The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 4 Issue 7   August 2008


Our summer edition of Research with a Twist takes a presidential turn, as we explain how a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s home got us thinking about great market research!

Enjoy your summer and we’ll speak with you again in September.

As always, please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Do You Have a Jeffersonian Research Program?
Thomas Jefferson

Like you, we work hard and don’t always get as much time away from our jobs as we might like. Occasionally, however, we happen upon an unplanned, unscheduled timeslot, right smack dab in the middle of the work week! Such was the happy case earlier this month.

My colleague Mark and I, fresh from a series of meetings in Richmond, were on our way to Baltimore to meet with a long time client. Along the way, and thanks to the shifting calendars of a number of people, an entire day suddenly opened up. Knowing an opportunity when we saw one, we decided to take a brief detour to Monticello*, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson.

Although best known as the third President of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was also accomplished as, among other things, an architect, a philosopher, an historian, a botanist, and an inventor. (A look at “A Day in the Life of Thomas Jefferson” is enough to make even the most ambitious of us feel like we’re coasting!)

Above all, Jefferson had an innate curiosity about the world around him; he was constantly tinkering, constantly learning, and constantly improving whatever he touched. And while there’s little historical evidence to suggest that Jefferson was a practicing market researcher (we’re still searching for that), his approach to life and learning makes an excellent model for any good market research program.

Specifically, Jeffersonian market researchers…

…view research as a stepping stone for more research. Jefferson didn’t simply research a topic and then stop. The more he uncovered, the more his desire to learn grew; an orientation that, for example, led to his strong support of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

By the same token, smart companies view research as an iterative process of learning, questioning, learning, questioning, etc. Rather than taking a one-off approach to research — “Get me the answer, get it to me quickly, keep it brief” — these companies understand that good research generates as many new questions as it does answers. The best results occur when research is viewed as an ongoing process.

…understand the value of a library. Jefferson famously said, “I cannot live without books.” He was a voracious reader and collector of information, meticulously tracking climate changes, the progress of his flower and vegetable gardens, and even bird migration. He understood the importance of keeping good records and building his knowledge base.

Unfortunately, this same rigor is not always put into practice in business. A client asked us recently to conduct research on a particular question and they were prepared to move ahead. We reminded them that the issue had been addressed in previous research, and, by sending them the original report with that information highlighted, saved them both time and expense.

Jeffersonian companies conduct research projects as part of an overall plan. They keep track of what’s been done and how it fits in, and their well-managed libraries help them pull information from different sources as needed. Future research always builds on what’s been done before.

…know they can’t do everything. When Jefferson wanted French cuisine, he imported a chef from France. When he wanted to create his own winery, he brought over a vintner from Italy. While he understood the importance of his own continuous education, he was able to appreciate the skills and experience of others. In fact, as a natural leader, Jefferson was as much a conductor of others as he was a hands-on expert.

Similarly, Jeffersonian researchers rely on others for specialized skills. They take pride in their work but don’t let a “not invented here” mindset keep them from the best solutions. Particularly in specialized areas such as (Warning: CSR promotion coming) open-ended research, these companies understand that outside expertise can often result in better answers and understanding.

…appreciate the value of time. The flower and vegetable gardens at Monticello are vast and beautiful, featuring 330 varieties across 70 species. Jefferson spent years experimenting with different types, in an attempt to combine the best aspects from within his garden. Clearly, he understood it couldn’t all be done in one weekend.

Companies which combine the same “improvement over time” approach to research also tend to get the best long term results. For example, if you discovered that customers tended to turn over at a certain juncture in their life cycle, you might conduct research to understand why. After identifying possible causes and from there making corrections, you could conduct research again to see how their behavior and understanding had evolved.

As with botany, the best research isn’t simply finding today’s “right answer.” Rather, it often combines different findings from various projects, implemented over time.

An afternoon at Monticello reveals a man with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and the tireless drive to make progress every day. If that’s not a formula for effective market research, we don’t know what is!

— Julie

*We left Jefferson’s home with one important question unanswered: What is the correct pronunciation of “Monticello?” During our visit, we heard it said both ways: “Mon-ti-sello” and “Mon-ti-chello.” Can you help? Send us an e-mail with your answer.

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Jefferson was both inventor (e.g. spherical sundial, wheel cipher) as well as an enthusiastic user of the inventions of others. One of his favorites, apparently, was the polygraph.

The polygraph of the 19th century, however, was not the polygraph of today. Unlike today’s “lie detector,” this device was used for making duplicate copies of letters.

It held two pens that moved simultaneously. As the writer wrote the original with one pen, the other made a duplicate copy.

A far cry from the “Ctrl C” we all rely on today, certainly, but for 1804, state of the art.


Do You Have a Jeffersonian Research Program?

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

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“The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory.”

— Thomas Jefferson

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The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.

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