How researchers get heard
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Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?

That’s the first question to ask of any metric, any tactic, any strategy.

I heard it posed recently by George Weiner of the digital agency Whole Whale in an episode of Big Duck’s “The Smart Communications Podcast.”

Weiner borrowed the question from the book of the same name, about a British Olympic rowing coach that asked his mediocre team to ask that question of every single thing they did in training.

They won gold in the 2000 Sydney Games.

Weiner asks the question of metrics. If we improve this metric, will that improvement make our collective boat go faster? And which metric should we improve by what to make the boat go fastest?

Once leadership has the answer, the rest is obvious: Shape your strategy around improving that metric.

Oh, you’re not doing that? Then how do you know what you’re doing will work?

The “boat” question can be posed with equal impact directly to strategy and tactics — if you put a “how” in front of it.

“How will this make the boat go faster?” forces articulation of a precise theory of change.

Or forces you and your team to state clearly if you’re testing and experimenting to determine what might speed up the boat the most, and how you’ll know the answer.

Or to reveal, as you hear the usual lines from yourself or your team about how everyone consumes content through video now or storytelling training is essential to make your research relevant, that what will follow is just a whole lot of spraying and praying. And burning through resources.

In the podcast, Weiner also talks about the power of deltas, and the power of visual dashboards that show those deltas clearly.

“Humans respond to deltas up or down,” Weiner says. “You should understand why you might be surprised by a delta up or a delta down.”

A great little insight for researchers. How can you best visualize — simply and forcefully — that what you’re recommending will, in fact, make your audiences’ boats go faster?

Because, wherever they’re going, they want a faster boat.