One of the things I enjoy doing is taking personality tests. Inevitably, it seems that during the test, there will be some question or series of questions that deals with how you make decisions, and they always seems to make it out to be two types of decision-making: go with your gut, or research everything to death. I never have known just how to answer these, because I do a little bit of both when it comes to decision-making: I research the life out of everything, and then I go with my now-more-intelligent (hopefully) gut. When it comes to business, though, if you take too long to make a decision, you sacrifice potential benefits. Alternatively, if you don’t do any research to help with your decision-making, you might also find yourself in trouble. Additionally, we all approach decision-making with a number of biases that effect how we gather information and even what information we seek. Ultimately, then, how can we make decisions better?
Eliminating bias and the third party researcher
One of the biggest biases that comes into play when making decisions is confirmation bias. This simply means that we have already made a decision, and we are really just seeking out information that confirms that decision for us. With the internet, it can seem that every decision is the best decision! However, there are two ways that you can use research methods to eliminate bias. The first is to ask someone else to do the research for you. I think this is especially important to consider if you’ve already made a decision and find yourself seeking confirmation for the decision instead of stepping one pace back and seeking information that can help you reach an unbiased decision. The second is to be certain that you’re asking the right question in the first place. Here’s an example.
- Should I use X agency to run my future media campaigns? versus
- What agency should I use to run my future media campaigns?
The first question is phrased in a way that is already introducing the confirmation bias. Not only that, you’re already closing yourself off to the possibility that other agencies could be a better option for you. You are likely to look for case studies and testimonials for that particular company, and even if you read reviews that are negative, you’re likely to tell yourself something like, “Yeah, but they might have just had a bad experience anyway. Look at all the good reviews they had!”
The second question is phrased in a way that is eliminating the confirmation bias, and instead is more open to seeking the best resource for your particular situation. The research done here would most likely involve looking across a number of agencies, narrowed down by your budget, your resources, your desired level of commitment, and your desired campaign scope. From there, you could have someone in your organization who is not tied to the outcome of the decision go and review bids for the project or talk to each of the groups and gather the needed information to help you make your decision. (Note: having a third party help with the research does not always mean having an agency do the research for you.)
With so many DIY platforms available for conducting your own surveys, or even creating your own market research online community, it’s easy to create a survey and gather information from customers, intended customers, or even the general public, to help you with your decisions. However, that doesn’t always mean that you’re going about it the right way, asking the right questions, of the right people, on the right topics. Survey writing seems like a piece of cake until you really sit down and try to write questions that:
- address the topic you’re researching
- do so without introducing any bias
- with questions that are 100% neutral in tone
- actually measure what you’re wanting to measure (construct validity)
- use the right scales
- result in a survey that is not too long
- to be asked of the right audience.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of posts that address how to write good surveys. But let me put in a caveat here that I feel is important to bring up: even the most practiced market research professional gets it wrong sometimes. I have been guilty many times of teaching a best practice only to turn right around and forget about it when putting together my next survey (which is why one post will be entirely dedicated to the benefits of having someone else review your survey before it goes live, though you can review Annie Pettit’s excellent post about the importance of having your surveys reviewed while you wait for me take on the topic).
— zontziry (@zontziry) September 15, 2015