Views - Creative Problem Solving vs. Qualitative Research


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Article describing the similarities and differences between CPS and QR.

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Views - Creative Problem Solving vs. Qualitative Research

  1. 1. • SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT • Creative Problem Solving and Qualitative Research BY MARTHA E. GUIDRY Consumer Reactions • Avon, CT • W hen a client wants to use the tail end of a focus group as an idea- generating session with consumers, qualitative research consultants (QRCs) are faced with a challenge. Although the primary intent of the research may be to understand a particular product or marketing challenge, moderators are often asked, “Can we ask the respondents to give us Qualitative research ideas to make it better?” or “Can’t we just ask them, since we’ve got them in relies primarily on the room anyway?” Although many practitioners have attended one (or many) of the Creative “convergent thinking” Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) conferences and understand the ideation and asks participants process, confusion still remains as to how the disciplines of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) and qualitative research actually dovetail. The framework on the to evaluate, judge, next few pages offers a useful guide to understanding and better communicating how and if ideation fits into the research process. discuss the issue at hand and (usually)narrow down a number of options into a favored subset. In CPS, idea generation focuses primarily on “divergent thinking,”which is effective only in environments ripe for the productive generation of many possibilities.14 QRCA VIEWS SUMMER 2006
  2. 2. C O N T I N U E D Schools of Thought Overall, qualitative research focuses on gathering information, reporting facts and soliciting reactions from a pre-selected group of individuals with some similar characteristics, behaviors and/or attitudes. According to the authors of Moderating to the Max, qualitative research is all about “what is,” while idea generation or CPS is about “what could be.” Other practitioners support this same line of thinking, stating that qualitative research is about the “truth," while CPS is about the “possibilities.” Regardless of how it is articulated, qualitative research focuses on the current reality for the respondent. A respondent might be asked: “What is your experience with a product?” or “What are the biggest challenges in this situation?” or “What are your feelings about this brand?” Qualitative research relies primarily on “convergent thinking” and asks participants to evaluate, judge, discuss the issue on hand and, usually, narrow down a number of options into a favored subset. In CPS, the idea-generation portion of the model focuses primarily on “divergent thinking,” which is only effective in an environment ripe for the productive generation of many possibilities. Unlike convergent thinking in a typical qualitative project, divergent thinking relies onTwo Distinct Disciplines, deferring judgment, generating a large quantityYet Complementary of ideas rather than narrowing down the optionsFirst, a clear definition of each discipline is essential and seeking wild and crazy ideas, rather thanto analysis and understanding. Although the process those driven from an individual’s own experienceof solving problems has been around for centuries, or interaction with a product or required the thinking of Alex Osborn and Despite these fundamental differences in theSidney Parnes in the early 1950s to make the goals and outcomes of qualitative research vs. aproblem-solving process an explicit, rather than CPS session, practitioners agree that qualitativean intuitive, process. research can play a role in the CPS process. A As it exists today, CPS consists of three basic working model of the relationship between thebuilding blocks: Explore the Challenge, Generate disciplines is outlined in Figure 1.Ideas and Prepare for Action. Simplified, thesebroad phases integrate a disciplined approach ofdiverging and converging within each step of the Figure 1:process to help participants solve a problem or Relationship of CPS to Qualitative Researchchallenge. Using CPS, an individual or teamframes the issue to ensure that the correctproblem is being solved, generates ideas toidentify many potential solutions and finallynarrows down the ideas and makes them intoactionable plans (Parnes, 1981). Qualitative research, as defined by the CPS Tools* QRQualitative Research Consultants Association(QRCA), is designed to reveal a target audience’srange of behavior and the perceptions that drivebehavior with reference to a specific topic orissue. Qualitative research uses small groups toguide and develop the construction of hypotheses * with different motivationsthat are descriptive, rather than predictive. Q U A L I TAT I V E R E S E A R C H C O N S U LTA N T S A S S O C I AT I O N 15
