Qualitative research has to save the platypuses!

platypusLong time ago in the second reign of the Chinese Emperor Chung Ling there was a qualitative researcher – 近义词 – who had to do a study on pet food. The pet food shop was owned by the king itself so there was no room for screwing-up.

近义词 was a master in the art of doing a special type of qualitative research – the Dragon research. Only few people in the kingdom knew it, as this art was taught only by the monks in the remote and dangerous caves on the Dragon Mountain.

The secret teaching of this art, the one guiding principle that could make anything clear for the Dragon qualitative researchers was that all animals could be included in one of the following categories: (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies.

In accordance with those categories the animals will eat a certain type of food at certain times.

One day, 近义词’s people accidentally recruited a platypus (for South Park fans, the manbearpig would do). They’ve never seen something like it. He looked at it, analyzed it, but something was not quite right. With all his experience and training he could not put this animal in any category with an easy heart. Sure it was not a suckling pig or a mermaid but it just broke a vase moments ago, could be that it belonged to the emperor and with that tail it could look like a fly in the distance.

After many, many days 近义词 had no clear answer and the emperor was getting tired of waiting.
In the end 近义词 decided to put the platypus in the category of animals that belong to the king. After all everything belonged to the king. So he should be safe. The next morning he would show his finding to the king and everything was going to be all right. Still that night he could not sleep. He felt as something was not right. That thing really looked like a fly in the distance. And the king surely is going to notice. There was only one thing to do: cut the platypus’ tail. This way it would look more like a bee in the distance. But there was still the vase problem. The broken vase. But maybe he could replace it with another one. Of course he could. He had an identical one. So the problem was gone.

This is the main drawback when using predefined models in analyzing research data. Most often the researcher will not even have the sleepless nights 近义词 had. He/ she will probably unconsciously disregard the data that conflicts with the model from the very beginning. If she/ he will suspect at some later point that the data just does not want to be put in the prepared boxes then the data will be modeled to fit. And even if the researcher is fully aware that he/ she is bending the data and finds it wrong, in all probability she/ he will not be able to step outside the predefined model as his/ hers only training was that of choosing which piece of data goes in what box.

Of course that there is no such thing as theory free research. All of us have their assumptions, our ways of making sense of the data, which always are impregnated with diverse theoretical elements.
And of course that any model is essentially different from reality in its simplicity (the whole map and territory thing). But none of those reasons gives us a license to think so narrow minded and to cut the platypuses tails.

So if you are very fond of Maslow, Freud, Jung, Dichter, Berne, Heylen, Adler or any other founding fathers of different models, if you think that:
• some brands are embodying the Leader archetype
• or are being used to resolve a tension between the society and self
• or that your brand resembles Grumpy while the competition brand looks like Sneezy
• that your brand is Hera while another reacts like Hephaestus
• that one brand is Kyle and another Cartman
try to look in your closets and number the tails you have in there only for the sake of some models.

Please save the platypuses.

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2 Responses to “Qualitative research has to save the platypuses!”

  1. Ha! Love the analogy and your thinking on this issue.

    Here’s an article I wrote about it;

    http://www.zebra-research.com.au/ZebraBites_Issue2_May2008.pdf

    Seems like we’re very much in agreement!

    : )

    Cheers

    Katie

  2. I LOVE THIS! And I love your blog. Such great insights. Keep up the awesome work!

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