When Research Contradicts Conventional Wisdom

We came across a great post this morning from our friends at Dimensional Research entitled, “When ‘Everyone Knows’ Contradicts the Research.” (It’s actually a post from earlier this year, resurfaced via their Twitter account; follow them at @DimensionalR.)

The all-too-common market research challenge that this post tackles will likely sound familiar to you: What happens when the findings of the research disagree with what “everyone knows?”

This is a perennial issue for market researchers. Conventional wisdom has taken root, research is conducted to prove it true, and the research proves exactly the opposite. Why? The research must be wrong. The survey must be flawed. The data is bad.

But as Diane points out in the Dimensional Research post, this is certainly not always the case. Sure, there are times when respondents’ actual behavior is not in line with their reported behavior, but it’s equally possible that conventional wisdom is simply misunderstood. Demographics play a large role in this. An example Diane uses cites a survey of IT professionals concerning preferred tablet computing platforms. Everyone knows the iPad is the industry leader… yet it scored third on the survey. Why? Because the survey was of IT professionals, not traditional consumers. IT professionals have completely different priorities when it comes to tablet computing, and they were asked for their preferences. Score one for solid research over conventional wisdom.

This is a topic that deserves further discussion. Be sure to start by reading Diane’s post. Then we’d love to hear your examples of times when research overcame conventional wisdom, and how you were able to back up your work. Leave your comments here on the post, or join us on Twitter (@researchaccess).

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About Joshua Hoffman

Joshua Hoffman is Technology Specialist at Microsoft and a frequent contributor to Research Access.