From 'me' to 'we' research

John Kearon

'We' research adopts our innate ability as social animals to understand and predict other humans' behaviour

Current 'Me' research dogma insists you must only ever ask me about me; my motivations, my behaviour, my hopes, beliefs, what I would buy or not buy. The one thing you must never ask is what I notice or predict about other people. This approach is seen as market research's best way of getting to the truth and the only way to accurately predict how ideas will perform in the marketplace.

This article challenges this 'Me' research world view and introduces the rich potential of 'We' research. It will introduce the notion that, as social animals, we are really very good at evaluating other people and how, using these abilities, 'We' research could tap into a rich seam of insight and predictive power.

So what's wrong with the 'Me' only approach? Well, there's a potential accuracy problem. Unfortunately, we can be unreliable witnesses to our own motivations. Try as we might, human beings are often 'self-deceit machines' – our true motivations are often hidden from us. Research in Sweden in 2008 by S Mynttinenn found that 50% of Swedish men believe they are in the top 10% of best drivers in the country, and we're sure that this isn't just a Swedish male foible. In another well known experiment, a room full of 100 people are asked to imagine the IQ scores of everyone in the room distributed along an index of 0–100.They are then asked to estimate where their own IQ would appear on the scale. In a classic display of our tendency to self-deceit, usually the lowest anybody in the group rates themselves is at the 50% mark, which obviously can't be true as half the group must, by definition, be below that score. This result is not just down to our poor aptitude for mathematics; it is our collective disposition towards over-estimating ourselves. When we ask people about themselves in 'Me' research, we should remember we're talking with unreliable witnesses, who may unwittingly lead us away from the truth.