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This is where, when we are not working for our clients, we publish some of our thoughts. Please take a look around and feel welcome to comment or share. You can visit our blog archive here.

How Team Work Can Work Better

When passers by kept snapping pictures of the witty quotes posted outside Division of Labor’s office, things like “No Good Comes from Hitting Reply All”, they realized they were on to something. And when they decided to shore up the resulting book-length collection of similarly clever posters with some research, they came to us. We surveyed 800 office workers across the country, asking questions on subjects varying from coworker peeves to office-related indiscretions. Now we’ve gone back and taken some of our favorite bon mots and done a little more research, and explored them a little further. Enjoy!

#4: SAYING IT WITH CONVICTION DOES NOT MAKE IT TRUE

Imagine you’re working with a group of people to solve a problem. It probably happens most work days in some fashion, but let’s say you don’t know the people. Say you’re on your way to the mountains and a herd of cows is blocking the two-lane road to your Airbnb chalet. You’re so close, but so far. There’s three people stuck there with you, and you debate the best course of action. One guy declares confidently that if he honks the horn a lot, they’ll run. Another guy quietly says that might not work. But Over-Confident Guy insists, so you all get into your cars while he tries it. After the stampede subsides, you all get out to survey your cars for damage, of which there is plenty.

Also, it turns out that the quiet guy lived in Wyoming for 10 years and knew a lot of ranchers who would have told you that would happen, but he wasn’t the one sounding off about the best way to do things.

So here’s the question: how do we choose the best course of action when working in a diverse group with multiple options on the table?

Figuring out who the experts are in a given situation is crucial: if you’re planning a ski vacation, you need to talk to the powder hound who’s been to the most mountains; if you’ve got an idea for a start-up, you need to talk to someone who’s made one work, and knows why and how it worked when it did. Obvious, right?

Sometimes these people are easy to track down, but some situations make it more difficult. For example, take group work. Most of us work or consort with someone who we tend to believe by default. It’s the person who says “sure” rather than “really?” to a new perspective in a conversation, the one who oozes confidence in every situation, even those they’ve just walked into. They seem to have a response to everything, and to know the answer already. Seem to.

Often there’s no clear expert at hand when working in a group to solve a problem, so the person who exudes the most confidence becomes the de facto leader for the simple reason that others don’t challenge him or her. It’s a common group dynamic: someone leads the way, but whether that person is qualified to do so is questionable. Bryan Bonner, a researcher from the University of Utah, wanted to understand how this dynamic plays out, and whether something can be done to make group work a more useful, profitable undertaking.

Bonner and his colleagues had people working in groups come up with 5 knowledge-based estimates (e.g., the distance from Salt Lake City to New York City). While some groups dove in without any further instruction, others were told to have each member think of and write down two things they knew that were related to the questions before continuing. This task functioned as a short hand inventory of related expertise, so the group could distinguish the people who knew more (for instance, someone who took a road trip to the east coast one time) from those who knew less (the guy from California who’d never been east of the Rockies).

What they found was that groups who considered members’ knowledge before getting to work had more accurate answers than the other groups. Groups who didn’t consider member knowledge were more likely to be influenced by the members who showed the most confidence, and researchers noted that knowledge and confidence were “only modestly related to one another” in their study.

It makes sense when you think about it: everyone works with a different set of knowledge and experiences. Why wouldn’t they be used accordingly, depending on the situation, rather than the usual falling in like with Over-Confident Guy every time? Quickly going over relevant knowledge before beginning a project seems like 3 minutes well used. And what do we have to lose? Nothing but a few hours of wasted time.

 

 

Posted by:
Erin Allingham
Categories:
Blog
Posted January 10, 2014

A lesson in contradictions.

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Focus groups can only tell us so much. In many instances, what consumers say in the discussion is completely different from what they do outside of it. Look for ways to pinpoint a contradiction between what customers say and what they actually do. If successful, profound truths that change the way we think about our customers can be revealed.

