Spirit of Enquiry

Sep 21, 2021

This blog is the second of a 3-part series on good attributes to have and practice to do good User Research. Our previous article spoke about CC’s or Curiosity Conversations. This blog examines attribute #2 called a “Spirit of Enquiry”.

User Research is usually done keeping in mind a single user or individuals. We posit that the techniques used for discovering users, their needs, pains, thoughts & motivation can also be applied to a collective entity like an organisation. Our narrative around the 2nd attribute of the Spirit of Enquiry (SoE) highlights a case where we were sought out by a leading design engineering firm, DE-Tech, to help them create a digital content strategy.

We enabled our Spirit of Enquiry using 3 splashes of scientific temper which were

  1. understand the “Whys”

  2. consider alternate points of view, and

  3. accept that all questions may not be fully answerable.

The exercise had generous doses of

  1. empathy

  2. humility, and

  3. a beginner's mindset.

Through 2 stages, we’ll illustrate how these were applied, in combinations, and what we discovered.

Discovery Phase 1

Understanding “the Why’” of the problem while being empathetic and humble in conversation.

We met the sales and marketing teams of DE-Tech to understand

  • “Why” they wanted a digital content strategy

  • Where they felt they were falling short, and

  • What they envisioned as a “good strategy” for their company.

A part of the conversation went like this.

Q: Why do you want a digital content strategy?

Sales Leader: We feel our digital presence is falling short when compared to our closest competitor. Young people, especially those fresh out of college, aren’t as aware of our tools and technology, although we have been market leaders for over a decade.

Q: Why do you think this happened?

Account Manager: We are proud of what we produce as engineers, but hesitant about putting ourselves “out there”. 

Q: Why do you feel hesitant?

Sales Leader: We are deeply technical people, and our work speaks for itself. We recognise that we aren’t able to connect with a younger technical audience, perhaps because we...

Q: Why does technical excellence have to be exclusive? (oops, we realised we made a judgement call here!!)

Account Manager: I see where you are getting with this. Short answer—“no”. In fact we’d like more young people to reach out to us. Just now I realised that we aren’t that approachable in the digital realm, whereas our competitor is all out there on pretty much all the major social media channels.

Q: Why are you hesitant to be pervasive/active/use social media to reach out or showcase your products and technology?

Sales Leader: You’ve hit the point home. We are hesitant because we feel that any good engineer will find the answers to questions by searching our portals and website. However, it looks like that may not work now. Today’s generation connects and engages extensively on social media and wants quick answers. We need to actively put ourselves on their path of discovering our company, technology and tools. We definitely need to rethink our approach to using other digital means of outreach including social media.

And this was the point where the team began opening up.

You may have recognised our use of a common technique called the “5-Why’s”. We use this actively. Using an open-ended “Why” approach opens conversations.

To the interviewee, it indicates a willingness to understand “our problem” with humility, and it requires an open mind on the part of the researcher.

Discovery Phase 2

We explored the problem space deeper, inviting opinions from a cross section of employees covering functions of the organisation that are essential to the development of a well-rounded digital content strategy. We spoke to people in leadership roles, technical roles of varying experience and customer facing employees. That revealed a host of dimensions about how these people perceived the company’s digital presence and what could be done to improve it.

Field engineers felt strongly about creating resources to help young engineers navigate technical problems while working. These could be done via virtual communities hosted on the company website. Regular posts on social media around short technical topics were voted in.

Senior Architects decided to hold curated round tables for other senior engineers from outside the company to learn, share and promote good ideas and practices. It was also decided to showcase these folks at events and later publish videos on social media.

Senior leaders resolved to start engaging with young people in engineering campuses. They planned to set up training programs with sandboxes for students to use their company’s tools and technology.

An amazing number of ideas flowed in along with diverse points of view and questions that opened up more questions to explore. A few of them: 

  • Using social media doesn’t mean that we need to put out everything we do. How do we choose what to share and when?

  • We traditionally built relationships the old way—meeting our customers and growing the relationship over years. In the digital world, relationships are ephemeral. How do we manage engagement and brand recall?

We call this an “aha” moment in our research. These questions now came out more easily and people across the company were ready to face them and deal with them together, with an open mind. The earlier hesitancy was slowly fading away, giving rise to exploring solutions, facing challenges and finding ways to create a successful strategy.

Finally, we often forget the power of always engaging a “beginner's mind” in anything we approach, especially in user research. In this case, our team was a seasoned one. We were aware of our “I already know that” thought. You may have noticed our “oops” moment in Phase 1. Consciously bringing this mindset helps us rediscover what might seem familiar. For example, we almost concluded that this company was averse to going all out digital. In reality, they needed help to overcome their hesitation. We had to understand the causes and examine various points of view.

In summary, remember the 3 splashes and the 3 doses while conducting user research.

We invite you to share what worked and your “oops” moments with us @ info@adepticlabs-com.in9.cdn-alpha.com

Stay tuned for the 3rd blog in our series on practices to do good User Research.