Don't explain the past, predict the future

Stan Sthanunathan

The research industry needs to stop looking backwards and employ new technology to anticipate changing consumer behaviour

When a CEO wants to know how a product launch went awry, how purchase habits have changed or where the company is gaining ground, they ask research for answers. We have reams of them. But what if they ask a better question – one about what is going to happen? Then we might be stumped. Yet, if we want to increase the impact of market research, we need to focus far more on helping organisations predict, shape and capitalise on change than on carefully explaining their past.

The insights industry has long focused on carefully dissecting and explaining events that have already taken place. The theory is that, if we adequately understand how things unfolded before, we won't repeat the same mistakes. That thinking might explain why research professionals spend 80% of their time looking backward. Yet, 85% say they are dissatisfied with the impact they have in their organisations. Of course researchers are dissatisfied – we're charged with driving new initiatives forward but we're navigating by the rear-view mirror.