When asking Audi owners why they chose the car they drive they’ll usually tell you about its superior performance, safety, engineering, or comfort. These things are all true, but they fail to mention one of the biggest reasons of all… the statement the car makes about its driver. To understand the unique statements the drivers of each brand are trying to make we needed to look no further than their personalized license plates…

Posted by:
Erin Allingham
Categories:
Blog, Market Research
Posted September 19, 2013

Carving out the time to do what matters

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“Truly great creative achievements require hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work, and we have to make time every single day to put in those hours. Routines help us do this by setting expectations about availability, aligning our workflow with our energy levels, and getting our minds into a regular rhythm of creating. At the end of the day–or really, from the beginning–building a routine is all about persistence and consistency. Don’t wait for inspiration; create a framework for it.”

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett

“With one eye on our gadgets, we’re unable to give our full attention to who and what is in front of us–meaning that we miss out on the details of our lives, ironically, while responding to our fear of missing out.” – Lori Deschene

These bits of wisdom are included in a book you’ll simply devour if you often find yourself fighting the good fight against distraction: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, by a slew of impressive creative thinkers and spearheaded by the folks at 99U and Behance, and edited by the wonderful Jocelyn K. Glei. (You can find these quotes in context on pp. 130, 134, and 23 respectively.)

Image credit: 99U

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Gwen McCarter, Cultural Strategist

The PARAGRAPH Project is a marketing research and strategy firm based in Durham, NC. We are, at times, a strange brew. But this is what works for us — and inevitably, it works for our clients. The types of people who work at PARAGRAPH are strategists, anthropologists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, negotiators, students and builders. Herein lies our value.We are able to look at problems from many different perspectives and apply this diverse point of view to solutions for our clients. After all, if we conduct the same research in the same ways as our competitors, what advantage do we gain? By using old research methodologies in new ways and inventing new methodologies unique to each client’s research objectives, we quickly explore more territory to find insights often overlooked. We believe creativity is the missing link between useful information and actionable inspiration.

Posted by:
Gwen McCarter
Categories:
Creativity, Inspiration
Posted July 17, 2013

What have we here?

One thing we’ve all had friendly disagreements about is what, exactly, a cloud looks like. I say it’s a puppy crouched down to play, you say it’s a scorpion ready to strike (which says a lot about our personalities, by the way). Things in the sky are like nature’s Rorschach ink blots—a group of stars look like a crab or a bear, or at least did to someone at some point. So what do you make of this?

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Maybe you see a downward-looking Easter Island head, or a stylized outline of New England, or an unfortunate Tetris piece. But probably you didn’t see this:

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The reason Thomas Lamadieu’s work caught my attention is not because it’s a playful use of negative space. Rather, I’m intrigued by how a set of given parameters (in the physical sense), became the foundation for something so wildly different and interesting. It’s not that there’s obviously a woman sitting in that space (as with the arrow in the FedEx logo), but it does make sense how one grew into it, imaginatively.

We’ve been talking about structure around the office lately, and how to make it work for rather than confine us. Deciding that a certain amount of time will be devoted to creative endeavors is a great idea, but we’ve noticed that often our internal projects get brushed aside because they’re not “urgent,” and so get put on the backburner for a while. It turns out that a while can easily turn into forever, as we’ve all discovered at various points when we take a look back and see the detritus of unwritten stories, unplanted gardens, DIY projects that never get off the ground, blogs left to die—the list goes sadly on.

Perhaps a solution to this common quandary is to install some hemmed in space into the week and just go for it. Dig into those projects (and only those projects) during that time period, which is to be considered inviolate. We’re going to try it out and see how it goes. In the mean time, here’s once more sky drawing for the road. I don’t know about you, but what I see when I look at that space now is an opportunity to expand.

