The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 8 Issue 2   April 2012


A recent trek to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and the site of our nation’s most famous battle provided some research-related insights into what works best in practice.

Today’s newsletter makes the connection!

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Lessons from Gettysburg: War and Market Research
I hate to admit it, but it’s been a long time (decades, actually) since I first met my friend Mark Rhodes, back in grad school in the mid-eighties. Our mutual interest in social psychology gives us lots to talk about, and we’ve stayed in close contact ever since.

And so when Mark emailed to tell me about his new project — a two-day workshop called Learn Strategic Thinking at Gettysburg — I was all ears.

The fact that large parts of the program were held on-site at the Gettysburg Battlefield and Museum made it all the more intriguing, and a couple of weeks later, Julie and I found ourselves standing in the middle of a field in Pennsylvania. (As Mark observed, “What better place to study strategy than on the very grounds where the most significant and crucial battle in our nation’s history was fought?”)

It was a fascinating learning experience.

Between Mark’s two-day program and the recommended reading beforehand of the historical novel, The Killer Angels, we came away with a deep understanding of both the battle itself, and its implications for those of us involved in strategy and market research.

Julie and I pooled our thoughts at the end of the program and emerged with many insights related to the work we all do. Here are three:
  1. Research is an ongoing, not an episodic, effort.

    One of the key players leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg was J. E. B. (“Jeb”) Stuart, a general and cavalry commander in the Confederate Army. In addition to being fighters, Stuart and his men were expert in gathering information — ongoing and in all sorts of ways:

    They fostered relationships with Union army suppliers who could provide reports of troop movements; they posed as civilians as a means of blending in and listening to local conversations; they used their powers of observation to estimate how recently the enemy had passed through (it’s hard for 5,000 men to cross a field without leaving a mark!).

    During the course, Mark Rhodes likened the role of Stuart’s cavalry to that of antennae on an insect — always on the lookout for, and processing, information critical to the well-being of the corps at large.

    As market researchers, we also need to keep our antennae up in ongoing and varied ways. Research is best viewed as a stream of information, not just a one-time event, and we are best served by talking to a mix of customers, prospects, suppliers, employees and others using a broad variety of different approaches.

    All of this allows us to get a 360-degree view and “see the battle” from many different angles.
  1. Keep your options open.

    Gettysburg followed Waterloo by 50 years, but European battle strategies still had much influence on the military minds of the mid-19th century. In particular, the writing of Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini regarding Napoleon’s battle strategies was very influential among West Point grads of the day, who adhered to Jomini’s idea of making a battle plan and implementing it in a mostly linear and fixed fashion.

    A military theorist at the time who advocated a different approach was Carl von Clausewitz, a German whose work was less well known in the U.S. (his work had not yet been translated into English). Clausewitz favored developing several options and scenarios and, in contrast to Jomini’s linear approach, using them if and when the situation dictated.

    Clausewitz, with his emphasis on modifying plans as the world unfolds, would likely have made a better market researcher today. After all, business, like war, presents a constantly changing series of situations and choices and market research plays a critical role in providing an early and ongoing heads-up to those in need of making informed (and often, real-time) decisions.
  1. Keep your communications broad and ongoing.

    In 1863, battlefield communication was difficult. Without radios or cell phones (much less Twitter!), leaders and their troops were forced to rely on more primitive means. Fortunately for Union forces at Gettysburg, they had control of several strategic hilltops, allowing them to use flags to signal troops down below.

    As researchers, we need to likewise remember the importance of not just conducting research, but of sharing it across the organization as well.

    One of our clients, for example, personally reviews the results of customer satisfaction research with each divisional head. Another works with colleagues throughout his organization to ensure that thought leadership survey results are used to inform communications in sales, marketing and press relations.

    In the heat of battle, all members of the team need to have the latest information and insights in order to perform at their best.
Here’s the Twist: Perhaps the most important insight from our two-day immersion in Gettysburg was a renewed appreciation for the specific link between market research and strategy. Information gathering and analysis, option development and widespread communication are all central to what it means to develop and implement effective business strategy.

As researchers, our role is to give those in the planning meetings, as well as those on the front lines, the insights they need to make and carry out good decisions.

— Mark

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One of the beginning chapters of The Killer Angels describes how Jeb Stuart was late (over a week) in bringing expected information regarding Union movements. Confederate spies offered reports, but his commanding officer, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who didn’t like the idea of spies to begin with, discredited their information (even though, in this case, their information turned out to be accurate).

As a result, and because Lee had a bias against a particular source (spies), he failed to plan and take appropriate action based on the most recent information available.

Your internal audience also has biases regarding the credibility of various information sources; if you hope to be heard, you can’t ignore these biases. Consider the example of an often-discredited 21st century source: social media.

Three recommendations for best presenting findings that arrive via this channel to skeptical colleagues:

  1. Provide corroborating evidence. Had Jeb Stuart returned in time and confirmed the reports of the spies, it’s likely Lee would have believed them and benefited from their information.

    Likewise, if your colleagues have a bias against social media, make sure to present those findings alongside more traditional, more broadly accepted approaches that support your results.
  1. Socialize early. Had Lee’s generals been talking about the benefit of spies in the months leading up to Gettysburg, he may have been more open to that information source.

    Before you introduce a new technique, a new concept or even a new vendor, spend time socializing the idea, and, possibly, working on a small or “test” project, before moving ahead with a critical or highly visible engagement.
  1. Offer progress reports. Lee did not think the Union troops would or could move as quickly and by the routes that spies reported, and had no expectation there would be so many of them. The information just didn’t make sense to him, so he minimized his reliance on it. Progress reports along the way might have changed that.

    By the same token, when working with a new source or technique, don’t surprise your colleagues with a final report. Help them see the things you’re starting to hear as your study unfolds, so it’s not just one big surprise at the end.


Lessons from Gettysburg: War and Market Research

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

Patriots' USB

Congratulations to the winners of an “NFL-themed USB drive,” as offered in our February, “Super Bowl issue.”

Our three winners — those who were closest in predicting the game’s final score — were Bryan Marks, Nathan Vogel and Gene Lanzoni.

Nicely done winners and thanks to everyone for playing!

Years later, when asked why his charge at Gettysburg failed, General Pickett replied:

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

Problems? Click here to send us an email with your request.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result, our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.

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