Innovating via “Process”

Reading abundantly often suggests innovative ideas which are appropriate to one’s firm. Two public sources which I had read and was influenced by were the book “The Tao Jones Averages: A Guide to Whole-Brained Investing” by Bennet Goodspeed, and various reports promoting the concept of Strategic Intelligence Systems (SIS) — specifically the article written by David B. Montgomery and Charles B. Weinberg, “Toward Strategic Intelligence Systems” in the Journal of Marketing 43 (Fall 1979).

The first of these, Goodspeed’s tiny book, promoted the concept of “inferential analysis”, emphasizing how the evidence to support research conclusions was more often than not abundantly available. The second SIS article presented concepts which became fundamental to our Gartner internal research process, which I’m told helped Gartner Inc. develop superior research conclusions.

The Strategic Intelligent Systems article presented three key ideas: survey (maximizing the bandwidth of relevant information flow), search (employing proactive research to follow up on evidence), and pattern recognition (which is the talent which one researcher would possess in greater abundance than others, and which through practice, would presumably help to identify patterns from the complex information mosaics which results from  the first  concept).

During our first  several years I constantly modified  our own research process, expanding on SIS  to create a six point system:

  • Surveillance
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Stalking Horses
  • Search
  • Document
  • Scenarios and Strategic Planning Assumptions

Surveillance was simply a qualitative requirement whereby our analysts were expected to be sensitive to all appropriate inputs, which would then be a precondition to their ability to pursue their research responsibilities. Thus they were expected to read everything, attend appropriate meetings, visit with appropriate vendors, pursue meaningful two-way conversations with their clients, and so forth.

Pattern Recognition was essentially a talent or skill which we hoped our analysts would possess coming in, and if not, which they would develop quickly. The idea was that with appropriate surveillance, our analysts would recognize patterns, which would then lead to original and provocative research conclusions!

Stalking Horses (which could also be called Straw Men), only became a critical part of our research culture in 1987.  I don’t recall exactly how and when I came up with this one, but the idea was to create a graphic or tabular quantification of an analyst’s idea or concept which would then serve as a basis for further study,  inquiry, discussion, and hopefully would eventually result in a consensus view. In other words, when a concept or issue would be elusive, as virtually all IT (information technology) issues were, the analyst would conceptually sneak up with a stalking horse to help get closer to the problem!  The analyst would then develop a table or diagram or graphic which would be presented to our entire research team, and which generally initiated a colloquy  with the analyst’s peers. We could then iterate about with data labels or values until we would have a reasonable consensus. And, our databank would be enriched with a new Gartner “position”.

Note: The ”Magic Quadrant” graphic was originally used at Gartner as one of the internal “stalking horse” graphics which we used when analysts presented internally at research meetings, strictly for for discussion. Only much later (after I left) has it grown to be a major deliverable to clients, albeit quite controversial as we’ll discuss in another post.

The next element of our system, Search, was simply the proactive research which we expected analysts to pursue, following up on evidence to develop useful analysis for documentation to clients.

Document is of course self-explanatory, but was often the most difficult for analysts to complete in timely fashion. Obviously, developing research conclusions would be useless without disseminating them to our clients, but writing effectively can be challenging, especially when our documentation standards were pretty stiff.

Our research process was carefully documented and became an integral part of our analyst training program, at least through Gartner’s formative years when it established its position as the IT Advisory leader.

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