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Posted by:
Erin Allingham
Categories:
Blog, Inspiration
Tags:
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Posted April 26, 2013

Point of Inspiration: Beware the Brackets

The boxes labeled A and B are the same exact shade of gray...It’s March, and we’re all a little mad, of course, but it’s not the NCAA kind of brackets I mean here (although, that said, Harvard?!). The brackets I want to draw attention to are the ones we use, often without knowing, to confine our perception and judgment. These brackets can spell trouble for the creative and critical processes we rely on both in work and play. (In the instance above, we bracket the boxes labeled A and B within their immediate surroundings, and usually fail to see and believe that they are, in fact, the exact same shade of gray.)

If you’re ever tasked with evaluating a number of things (pitches, positionings, creative concepts, and the like) you probably assume that you keep an open mind throughout the process and maintain a pretty even hand. Well, a recent study shows that’s probably not the case (sorry!). When researchers evaluated data on decisions made in over 9,000 business school interviews, they found that judgments were affected not so much by who came directly before, as we might expect, but on the overall strength of the entire day, which is, of course, completely irrelevant.

A lot of factors go into how we evaluate ideas and people, and many of them are external to the ideas and people themselves—that’s just life. But imagine someone is an absolute star in the making, but interviews last on a day full of qualified-to-good candidates. What happens? According to this study, our plucky up and comer will likely get scored low simply because of the mental brackets placed around that group of candidates. Interviewers, for a number of possible reasons, are reluctant to give high marks after giving several others high marks (or conversely, reverse all of the above, and a sub-par candidate could be recommended because of a number of preceding low marks). Now, replace “candidate” with anything you’re in charge of making a call on.

Often at fault in these situations is the gambler’s false belief in the law of small numbers, otherwise known as, “they can’t all be heads.” We tend to be suspicious of streaks in what we suppose to be a random series of events—we notice and question it when a coin lands head side up 15 times in a row. By the same token, if we read three strong proposals in a row, we might “correct” for our judgment and double down on the next one, which, when we see it for what it is, is a mistake in judgment.

Surely this is beginning to ring true, at least to some extent. If you’re not prepared to admit that you’ve probably misjudged some things in your professional life, let’s lower the stakes and say it’s just wine on the docket. Have you ever been to a tasting where you liked every single wine? Probably not. And yet, it’s entirely possible to like five wines in a row, without having low standards or a pathetic palette. We just assume a certain ordering of quality will emerge in any set of people, objects, or ideas.

Why should we care about this? Because many decisions we make are folded into arbitrary subsets created by the confines of a day, a meeting, or an attention span.  If we bring these brackets with us to new ideas or viewpoints, we can easily miss out on something good, or even revolutionary. This is not to say we can’t allow experience to inform decisions, but we should be open to the possibility that a streak of seemingly great ideas might really be great. In the end, some brackets are determined for us, but other times, we can, and should, expand them as broadly as possible.

Also, happy March Madness to you!

Posted by:
Erin Allingham
Categories:
Blog, Inspiration, Uncategorized
Posted March 22, 2013

Point of Inspiration: David Foster Wallace

photo credit: Steve Rhodes

photo credit: Steve Rhodes

We’re big on finding insights in unexpected places, so when Explore posted this the other day, I took note. Follow the link and you’ll find a gem: David Foster Wallace’s English 102 syllabus from Fall 1994, a course he taught at Illinois State University (more detail here). He sets up the class as a deep dive into literary analysis–deeper (and bolder!) than usual because he assigns a wholly different set of books than might be expected.

Rather than have his students go through the “usual” lit crit process with classically “literary” works, Wallace assigns fiction with more commercial appeal. Stephen King’s Carrie, for example, and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. But in the syllabus, our dearly departed DFW warns students against taking his list of popular fiction as a sign that the course will be easy. As they would soon find out, by having them engage with an unorthodox set of texts, Wallace is asking them to stretch and refine and practice their normal modes of thinking. And in doing so, he sets his students up to mine new insights and hone their method.

