A Worthy Son

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Editor’s Intro: Over the course of our working lives, many of us struggle with balancing the need to do well – make a living, support our families – with the need to do good – be charitable, make the world a better place. In a moving article, Howard Moskowitz writes about how in his (so-called) retirement years he has been able to take the methodology that helped him do well in market research, and do good with it, using it to teach important thinking skills to young people in lesser developed places around the world. We should all be inspired to think about how we could similarly take what we do well with and adapt it to doing some good in this world. 

What a strange title for a blog about helping the world through research. And yet how apt. And so, let’s begin.

Your writer is Howard Moskowitz, who you might well consider an old-time researcher, although not that old. I’m almost 75, having lived through the several evolutions of research. When I began, research meant know-how to answer the client’s questions, and at the same time, in the words of the late, wise Sol Dutka of Audits and Surveys, teach the client to eat lunch, i.e., establish a personal relationship. Those days are gone. I have come to realize that we researchers live in an isolated world, full of smiles, positive spins, and in some cases doing things which in their simplicity or complexity, their technical sophistication or lack thereof, are nothing worth remembering.

My late father, Moses Moskowitz, often told me that he wanted to be the ‘worthy father of a great son.’ What he meant by that is that the work I did was to be of consequence, to be important. Important was not that it increased brand share, but it did something for humanity, something good, lasting, even noble. So, what I’m about to share with you is the winter project of my life, more technically ‘teaching the world (especially Africa) to think using Conjoint Measurement, in a way which is fast, easy, fun, with an IMMEDIATE work-product (report) that can motivate, serve as proof of one’s accomplishment, and become the foundation for giving hope and changing life.’  All those words to say research and research tools ‘pay forward’ in a big way.

The true ‘meaning’ of Dad’s wisdom had to wait until I became a market researcher, which I did in 1975. I had studied experimental psychology at Harvard with SS (Smitty) Stevens, founder of modern-day psychophysics, and my simple-mind studies of taste mixtures got me the PhD in January 1969, pushed me into research with real foods at the US Army Natick Laboratories, drove me into studying mixtures of ideas using Conjoint Measurement around 1973 or so, and jettisoned me out of basic science into the market research profession in 1975. That jettison came with profound existential angst.  There was a nagging feeling, an unspoken leitmotif, that if I were a really ‘valid’ human being, that which I had learned, this science, had to have REAL VALUE beyond the latest competitive achievement.  With the nudge of my late father, I had to ‘do something of consequence in your life that will support you, make you independent, and contribute to the welfare of the world.’  I was in Dad’s thrall, although he was to pass in 1990.

A short digression for newbies and not so newbies.  Conjoint Measurement is about tradeoffs, the study of mixtures of variables, created by experiment, to figure out the contribution of each component. In the commercial world, for instance, a concept with brand, price, benefit, tagline, etc. could be deconstructed into the contribution of the components. Not bad. It made me a living.

Let’s move to just before the 21st Century, around 1998, developing what seemed to me to be just another iteration of Conjoint Measurement, to survive of course in the ‘research jungle.’ But this time was different. I had stumbled across the idea of taking a simple design for mixing ideas, which required five variables and four levels each, in the lingo of conjoint analysis. But let’s think of this differently. Let’s think of this as five questions about a topic, questions which have to be answered by phrases, questions which when asked in some sequence ‘tell a story.’  A simple enough idea. This design of five questions and four answers, or 20 ‘answers’ altogether, required 25 combinations. Some combinations had two, others three, others four and others five answers but no more than one element from any question. And, even more important, the answers were captivating, showing these researchers just what ‘worked.’

From the technical viewpoint, I wanted everyone to test different combinations, so that this new ‘something’ (later called IdeaMap and then Mind Genomics) would be a true learning machine, testing unknown waters.  The structure of the design was the same, but each person evaluated different combinations. I could build an equation for each person, or for everyone. I would eventually even include non-verbal measurement, response time. I was in business. But more than that, I laid the foundation for what was to come – using Conjoint Measurement to teach and to give people a chance to possibly create their future by using their creative side as well as their analytic side.

