Usually companies publish thought leadership to be more visible in the marketplace. But sometimes when they publish research-based material, they do everything right until, at the very end, they inadvertently dilute the impact and limit their audience.
To make sure we get interesting results from research that we do with clients, we generally start with a set of hypotheses about an issue and how to resolve it. A typical set of starting hypotheses might be about the degree of localization among retailers and future trends and needs; or how companies are managing enterprise risk; or one of a thousand other things. We always survey the literature first to make sure the ground hasn’t already been covered and we look to reveal things that no-one has shown before.
But a funny thing happens, most every time, when the data comes in; something emerges that we hadn’t expected. Even if 95% of the results from a survey for instance, arrive as presumed, there’s always something that we hadn’t thought of, or is even contrary to our starting assumptions.
These are magical moments, because no matter how creative you are in assembling initial hypotheses, you can’t start with counterintuitive ones (because they wouldn’t look like reasonable assumptions to base a study on). But counterintuitive results always throw new light on an issue.
Perhaps the best thing about such findings is that the press loves them. When you publish articles or papers which highlight counterintuitive results, for the press it’s a story. And you can expect a lot more mentions than if everything you found was in line with prevailing wisdom. For instance, we recently helped a client conduct research on corporate adoption of cloud applications. There are 10 major findings. Some of them, such as that the biggest barriers to adoption are worries about security and ROI, weren’t unexpected. But the finding that the most aggressive corporate adopters of cloud applications are companies in Asia-Pacific and Latin America was. It flies in the face of the presumption that the West leads the field in enterprise technology adoption. The press and bloggers worldwide picked up the story and it has had many, many mentions.
But although almost every study that we do generates some counterintuitive results, it can be a challenge to get them into a final report (it wasn’t in the cloud case btw). Companies can get nervous at the prospect of challenging received wisdom. And the more revelatory the findings, the more nervous they are likely to be. Especially if the findings disagree with what they have been telling clients for years, or what they think clients already believe and won’t want contradicted.
I don’t know what the solution to this is. Sometimes we succeed in persuading a firm that their findings, though uncomfortable, are so newsworthy they should publish and revel in the publicity. And perhaps just as often we don’t. Every firm has its own constraints and some are more risk averse than others.
Your firm may or may not want to publish findings that challenge what its clients already believe. But it gives up a lot if it takes the easy way out.