Around here, it seems that when our way of work is put to the test under weird circumstances, we’re often able to see its full potential that much more clearly. What are you doing to challenge your process on a regular basis?

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Gwen McCarter, Strategist

The PARAGRAPH Project is a marketing research and strategy firm based in Durham, NC. We are, at times, a strange brew. But this is what works for us — and inevitably, it works for our clients. The types of people who work at PARAGRAPH are strategists, anthropologists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, negotiators, students and builders. Herein lies our value.We are able to look at problems from many different perspectives and apply this diverse point of view to solutions for our clients. After all, if we conduct the same research in the same ways as our competitors, what advantage do we gain? By using old research methodologies in new ways and inventing new methodologies unique to each client’s research objectives, we quickly explore more territory to find insights often overlooked. We believe creativity is the missing link between useful information and actionable inspiration.

Posted by:
Gwen McCarter
Categories:
Inspiration, Process
Posted March 19, 2013

Point of Inspiration: Conspicuous Conservation


I admit, the first time I heard Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” (featuring Wanz and some explicit language) I was charmed—it’s just so catchy and silly. A few weeks later when I heard it on a local hip hop station, I got to thinking a little more. Not about the mixed reviews or questions of authenticity it’s raised, but about the issue at the heart of the fairly ridiculous song and video: can conspicuous conservation overtake consumption and become the new cool?

Of course conservation is not a new idea in this country: Teddy Roosevelt put it squarely on the national agenda, while Jimmy Carter called the American energy policy a “moral and spiritual crisis” all the way back in 1979. So why have we continued on this prodigal path for so long, and what has all this got to do with a goofy hip-hop song? Well, a lot.

The prescience of great leaders is transcendent and powerful. But the consumer decisions made constantly, by everyone, are what will ultimately change things. Fortunately people know this already; pledging to buy nothing new for a year is becoming not-uncommon, while others take it in the other direction, and throw less than one bag of garbage away in a year. For our part, PARAGRAPH’s office is a tiny specimen of sustainability, with its LEED-Platinum certification.

This is great, wonderful even, but it’s still not particularly cool. While I would hardly consider myself the Arbiter of Things Cool, I’d say Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are in the ballpark. I don’t mean cool like “that’s cool, you’re doing a Fulbright in Gabon,” or “I think solar panels look cool!” I mean cool to middle and high school kids who have no time for a thing that’s going to draw negative attention, or to people who have zero interest in sizing up their carbon footprint.

So perhaps by way of humor and send-up of champagne-Rolex-private-jet cultural aspirations, conspicuous conservation can become less ironic hipster and more noticeably stylish and cosmopolitan.

Ultimately it’s a matter of changing perspectives and values. As these guys say: One man’s trash is another man’s come up.

Posted by:
Erin Allingham
Categories:
Blog, Inspiration
Posted March 12, 2013

Point of Inspiration: In Utero

gaarcover

I was nine years old when Kurt Cobain committed suicide, and while Nevermind was one of the first CDs I purchased for my teenaged self, it’s because of Nirvana’s roots that I’ve stayed interested. Their sound is their sound and it turned the world upside-down, but I like their music for the same reason that I went to Fugazi shows in high school and why I find myself re-watching SLC Punk at least once a year: They captured the raw sentiment of a particular time and place in a genuine way.

What I find intriguing about the recording of In Utero is the fact that the album was an attempt to get back to the punk ethic that fueled Nirvana before Nevermind catapulted them into pop stardom. In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar is a pocket-sized volume that’s part of the larger “33 1/3″ series, which offers analysis for the rock geek on some of the albums that have continued to captivate long after their initial release, and it touches on just that subject.

The story told by this little book is a testament to the power of tapping into what’s already out there–what’s already bubbling up in one subculture or another and what could, at some point, hold mainstream appeal. When Nirvana first appeared on the Seattle scene, they served as a natural leader for an alienated generation just waiting for a voice to get behind. It wasn’t a desire for commercial success but the need for self-expression that made their music and its intent resonate so deeply with people’s moods and contribute to what could already be felt in the air.

