoom calls and varied safe outdoor activities; we even brought a taste of Broadway to our lawn by hosting a Murder Mystery dinner party.

The lock-down has been an extraordinarily busy time in every dimension of my life, and it has also been a welcome time of pause, reflection and gratitude.

While being forced to think and re-think most every action is a nuisance, it’s also a tremendous opportunity for self and societal learning and growth. I hope I/we don’t forget the lessons when COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past.

May you be safe

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease*

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

* Thank you Anya Z for sharing this lovely meditation with me.

Musing: Stand-Outs from the 2018 Fancy Foods Show
July 7, 2018

Spending a day at the NY Summer Fancy Foods Show is a sensory overload- but an experience I relish, as I’ve been attending the annual Show for most of the past 25 years.

There are thousands of exhibitors from around the world, packed into 4 floors of the  Javits Center.

Because of the enormity of the Convention and the limited time I have to spend there I plan my visits ahead of time to focus on a select handful of categories or companies, wear comfortable shoes, and pace myself as I take in a multitude of tastes, aromas and stories from entrepreneurs, as well as larger companies who exhibit primarily to showcase their products to the trade. My lenses are not that of a food buyer, but as a market researcher and creative catalyst working with many clients to help them develop product pipelines or hone their positioning or messaging.

My tour visit lenses this year: scanning for macro trends, plus focus on the world of snacks (savory and sweet) and beverages. I was not disappointed!

There were dozens of exhibitors that were intriguing to me, from the moment I entered the convention hall.

My first stop was at the Alpha Food Labs Future Market Exhibit. The interactive concept store presented a variety of trends as product concepts of the future. The macro trends include:  total personalization/customization, sustainability, re-use. Among the exciting imagined products of the future…

  • Custom Culture– precision microbiome yogurt designed to meet the individual’s precise needs
  • Analyze me– via pills that conduct an analysis of an individual’s microbiome
  • Alga Marina– sea nutrition based pasta
  • Nano Farm, an aeroponic horticulture system that allows you to grow farm-fresh foods at home
  • Aquapur– eco-friendly hydration using “ghost plastic” packaging- which does not use plastic
  • Refuel– precision nutrition 3D food printing cartridge which calibrates the individual’s nutritional needs to the microgram
  • Trim Snack– each bag contains 2 oz. of “food waste”- zesty BBQ crunchy veggie chips and jerky mix

Continuing a theme of the last decade, an emphasis on “Healthy” foods was pervasive. The majority of products I noticed contained a long list of “No bad ingredients.” (Organic or all Natural, non-GMO, gluten free, nondairy, or were targeted to specific diets: Vegan, Paleo.) Furthermore, the line between “good for you” and functional foods or nutraceuticals is blurred. But taste is still important!

Among the intriguing “healthy” snacks…

  • Eat Real organic veggie twists, lentil chips, hummus chips, quinoa puffs
  • Aree almond rice snacks had delicious combos in their new Crisp ‘n Chips line: black pepper & mustard, Sriracha & Cheese, Butter & Corn, Rosemary & Tomato, Barbeque & Salty Vinegar
  • LUKES featured organic white truffle & sea salt potato chips (“urbani Italian white truffles with french grey guerande fleur du sel salt) with this appropriate tag line: “Snack like a kid live like a grown up.”
  • Living Intentions offered ACTIVATED Superfood Nut Blend: Honey Sriracha, Thai Curry, White Chocolate, Malted Maple

These ingredients popped up in a wide range of snacks and other product categories:

  • Quinoa
  • Turmeric
  • Mushrooms
  • Coconut
  • Maple syrup
  • Hemp
  • Chick Peas
  • Flax seeds

From the snack world: Undercover Quinoa– dark chocolate and seeds– crispy organic quinoa lightly covered with premium chocolate or milk chocolate and currants.

Yes, chocolate is good for you! Especially when it’s dark chocolate, organic, single origin, paired with a Superfruit or super grain.

Natierra offered organic chocolate mango, banana slices – “real fruit with Amazon rainforest chocolate.”

Even traditional, hand-made pasta is being contemporized with health-focused ingredients: hemp, chick pea, flax seed, brown bean and spirulina.

A newcomer to the grain world is FONIO– a West African supergrain which, according to the exhibitor, “has an impressive nutritional profile.” One to watch for.

Super fruits and Super veggies continue to be strong with Acai Roots presenting the Super fruit Lifestyle…”More than a berry. A lifestyle.” The lifestyle is symbolized by a beautiful athletic looking woman eating a bowl of Acai Roots Superfood Bowls. The Bowls are also available in hemp, coco nibs and goji berry flavors.

