We’re filling out a survey from our homeowner’s insurance company. I guess they want to make sure that we’ve got ample coverage in case a party gets out of hand and we need to rebuild Rancho Deluxe. One of the questions reads as follows:
Percentage of the interior walls that are plaster
Hmm. Would that be the percentage based on the number of walls, the percentage plaster represents of square wall footage, or something else? After all, in a rectangular room, if one long wall is plaster, then the right answer may be 25% or it may be 40%. How accurate does this response need to be?
There’s actually an excellent business point contained in that silliness. It’s not enough to ask the right questions. We also need to ask them in the right way so we get the expected, actionable data. In the example above, while my answer isn’t a huge data set, when aggregated into the other data the company is pulling together, the sampling error will be larger than it needs to be since half the respondents can respond using one way to look at the question and half the other.
Obviously, it’s not just a lack of clarity that can affect the outcome and usefulness of your research. Asking leading questions which are almost certain to elicit a particular response is bad as well (do you do XYZ every day?). So can asking open-ended questions since there is no guarantee that anyone will focus on the specific area you’re researching. Then there are the folks who overlap responses (how old are you – 18-21, 21-30 – how does a 21-year-old respond?). Or ask loaded questions (how long ago did you stop beating your spouse?).
Asking questions is really important but asking badly structured questions is a waste of time. Clear?
Filed under Consulting, Huh?
Another Friday, some more Foodie Friday Fun! This week our topic comes from right here in NYC, where the Board Of Health has stirred up the restaurants again. What they did was to pass a new rule requiring major restaurant chains to label foods that are particularly high in sodium. The National Restaurant Association is suing them in response, claiming that the Board “overstepped its authority with an arbitrary and capricious mandate” in a statement to Eater.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This got me to thinking about warning labels. Obviously, this example is only one of many products that contain warnings – cigarettes being the most obvious. There are the less obvious warning labels – “past investment results are not an indicator of future returns.” for example.
There are also a number of products which, in my opinion, should also contain warning labels – things high in sugar, for example. But there is a broader point that I’d like us to think about.
Food products list ingredients – they have to. They also list what percentage of one’s daily intake of sugar, carbs, fat, salt – whatever – the product supplies. But there is no context. Nothing says if you consistently exceed the recommended sugar intake you are at risk for diabetes, and obviously there is an epidemic of it in this country. Is the ingredient list a warning label?
Less obvious are products the don’t warrant warnings on the surface but probably ought to have one. “This product is badly made and will fall apart after 5 uses.” “This fabric will shrink 3 sizes after the first wash.” Or how about “this garment was made using slave labor in unsafe working conditions” for an eye opener?
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that maybe we should ask ourselves if our product ought to have a warning label even if it’s the less obvious kind. If it probably should, are we not doing the customer a disservice by foregoing its use? I’m not talking about legal liability; I’m talking about doing what’s right. Moreover, shouldn’t we be thinking about changing the product in such a way to make it “safer” as best we can so the label isn’t required?
Food for thought!
I’m not a fan of limited thinking. I much prefer the intellectual exercise of accepting the challenge of a difficult supposition and then figuring out a way to expand the set of answers. I often think of President Kennedy‘s challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years when manned spaceflight had not really happened yet. Had everyone just said “no way” rather than “ok, so IF we were going to do that, how would we?”, we’d never have made it (nor had great films like Apollo 13!).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I thought of that this morning when I read the quote below. It’s from a piece about the need for advertising to support content and a rant on how ad blockers are killing off content:
And so it really is a simple math problem. If there isn’t any money to pay the people who create content or buy and maintain the servers that host that content, there will not be any content. No one’s really coming at the story from that angle. And those who have lived almost their entire lives consuming content for free might need a good slap upside the head. In fact, everyone could use that slap. Because there are only two choices: ad-supported content or subscription-based content. And we all know most will take free if they can get it.
So there is our difficult challenge. I disagree that there are only two choices, however. I’ve also come to realize that it’s really only a problem for a select group of content providers. First, the “two choice” thinking. What about a freemium model? Some very large publishers have successfully adopted it, and if the quality of what you produce is there, people will want more and pay. What about a donation model? PBS has used it successfully for years. So does Wikipedia. I know of several digital entities – podcasts and otherwise – that use Patreon to fund their content production. It’s possible to use the appeal of great content to support an affiliate sales model too – buying products from links on a review site, for example. Frankly, it’s not hard to argue that the ad-supported model is one of the worst options. Besides requiring a large audience to make it work, I think it encourages publishers to grab and abuse consumer data or to inflate page counts (and ad counts) with endless slide shows, etc. Limited thinking means limited choices.
The realization is this. Most “publishers” link to a limited set of high-quality content producers. How many stories that you read, even on big sites, link back to the original work done in the NY Times or Wall St. Journal? It might be a fun exercise to see how many of the people complaining about no money to support content creation are actually creating content or adding value to someone else’s content. Maybe another business model is a little pass-through of payments to the real content creators from those who are using that work to generate revenue? There was such thinking back in the early days of the web. What happened?
As I said upfront, I don’t like limited thinking. Hopefully today you understand why that is. Was I clear?