Some of the most successful, lasting, iconic brands have grown into authentic champions of a movement in much the same way, articulating what people are feeling but haven’t yet found the means to express. What do you think will be the next group to need a rallying cry?

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Gwen McCarter, Strategist

The PARAGRAPH Project is a marketing research and strategy firm based in Durham, NC. We are, at times, a strange brew. But this is what works for us — and inevitably, it works for our clients. The types of people who work at PARAGRAPH are strategists, anthropologists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, negotiators, students and builders. Herein lies our value.We are able to look at problems from many different perspectives and apply this diverse point of view to solutions for our clients. After all, if we conduct the same research in the same ways as our competitors, what advantage do we gain? By using old research methodologies in new ways and inventing new methodologies unique to each client’s research objectives, we quickly explore more territory to find insights often overlooked. We believe creativity is the missing link between useful information and actionable inspiration.

Posted by:
Gwen McCarter
Categories:
Inspiration
Posted February 25, 2013

Point of Inspiration: Jordan XI

Lately, there’s been nothing short of hyperbole surrounding a few notions of Michael Jordan. He’s turning 50. OK! He’s being compared to Lebron James (and vice-versa). OK! I see this as a result of a slow news cycle — I mean, football season is over. I get it. But examining the vignettes associated with MJ’s birthday this past weekend, I was able to glean a point of inspiration that was perhaps less obvious than a career of clutch performances. Or was it?

Once upon a time, Jordan was king of basketball and the world was his oyster. The Chicago Bulls had just completed a three-peat. Nike was cranking out Air Jordans (and had been for some time), selling them all over the world to a culture of hypebeasts. The merchandising of Jordan was unprecedented and would forever reshape the world of sports marketing.

And then Michael retired. We know now that he came back (for another three-peat!), but at the time it was unexpected and almost unbelievable that he would walk away, and he made it sound so convincing. For many, it was time to shelve a multitude of basketball memories alongside ten versions of the Air Jordan and wait for the next big thing. But that was before the team behind Air Jordan had a say in things.

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Photo courtesy of Nike

 ”I started designing the Air Jordan XI during Michael’s first retirement — I kept saying he would un-retire. People at Nike gave me a hard time, so I wanted to show those assholes that we could make the best Jordans ever. The XI was the first basketball shoe to have a carbon-fiber plate in the sole and patent leather. By the time I showed Michael, he’d started playing again.”

~ Tinker Hatfield

And so it began. Again and again. Hatfield and his design team worked on engineering a shoe they had every reason to believe might never be produced. And per Tinker’s quote, they didn’t aim low. They aimed to create the best that had ever been designed. Many still argue that the XI is one of the most pivotal Air Jordan designs in the line’s illustrious history.

So instead of hanging it up, the designers stuck to their guns and innovated their way to a new solution worthy of production. And as it turns out, it was also worthy of un-retiring. Years later we see multiple athletes now signed to the Jumpman line with shoes and all sorts of gear being churned out for the inner athlete in all of us. One could argue a lifetime of clutch performances, or designs, has risen from the dust of Jordan’s first retirement.

Some compelling stats about the seemingly “doomed” Air Jordan:

+ According to UBS, Jordan Brand sales increased 89% year over year in 2012
+ The Jordan brand controlled 58% of all basketball shoes sold in the US in 2012
+ LeBron James is the top-seller among current players with shoe deals — Jordan still outsells him 6 to 1

Looking at this story of design and gumption, one might assume sticking to one’s guns can often pay off ridiculously well. That’s true. But it’s duly noted that it doesn’t always work out so well — see any list of other athletes who received shoe contracts that lost money for the labels. It would also seem that we never know where new opportunities will surface. All of this seems to point to instinct. Trust yourself. Trust your vision. At its origin, the allure of  the Jordan brand was all about the shoes. In the end, it became a full line of unexpected offerings, a full-fledged brand. Take a look at espn.com from earlier this week.