For a number of years, we exploited this conjoint system for business, as of course, one might. However, and this is the key, I was a scientist underneath it all, as much as I had suppressed that basic researcher to the exigencies of application. It was one thing to figure out what to say for toothpaste, and the hundreds of other projects which came. But what really excited me was applying this conjoint method to issues such as what to say about fracking, about political candidates, about the law, about peace in the Middle East, about teens in hospital, and of course even about love. Yes, love. I wanted to learn what ideas ‘worked’ and what ideas ‘went rapidly into the mind.’  I had a notion that others, especially students, might be like-minded. We were going to provide grist for the mill of young minds.  I’ve seen the faces of kids light up when I showed them how we can uncover the mind a bit through experiments, mixing together things, getting responses, and pulling out the contributions of the things, the components. There’s a wow expression. “You do THAT? Cool.” And when the ‘stuff’ being studied is itself interesting to a young student around 13-20, we have a fascinated person who is learning how to think critically.

And then came the important breakthrough, and the game changer. I closed my business in 2014. I had reached 70 and what I was finding was the greater joy in doing my own studies, writing and publishing. My sons, however, wanted me to be in the game, any game, not just a noble scientist sitting alone. ‘Why not convert it into an app, and give it to kids around the world?’ That was an ‘aha!’ moment. I could modify this mind genomics app, set it up as a topic, requiring the user (the student?) to create four questions which tell a story, and for each question to create four answers. I was back in the game, not for me, but teaching kids to think. Kids in Africa, for example, hundreds of millions of potential users of this app we call BimiLeap (Big Mind Learning App.) No techie stuff, just a tool. Have a student think of a topic, come up with questions, and answers, insert these questions and answers into an APP, come up with a rating, get 30 respondents (or more) to participate, each respondent evaluating combinations and measuring response time.  This time four questions and four answers … more fun, less onerous. Then creating TWO and then THREE mind-set segments, based upon what answers motivated them.  Finally… putting it all together in an automated user ready report, emailed to that student researcher in ONE MINUTE (along with the data of course.)

Now we were cooking. Make it totally free for students, put the data up on the web, include the aforementioned response time as another measure, and make it into a game by quantifying the number of really good ideas in the study (the IDT, index of divergent thought, or perhaps better said, the ‘blowaway factor.’) Make something that students can show proudly – a PowerPoint presentation, fully set up, so the students anywhere could show their results. And point to ‘how smart they were’ by this IDT number . .. defined objectively as the number of elements with coefficients of 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20 and 20+ across a total panel, 2-mindsets and 3-mindsets. The coefficients of 15 and higher simply ‘blow away’ other messages.

If you have kept up with this, you’re probably saying ‘yeah…just another dolled up conjoint…been there, done that.’ Forget yourself, forget business, forget research. Think about a young student in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, walking in with say six-eight PowerPoint presentations, dealing with serious topics. And then showing the IDT … that this student able to come up with ideas which really ‘blow away’ a mindset segment, whether that be for government, for a love relationship, or for a product. Think about a continent of people, with little hope, given this ‘Mac for the Mind,’ and the encouragement to create their own portfolios of studies, something that THEY have done, that they can be PROUD of. And think about what will happen when they present this for class work, when they go for a job, and when they actually set up their shingle as researchers. YES, researchers. To us, it’s a job. To them, it’s the way up to a better life.

Now for realities. This Conjoint Measurement for good sounds like a good idea. But just where is it being used? Or, to be more cynical, does it have feet?  The answer is yes, it does have feet. It’s finding a welcome in Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Hungary (for national competitive advantage). Not exactly big countries. And of course, in the Philippines and in India.  Poor countries. The crowning effort is the work in Africa, in Ghana, and perhaps soon in Benin, where the goal is to help a continent of people lift themselves out of grinding poverty and hopelessness. I could be a bit more expansive, and say it’s being used in Western Europe and in the United States, but the receptivity of these developed countries remains to be seen. The vision and the app seem to appeal to those who want to create their future quickly, and will try and measure, rather than reflexively reject.

And so, after the realization that maybe Conjoint Measurement has an aspect of G-d’s work, I’m back in the game, this time not doing research, but rather offering a tool which offers hope. It’s not bad at 74. It took a bit longer than Dad would have wished… but sometimes you just have to make some tradeoffs.

Read more: greenbookblog.org

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