by Greg Heist with Tiffany McNeil
Blogger’s Note: Having had two weeks to digest and reflect on TMRTE, Del Monte’s Tiffany McNeil and I have continued the discussion “offline” about what we found most inspiring there and what we feel it means for the future of MR. Part of the reason Tiffany and I can’t stop talking is because we don’t want to lose the “high” from the event once stepping back into the real world. We hope that, in sharing our enthusiasm, others will join the conversation, and help move us all from that enthusiasm…to action.
Greg: So, Tiffany, as a speaker and attendee in Vegas, what impressions did TMRTE leave you with?
Tiffany: Well, if success in this industry is about clarity and inspiration, (and I believe it is) TMRTE delivered. I left the conference feeling excited, overwhelmed, inspired, and truly humbled to work among such brilliant, dynamic and kind people. I regularly feel this way with the insights team here at Del Monte – but this event was far beyond expectations—at least a three-fold upgrade from an already great TDMR last year.
Greg: What were the stand-outs for you?
Tiffany: For me, the most inspiring macro-theme was connectedness. This was most overtly displayed in Tiffany Shlain’s presentation. She uses her skill set as a filmmaker to shift our collective focus to what connects us rather than what divides us – why we need each other rather than why we’re in each other’s way. She reminded me what I’ve always loved about this field –that it’s rooted in human understanding—you know humans—like us. What motivates us, what we care about, why we are who we are, how we’re different and yet how we’re all the same. TMRTE brought me an increased awareness of human beings, including market researchers, as a collective people maturing and growing together. Tiffany Shlain: filmmaking researcher and superhero.
Greg: I too was blown away by Tiffany’s presentation. I’ve never been so emotionally moved by a talk at a research conference. Truth be told, when you tweeted that you were getting teary eyed, I was just grateful I wasn’t the only one.
But you’re right. The core of what we do as researchers isn’t collecting and analyzing data; it’s about seeing human beings for who they truly are and then seeing the connections among them to uncover insights. When you look at it this way, research can be truly organic and altruistic—very different than the data collection template and the notion of “respondent as lab rat.”
Tiffany’s presentation fascinated me with the idea that we can fundamentally change our relationship with consumers. Rather than just extracting data from them, we can transform this connection into a force to do good in the world. Her cloud-based filmmaking and “Declaration of Interdependence” focuses on technology bringing us together in a way that transcends culture, language and race. All too often, we think technology is a dehumanizing force in the world.
At home, when my preschool-aged sons Jack and Ethan kiss their mom’s iPhone when we’re connected via Face Time, they’re doing it because they believe that, in that moment, I am truly there with them. To me, that crystallizes what technology can—and should—be about.
Tiffany: Totally get it. My son Callum knows and loves his grandparents in Europe because of Skype, iChat and Face Time. When my grandparents lived in England, I probably saw them only three times. Callum lights up when he sees his grandparents in person—I was probably scared of mine!
Before this event, I’d never really spent any time consciously connecting the brain to who we are as people. I’ve just always put it into the “science” column and the “who we are” part into the “social studies” column. But, the science behind the brain and its connection to “understanding” is relatively new and incredibly powerful. The inspiring part is, according to Tiffany and others, our brains are changing to accommodate the world as it is now; and as she so convincingly said, “we talk about technology as if it’s a thing…but we created it—it’s us.”
Greg: And when Stan Sthanunathan showed the clip of IBM’s Watson playing Jeopardy, it reminded me of Kurzweil’s book, “The Singularity is Near.” In it, Kurzweil suggests that neuroscience and computer science are rapidly converging to the point that humanity and technology will soon become indistinguishable from one another. And as you say, if we can unlock the brain science behind “understanding,” it also means we can ultimately create technology that replicates how we deduce insights. In that case, we as researchers will need to be one rung up on the corporate food chain!
Tiffany: Continuing on the brain-as-science side, Dr. A.K. Pradeep discussed memory structure and how we are hard-wired to remember stories. And, Dan Arielly spoke of behavioral economics by suggesting that “we don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brains.” All of this gave me a clearer sense that as a human race, we’re getting smarter, we’re thinking differently, and as a result, we’re collectively evolving as a species. And, turns out, not for the worse. If that’s the kind of stuff we learn about in market research, sign me up. Again.
Greg: And we’re back to where we began—connectedness. All roads do lead to Rome.
Speaking of which, I can’t remember a conference where I felt the connection and camaraderie that I did at TMRTE. In stark contrast to other events that become vehicles for self-promotion, TMRTE was more like a group of great thinkers coming together to change the world. And there’s an incredible need for that. When you’re dealing with the magnitude of progression and disruption that’s been occurring in our industry for the past five years, there are only two options. Either cower in the corner and bemoan your fate; or embrace the change and thrive on chaos.
What I saw at TMRTE was the latter—people doing remarkable work, unfettered by the template of what market research has been. With this new norm emerging, it’s incredibly energizing to play a part in it. Viva la revolution!!
Tiffany: Viva indeed! We became all too used to talking about ourselves as if we’re a bunch of bespectacled, hunched, dusty, rigid humanoids who are rarely seen and, when we are, are never without a three-inch stack of data tabs. (OK, so perhaps many of us—self-included—are indeed bespectacled). But, I have seen VERY little evidence that we’re the mole people we imagined ourselves to be. I think the term “market research” brings all of those characteristics to mind, but when you think about it – a lot of what we do is actually pretty damn sexy. Perhaps many of us are just too scarred by our geeky childhoods to believe it.
Recalling Tiffany’s (Shlain) words: “If you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail,” and “If you have a camera in your hand, everything looks like a story…” I didn’t need a camera to know the story of TMRTE…which is this:
If we want to be cutting-edge, become influential, change the game, and get others inspired…we should just go ahead and do it. Turns out I’m not alone. This event was filled to the brim with people already doing this… all under the bolded big-fonted heading of “Market Research.” Take that, naysayers.
Greg: Yeah. What she said.