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They call it XX8. So instead of poking holes in the process, I’m happy to imagine the scene when the team said to one another, “It’s time to fly.”

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  Dave Alsobrooks, Partner

The PARAGRAPH Project is a marketing research and strategy firm based in Durham, NC. We are, at times, a strange brew. But this is what works for us — and inevitably, it works for our clients. The types of people who work at PARAGRAPH are strategists, anthropologists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, negotiators, students and builders. Herein lies our value. We are able to look at problems from many different perspectives and apply this diverse point of view to solutions for our clients. After all, if we conduct the same research in the same ways as our competitors, what advantage do we gain? By using old research methodologies in new ways and inventing new methodologies unique to each client’s research objectives, we quickly explore more territory to find insights often overlooked. We believe creativity is the missing link between useful information and actionable inspiration.

Posted by:
Dave Alsobrooks
Categories:
Creativity, Design, Inspiration, Process
Posted February 22, 2013

Point of Inspiration: Data Romance

Data Romance is a band I recently came across from Vancouver, BC in Canada. It is not an innovative and headstrong market research and strategy firm based in Durham, NC. That’s OK. If I had to pick a city other than Durham, perhaps Vancouver would be it, if for nothing other than Stanley Park and CinCin. But if I had to work somewhere else, I’d be hard-pressed to choose being in a band. I like my routine. My guess is it might be more fun to join Data Romance for a tour than to sort a spreadsheet. I’m sorry. That wasn’t a guess.

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Data Romance, the band, just released an album today. Initially, I was enamored by the concept of “data romance” as a musical entity. What could this mean? Should I be interested? More specifically, their cryptic name is paired with a grayscale Venn diagram on the album cover. Officially interested. As it turns out, I like their music, too. They’re a The XX with a DJ. Or maybe Björk as a consultant. And that’s to say I like them, so there’s no disrespect in this amateurish review. I encourage you to check them out, starting with today’s release.

Where am I going with this? Even though I don’t live out every day sifting and sorting plumes of data, it’s possible that I (and perhaps you) are both able to have more of a romance with it. For me, this is a mindset. Embracing data and the insights found within is a seductive craft for all of us. But too often we just want the insight, and not the data. To be honest, we should probably hold ourselves accountable to decipher data on our own terms. It’s our point of view that people are waiting to hear. A romancing of this process, of this data, can help us overachieve on a regular basis.

It’s clear that data will be how you, I and everyone else knows what to do with ourselves in the future, both near and far term. Yes, we should already be analyzing data to understand our customers and their behaviors. And, of course, most of us are. But we don’t often frame it (data) in terms of being romantic. At least I haven’t yet approached it in such a way. Data is time-consuming and cumbersome. It’s my hope this perception might change.

Maybe, if we (data and you and I) were to strike up a romance, it would all change. Can you imagine a place where data romance is a two-way street? I suppose it could work that way — I love data, and subsequently, data starts to love me back.

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  Dave Alsobrooks, Partner

The PARAGRAPH Project is a marketing research and strategy firm based in Durham, NC. We are, at times, a strange brew. But this is what works for us — and inevitably, it works for our clients. The types of people who work at PARAGRAPH are strategists, anthropologists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, negotiators, students and builders. Herein lies our value. We are able to look at problems from many different perspectives and apply this diverse point of view to solutions for our clients. After all, if we conduct the same research in the same ways as our competitors, what advantage do we gain? By using old research methodologies in new ways and inventing new methodologies unique to each client’s research objectives, we quickly explore more territory to find insights often overlooked. We believe creativity is the missing link between useful information and actionable inspiration.

Posted by:
Dave Alsobrooks
Categories:
Data, Infographics, Insight Mining, Inspiration
Posted February 19, 2013