A Question Is A Question… Unless It’s An Activity

As a mom, I was starting to get frustrated with conversations that went like this:

Me: How was your day?
Kid: Good.
Me: What did you do?
Kid: Stuff.
Me: How did your math test go?
Kid: Fine.

One day I tried something different:

Me: Let’s imagine all the good things that happened to you this week were on one side of a see saw and all the bad things were on the other side, which side would be heavier?
Kid (thinks): The bad.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me about it.

Getting creative, and framing a question as, well, less of a question was the key to opening the door to a rich and interesting conversation with my child. This same theory (that I actually do use with my kids) works wonders in qualitative research too! When research questions are framed as questions, participants (like kids!) get bored very quickly, and tend to search for the easiest way to answer. These answers are typically fairly short, and lack detail, which leaves us qualitative researchers frustrated with surface level findings.

Activities Reveal Untapped Insights

When we challenge people to think about any topic in a different and fun way, they become interested and engaged, opening a window to a whole new world of insight that is always there; just untapped. This is because the activities that we engage people in can help tap us into the non-conscious brain (otherwise known as System 1 thinking). If you’re not familiar with the ideas behind System 1 and System 2 thinking,  Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow is a wonderful resource.


Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

Some clients may be a little uncomfortable with these techniques and approaches. But we applaud those who are open to using different approaches in an attempt to see their category from a new angle.  Asking participants to think of various products in a category and create a ‘family tree’ out of them enabled a client recently to understand the seemingly complex relationships between products. Participants got very creative and had some fun with the activity, and more importantly, the themes were brilliantly evident. There was a clear patriarch and matriarch product (with very clear reasons why), there were offspring, and even some black sheep family members were revealed as well. A direct line of questioning might have asked ‘In what ways are product X and Y similar and different?’ and that would quite likely have yielded similar findings to what the client already knew. This new approach illuminated important differences in ‘roles’ or jobs between ‘family members’ in the category, which lead to insights around how they need to be marketed.

What Does It All Mean?

The real ‘fun’ with using activities instead of direct questions is in being able to craft a story for the brand and present deep human insights. This is the foundation upon which Upwords has created our Activity Based ConversationsWhat We Do. These stories would never be revealed with depth and emotion by asking direct, rational questions like ‘Tell me what you like about this brand?’.

I’m off now to give my child a virtual magic wand to share with me what they wish for the upcoming holidays. I know that I won’t be able to give them everything they want, but the conversation we’ll have about their wishes will be a whole lot more rewarding than asking ‘What do you want to do tomorrow?’. You know as well as I do it would be something along the lines of ‘I dunno!’.