  3. 3. Schools of Thought C O N T I N U E D qualitative research with creative output. Figure 2 (Davis) illustrates that three out of the four essential characteristics required to be creative are missing in a typical qualitative setting: Person, Process and Press. Figure 2: 4 P’s of Creativity Fit with Qualitative Research Press Both CPS and qualitative research can be Product Person done independently of each other, as well as to augment the outcomes from either discipline. In addition, a number of tools can be used in both Process qualitative research and CPS (as illustrated in the dark purple section of figure1); however, the intent and purpose of each tool varies depending upon the discipline employed. In a typical qualitative setting, people are Working Together purposely recruited to be representative of Let’s first focus on how qualitative research can the general population. For the most part, augment virtually any step in the CPS process. respondents who meet the study criteria cannot In the first stage of CPS, it is critical to clearly be adequately screened to ensure a good mix of frame the challenge or problem through the ideators. Unless the QRC does the recruiting exploration and mining of all the available (which is unlikely), he or she relies on somewhat data. Qualitative research is a natural fit for unskilled “telephone dialers” to find the sample. exploring the perceptions, opinions, beliefs and In addition, the participant is not trained in assumptions about any topic with a specific creativity or creative problem solving. As well, target audience. the Process in qualitative is deliberately convergent. For example, if a company desires to develop The discussion guide is structured to broadly a new type of razor, then a focus group might approach the topic area, then move to more serve as one conduit for soliciting feedback on specific areas during the interview. In addition, the consumer’s current experience. Armed with techniques selected by the QRC are meant to this information, the team can supplement any gather data and/or converge on ideas, rather qualitative learning on the topic with additional than diverge for idea generation. quantitative study output, consumer 1-800 feedback Furthermore, the Press (or environment) in or usage data. All this information provides a qualitative is usually not set up to be playful or rich context to understand the opportunities in uninhibited; although there are exceptions to their new-product development efforts. this rule, it is not the norm. The time allocated In the second stage of CPS (idea generating for respondent interaction in a qualitative setting, and converging on the high potential ideas), ranging from thirty minutes to three hours, is qualitative research again can play an important generally not enough to adequately train a role, BUT only in the convergent phase. Given a respondent in the creative process. subset of lead ideas, respondents can easily Additionally, the client has specific expectations communicate relative appeal and help prioritize on the content delivered by the research. As such, ideas for the team. Through various interviews, techniques selected to produce such content are virtually all the practitioners in the field state different from those in a typical CPS, where that focus groups or other qualitative settings the group sets the agenda and directs the course are not the appropriate forum to generate ideas of action. for a variety of factors. Finally, the only area remaining in this Scholarly research typically evaluates framework is Product, or the creative output. creativity in the context of the “four Ps,” which Absent the other conditions for a creative provides a helpful framework to assess the fit of context, the natural inclination is to evaluate16 QRCA VIEWS SUMMER 2006
  4. 4. product rather than enhance an idea or In a qualitative setting, projective also responsible for asking theoutput. techniques or metaphorical tools (such as appropriate questions or using the right In the final stage of CPS, qualitative pictures or metaphors) are generally used to stimuli to get the content desired by theresearch can be used to effectively evaluate explore imagery or personal reflection on an client. In addition, the moderator writesan action plan. Similar to converging on a experience, brand, product, issue or topic. a summary report on the findings fromnumber of different ideas in Phase 2, For example, a respondent may be asked to the research, which is entirely aboutrespondents can help select the most create a collage that expresses how she feels content resulting from the feedback.effective elements of the final plan by when she is having a “bad hair day” or In contrast, the facilitator in CPS isproviding feedback on a variety of options. complete the sentence of “When I have a responsible for process only. The clientAgain, respondents would not develop an bad hair day, I feel like __.” In contrast, and resource group are accountable foraction plan for the challenge at hand, but when a picture is shared in CPS using