Pitches, Curveballs and Closers: What This Qualitative Strategist Has Learned from Baseball

From the desk of Chris Efken

It was once said that baseball is a nervous breakdown spread over nine innings.  If you watched game seven of the World Series last week you might have experienced this statement first hand.  This October the Cubs have brought me to the edge and back.  I grew up a Cubs fan.  I have a son Addison.  And I have had pets named Wrigley and Murphy.  I admit it… I’m in deep.    Even as a qualitative researcher, I find that baseball philosophies and strategies are near to my heart because they can often be directly applied to every project I work on.

Here are a few of my favorite baseball quotes and my take on their relevance to qualitative research studies.

  1. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”- Coach Jimmy Dugan, A League Of Their Own. We occasionally hear from clients that, due to budget constraints, they have moderated qualitative projects themselves only to quickly learn that moderating is far more difficult than it appears.  They’ve come to value the role professional moderators play in getting participants to feel comfortable revealing the deep emotional connections they have with brands, the real triggers and barriers they face when shopping or using various products, or their aspirations as a parent, care-taker, home owner, employee or friend.  Moderating can indeed be challenging.  For Doyle moderators, it’s our love for qualitative that makes it great.
  2. “You can observe a lot just by watching.” The beloved NY Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra, reminds us of the importance of observing consumer behaviors.  We learn so much about shoppers and consumers simply by watching what they do, what they don’t do, how others respond and how they craft work-around solutions to meet their everyday needs.
  3. “Baseball is a team sport with people of multiple specialties coming together” Baseball enthusiast, Jacob Cashman. Successful qualitative research projects are team efforts which include smart clients, diligent project managers, expert recruiters, friendly facility managers, tech-savvy platform providers, thoughtful participants, creative video editors and, of course, talented moderators.  All parties work in concert to ensure the project delivers the insights needed to address the business issue at hand.  The project can quickly derail if even one player drops the ball.
  4. “Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!” MLB Hall of Famer, Babe Ruth.   As in baseball, every researcher I know has, at one time or another, felt fear as they faced a group of stone-faced respondents they knew were going to require extraordinary skill to turn into productive participants; or had to deliver bad news to clients about a product or service they were enthused about; or struggled to learn a new research method because they truly believed it was going to offer value to their clients.   I’ve loosely translated this to mean never let fear keep you from stepping up to the plate and pushing yourself to get the best consumer insights needed to design new products, build your brand or create personally relevant marketing communications.
  5. “Fly the W”Chicago Cubs Fans. And, of course, after every qualitative project, there’s always a need to celebrate and perhaps do a little victory dance.