Beyond Black Belt and the Art of Continuous Improvement

First Degree Black BeltAfter 12 weeks of grueling work, I recently tested and was awarded my first degree black belt in Kenpo Karate. My sensei likes to remind us that becoming a black belt is just another step in the journey and continuing on is just as important as achieving that initial milestone.

“Continuous Improvement” isn’t just a buzz phrase in Martial Arts, it’s a mantra. No matter how experienced you are there is always something you can improve–whether it’s your stances (toe/heel alignment!), your blocks and punches, or learning a new form. I feel I have vastly improved from where I was 15 months ago when I first earned my black belt,  and I am excited to keep up my journey–even though my next advancement is at least two years away.

How does this relate to the world of Market Research? If we #MRX practitioners do not continuously improve and innovate, new technologies and ‘paradigm shifts’ will overtake us and we will be left behind. The days of yearly tracking studies, asking respondents to think about their past purchases, and clients who rely on us to do all their market research are fading away. DIY surveys, communities, polls, real-time transactional data (#bigdata) are all here NOW. We can either embrace them and learn how to harness them, or we can be left by the wayside.

Like continuously improving in Kenpo, I plan to keep updating and practicing new market research methods.


Black Belt Research…

For the last 4+ months I’ve been seriously training for my Kenpo karate black belt…well, really I’ve been training for the past 3-1/2 years, but for the last few months I’ve trained at the expense of everything else (except maybe eating and drinking…Gatorade, lots of it). Aside from learning 4 forms (katas), 4 sets , as well as 64 self-defense techniques with great names like “Cross of Destruction”, “Blinding Sacrifice” and, one of my favorites, “Squeezing the Peach”–we also were required to read two books, perform community service, and, finally, write a thesis.

For my thesis, investigating the use of martial arts metaphors in business intrigued me. Often terms like “Judo Economics”, “Coding Dojo”, “Black Belt Power Networker”, and the latest “Gmail Ninja” illustrate this proliferation of martial arts metaphors both in the business world as well as life in general. Through my research I learned that much of the use of these metaphors came out of the rise in Japanese manufacturing prowess in the 1980’s–when the US economy was stagnating. In addition, Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” and David Carradine in “Kung Fu“, along with “The Karate Kid” all combined to make martial arts both mainstream and just a bit glamorous.

In addition, the rise of Six Sigma manufacturing strategy and it’s cadre of black belts (a naming convention that was a feat of marketing genius ) contributed to ‘legitimizing’ the use of martial arts metaphors in the business world.

I would have been remiss if I hadn’t taken the metaphor and applied it to my own consulting business. If Google can make me a Gmail Ninja, I figure Pallas Research can use some Kenpo to make market research better.

  1. Smart decision-making: Gather as much information as you can before making a decision. Part of our student creed is “I will use common sense before self-defense”. In Kenpo, assessing whether you can remove yourself from the situation before resorting to using your well-honed self-defense skills is using that common sense. In market research, gathering data from every available resource before embarking on a custom research project can sometimes negate the need for the potentially expensive undertaking or at least will make the project more focused.
  2. Be as efficient as possible: One of the three ‘pillars’ in Kenpo is the idea of using gravity to help make your blocks and strikes stronger. This ‘marriage of gravity’ helps us more petite individuals defend ourselves against much larger attackers. For research surveys, try to make them as brief as possible in order to get your information. Sure, you can use lots of questions to really hone in on a granular level, but you risk bad responses/respondents or high abandonment rates.
  3. Be flexible: I can’t expect that real-world attacks will come exactly the way we have practiced over and over in my karate classes—being able to shift quickly to compensate will be imperative in a self-defense scenario. Market research projects rarely go perfectly as planned. Similarly, relaxing respondent quotas, going to other sources for sample, running different analyses are all potential mitigating activities that can help keep a project on-track.
  4. Use all your tools: Many of our self-defense techniques give us ‘tools for our tool belt’ that can be used against an attacker. Whether it’s a block, strike, kick or take down—they can all be used individually or together to extricate us from any situation. Quantitative surveys, focus groups, text analytics, ethnography, social media monitoring and neuromarketing are just some of the tools market researchers can use to help companies make smart decisions. And, don’t rely on just one tool to make your decision—triangulating on an answer tends to yield better results.
  5. Continuous learning: Getting a black belt is just a milestone in my ever-evolving martial arts career. I watch my sensei continue to work and hone his skills (he’s a 4th degree black belt!) and feel that, while I have my lovely, fabulous black belt, I still have much to learn. My market research career, too, is continuing to evolve. While I write surveys and reports, analyze data and partner with super-smart folks, I still need to learn and improve my skills. Whether it’s a seminar, articles or simply reading other market researchers’ blog posts, I’m continuously working to improve my skills as a research consultant.



Pat Myself on the Back

The newest version of WordPress is out: 3.0.2. Somehow I missed version 3.0.1, but definitely got the nasty-gram of “update or else” today.

I just love the idea of being able to update my entire site automatically (or ‘auto-magically’ as I like to say) as I do with some of my nifty plug-ins.

So, thinking it’s going to be easy-peasy I pressed the fancy update automatically button…and wait…and wait. And then, the fatal error shows up:

Permission denied in /home/public_html/index_files/wp-admin/includes/class-wp-filesystem-direct.php on line 200


As I like to say to folks, I write a lot about IT Professionals but I’m not one myself…kind of like “I play one on TV, but don’t ask me to fix your computer.

But, here’s where the cool stuff happens. The fabulous community of WordPress users have lots of good, useful information for newbies (or noobs?) like me. Between that and the do-it-yourself Codex I figured out how to upgrade manually and, look…my site didn’t self-destruct! And I still have all of my fabulous theme modifications.

A big pat on the back for me…and maybe a beer.

Oh and did I mention I just earned my green belt in Kenpo karate? Life is good.


“Marriage of Gravity”

Twice a week, almost like clockwork, I head to the dojo to continue working toward my black belt in Kenpo Karate. I probably have at least another year and a half before I’m ready, but I diligently keep learning new self-defense techniques and forms, working on perfecting my strikes and kicks.

As a bit of background, Kenpo is a system of self-defense based on logic and the scientific study of movement.  By studying motion in all its nuances, Kenpo provides both maximum efficiency (no wasted time, movements, or energy) and maximum effectiveness (speed, power, focus).

The concepts of efficiency and effectiveness easily translate from the martial arts to the business world. Less waste and greater focus are mantras that organizations have embraced, especially when the economy is contracting. In order to be more efficient, learning more about your business and customers should be top of mind. The more you understand and connect with your customers, the more effective your marketing message will be.

You can also apply Kenpo concepts to market research. Take the “marriage of gravity” principal, for example. Marriage of gravity simply states I’m going to use gravity’s force–which is keeping me held to the earth–to increase the power of my vertical strikes. Thus, when I do a downward strike, I make sure my entire body settles down along with my fist or elbow. This is especially useful for folks like me who are rather petite…we need all the power we can get. You as a business owner need as much power behind your marketing as well. Market research will give you that power.

With respect to market research, your ‘marriage of gravity’ force would be how much you know your customers. You know what’s important to them and, hopefully why they purchase your company’s products and services. Using this knowledge will make your research–whether it’s a post-purchase survey, a focus group, a forum poll–more effective and engaging thereby making them more ‘powerful’.