the the content. If, during the CPS process,instead they would provide guidance to forced connection technique, the intent is to it is determined that a new problem oridentify the strongest next step or issues that generate new ideas based on the linkage to challenge might need to be addressed,might inhibit the effectiveness. this picture or object unrelated to the the client determines if the resource problem or challenge. The facilitator might group changes the objective andImplemented Separately ask, “What ideas do you get for solving this pursues different content in the actualAs suggested, qualitative research and CPS problem when you look at this?” Clearly, the session.can co-exist and complement each other; outcome of using this tool in these two So how do you decide whether youhowever, they can clearly live on their own. contexts produces different output. are doing qualitative research or ideaAs identified in Figure 1, a large scope of In qualitative research, the technique of generation with CPS? Although manyprojects could fall outside the realm of laddering is generally used to explore the practitioners suggest a line ofqualitative and be ideally suited for a CPS links between the basic attributes or benefits separation, Jean Bystedt summed it upideation session (as noted in the blue of a product or service to the feelings and quite eloquently. She explained, “Whensegment). associations they convey. For example, a you stop collecting data, it is no longer If a potential client requests that a QRC typical project might ladder from the qualitative research. When youask respondents to generate ideas in a functional benefits of a laundry detergent try to make something better, it’s CPS.”session, most practitioners agree that a well (cleans my clothes, removes stains, etc.) to adesigned idea-generation session or CPS higher-order emotional insight that themay be more appropriate. Even at firms detergent “gives me pride in having my kids Special thanks to the followingspecializing in an accelerated concept- looks their best.” In contrast, a laddering practitioners, with experience spanning exercise in a typical CPS is a divergent moderator training at RIVA, fielddevelopment process that integrates idea activity to identify new and different ways moderating, CPSI training, CPSIgeneration with qualitative research, the to articulate a problem statement, rather than participation and creativity/CPSideas are generated by “trained brains” or facilitating, who willingly provided“trained consumers” PRIOR to the to identify an insight. Often, an excursion helps participants insight and ideas toward this article:qualitative research. The respondents in afocus group setting are never asked to in a qualitative setting recollect their Rosalia Barnes, Jean Bystedt, Janegenerate the ideas, only to evaluate and experience with greater detail and feelings Goldwasser, Debbie Gowan, Lynnjudge the ideas to help the concept- than they could with typical Q&A. A QRC Greenberg, Laurie Kirsten, Siri Lynn,development team craft stronger ideas. would narrate a script related to the topic, Maureen Olsen, Deborah Potts and Susan In contrast, many qualitative research such as waiting for a prescription at the Robertson.projects don’t need CPS (red portion in pharmacy. The participants would “relive”Figure 1). Many projects don’t require the experience through the excursion, whichsolving a problem or coming up with a new would enable them to provide more vivid details about experience. The moderator Bibliographyidea. To name just a few areas, these could Bystedt, J., Lynn, S. and D. Potts, Ph.D.include understanding a brand image, might ask: “What was easy?” or “What was (2003) Moderating to the Max. Ithaca,exploring usage of a product in context or challenging?” or “How were you feeling?” NY: Paramount Market Publishing, Inc.just getting closer to the consumer During a CPS session, a similarexperience through observational or excursion would be targeted at generating Davis, Gary A. (2004) Creativity isethnographic research. ideas to fix the challenges faced while Forever. (5th ed.) Dubuque,IA: waiting for a prescription, not gathering the Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. data about the experience.Shared Tools Parnes, Sidney J. The Magic of YourBoth CPS and qualitative research share Mind.(1981) Buffalo, NY: Creativesome common tools as identified in Figure Role Differentiation Foundation, Inc.1; it is critical, however, to understand that One final aspect to consider is the rolealthough the same “tool” or “technique” differentiation between a moderator ofmay be used in both disciplines, the qualitative research and a facilitator of CPS.motivation for using that tool/technique is Typically, a moderator is expected to bedifferent. Let’s look at three examples: responsible for both process and content.metaphorical tools, laddering and an The moderator is given specific clientexcursion. objectives, and not only does she craft and manage the discussion process, but she is 860-675-5522