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September 12th, 2018
The unlikely parallel worlds of market researchers and black cab drivers
by Alexandra Hull

A new blog post from Sue Reast our Director of fusion fuel – where she considers the unlikely parallel worlds of market researchers and black cab drivers!

Black cab drivers in London must learn 320 routes through 250,000 London streets and memorise 20,000 landmarks off by heart, to get their licence. The gruelling test they need to pass, known as ‘The Knowledge’, is notoriously difficult as they need to be able to navigate the busy streets of the UK’s capital city without a sat nav. It typically takes three to four years for a driver to master ‘The Knowledge’ – but when they do, they have the understanding and the skill to take passengers anywhere in London. Candidates wishing to pass ‘The Knowledge’ even have to contend with quirky examiners who might impose restrictions like road closures or asking drivers to navigate a route avoiding traffic lights (1)

In our world, an example of a restriction might be budget, either from the outset or as the project progresses. And, just like a black cabbie, you can also trust a great researcher to get you where you need to go. Sometimes they might not take the most obvious route, or the one you had in mind, but any experienced researcher worth their salt, will get you to your destination. So how do we researchers manage to uncover deep insights about people, be they consumers, shoppers or patients, even on a shoestring? I put it down to creativity.

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way” Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono – physician, psychologist, philosopher and author – coined the phrase “lateral thinking”. He has spent decades teaching people all over the world to improve their thinking skills and creativity, to help them make smarter decisions, faster.

We researchers are a creative bunch who love a good puzzle. We don’t see barriers, only challenges to solve. We’re dab hands at re-invention and re-creation. We like to think about the end-game and devise a route that gets us there, within any defined parameters, such as budget. The route can consist of elements such as: task-based ethnography, safari trips, commando vox pops or quant revisited.

“It’s everything you need & nothing you don’t” as one of our favourite hotels, The PILGRM, in London, would say.

Around 10 years ago I was working with an R&D director who had set up a small healthcare development company. He had only a small research budget but big aspirations, and he wanted deep insight into a particular patient group. My client needed to understand the human story of a particular condition, from the patient’s point of view. With bigger budgets, we could have talked to large numbers of patients and caregivers – but this just wasn’t possible. Instead, we simply ran two sequential, extended focus groups with the same, experienced moderator.

The budget was small, but we gave ourselves lots of time. Time to talk to the people in the groups, so they didn’t feel rushed. Time to reflect on what they said afterwards, to make connections with broader trends and other data points. Time to understand not just what the patients said, but why. Understanding the patients’ direct needs refined the development brief beyond recognition, leading to a much needed treatment innovation.

The point of this story is that when you partner with an experienced researcher, when you talk to them about where you want to get to, even if you have restrictions such as a small budget, they will find a way.

“There is never a problem only a solution”
Black Cab Wisdom

So, if you fancy taking a different route, give us a call at fusion FUEL – we’ll take you through our ‘Knowledge’.

(1) https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/t-magazine/london-taxi-test-knowledge.html