Maple Syrup is not just for pancakes and waffles. Continuing a trend seen the last few years, it’s become a more sophisticated and versatile ingredient. Runamok Maple has their Sugarmaker’s Cut (the best of the season). It’s a line of barrel-aged, smoked and infused maple syrups.  Flavors include: smoked with pecan wood, hibiscus flower infused, cardamom infused, merquén infused – (merquén is an ancient spice with smoked chili peppers from Chile). It’s a delicious ingredient for vinaigrettes, BBQ, mixed into sweet potatoes or with cheese.

In the world of beverages, shots are hot!  

  • Ginger People has three Rescue shots from which to choose: ginger shot with coconut, with wild turmeric and with lemon & cayenne.
  • Fire & Brew has a line of premium health tonics that strengthen the immune system- Vitality Boosters with apple cider vinegar comes in citrus, chai, and strawberry.
  • Kings & Queens: offers antioxidant adaptogenic teas in peach, blackberry and lemon, that are based on the “seriously functional immune system boosting power of mushrooms.”
  • Mingle: presented delightful handcrafted sparkling mocktails; these are nonalcoholic with natural botanicals for use as mocktails or mixers. Flavors: Moscow Mule, Melon Mojito, Cranberry Cosmo, Blackberry Hibiscus Bellini.

Two of the most intriguing, innovative products were in the water category:

  • ASARASI presented USDA Organic water harvested from trees! Sparkling and still waters that are sustainable and renewable. The water is a bi-product after 100% of the sugar is removed from the maple sap.
  • O. Vine offered wine grape infused water- now there’s a combo of two of my favorite beverages! The delicious nose of white or red wine in a non-alcoholic, fresh clean still or sparkling water beverage.

Often the story behind the food is the compelling idea, and there were many fascinating tales of the founders and impetus behind products. Some were developed by desired to create healthy alternatives for children or for people with food intolerances, others were driven by social mission.

Ziba products from Afghanistan had two offerings at the Show:  Afghani Sun Dried Kandahar Figs and Shakhurbai Almonds– roasted & salted. They are “biodynamic superfoods, sustainably sourced, nutrient dense”; but perhaps more important is that they are dedicated to “improving the lives of women and farmers in Afghanistan.” The women and their photos are on the back of each package.

Want to know more? Send me a note or call.

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

908-237-2246

Musings on today’s co-incidences: Pi Day, Hawking’s death and Einstein’s birth
March 14, 2018

March 14th

Pi Day always feels like a special one for me. I named my research and innovation firm Practical Imagination Enterprises (PIE) for all the associations that come to mind and with a nod to π, 3.1415926, for the wonder and infinity it expresses.

Today is a particularly poignant Pi Day as the world has lost a brilliant mind; the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking at age 76.  That he lived 55 years after his diagnosis with ALS was remarkable. He gifted mankind with his brilliance, his ability to make complex scientific concepts more broadly understandable, and his courage was inspiring beyond measure.

Coincidentally this great man, passed on the same day as the birth of fellow theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879).

RIP Dr. Hawking.

Perhaps we shall celebrate his life with a slice of pie!

 

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

908-399-9460

Musings: A riff on Pi, π 3.1415926… on a snowy March 14th
March 14, 2017

Happy Pi day!

Math Geeks, Princetonians and yours truly have a special fondness for this day, in honor of the Greek letter that represents the symbol for the ratio of a circle to its diameter. Pi is expressed as 3.14 with an infinite string of decimals trailing behind it. It’s that long string of decimals that make Pi such a fun challenge for the mathematically motivated to memorize and to calculate to more and more digits.

My emotional connection to Pi is that it’s the shorthand nickname for my business, Practical Imagination Enterprises. At PIE we think big and we drill deep. We stimulate our client and consumer teams to dream, engage imagination and intuition as we tackle business challenges. Then we drive the insights, stories, and ideas we gather into actionable strategies, tactics, product and communications concepts for our diverse set of clients. Our programs are custom-designed, collaborative and fun.

Now here are some more fun facts about Pi…

  • Pi is a Transcendental number, which is any number that is not an algebraic number.
  • It’s intriguing that Transcendental brings with it other realms of meaning –spiritual or non-physical world, visionary and idealistic.
  • 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 among Princetonians, Pi day has long been a cause for celebration with many events scheduled, from the playful to the intellectual.

But on this Pi day the wind is howling, the snow and sleet falling outside my window.

It’s a good day to work indoors…and perhaps top it off with a tasty treat this evening of some hot chocolate and a slice of pie.

Happy Pi Day!

Drop me a line or give a call if you would like to know more about how we engage rational, logical, emotional and imaginative thinking to solve tough business problems.

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

laurie@practical-imagination.com

908-399-9460

Musings: Planting Peas and the Low Growth Trap
June 8, 2016

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

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

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: Do we need new technology to understand emotions?
July 30, 2015

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