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The Market Researcher and the Psychic: A Lesson in Divine Inference

Posted by Hannah Jeton on Wed, Jul 02, 2014

describe the imageWith both feet planted on the ground (guaranteeing my ankles are uncrossed for proper energy flow) and my palms out in front of me, Clarence’s** palms rest against mine, reading my energy. His mouth twitches slightly, and his eyes are closed.  There is silence, a sigh, and an “okay.” Then our session begins.A few weeks ago, I finally cashed-in my LivingSocial voucher for a 30-minute tarot card reading at a tearoom in Boston with two co-workers. I left the session totally blown away. I will never make a major life decision based on a tarot card reading. However, as an insights professional, I did come away with some surprising takeaways into the power of putting a little art into the science of insights to create a story that resonates.

Back to the reading: I draw my first 10 cards, shuffling them back and forth between my hands—transferring more energy. Then, I hand them over to Clarence, the moderator between me and the stars. He dutifully lays them out. More silence. We both look at the cards.

“Girl, you are playing with all my favorite cards! Everything is spinning around you, and you can’t quite get enough information to make any decisions.” I look more closely at the tapestry of cups, swords, kings, queens, skulls, hearts, and wings. Again, I’m skeptical. I’m 23—of course my life is crazy and of course I don’t have enough information to make any decisions!

I still try to seem unfazed. We begin to go into details, and he starts listing specifics about my life.  He reads different sets of cards for family, health, career, and romance. The claims he is making are correct. Everything he says is just vague enough that I can back code it to some recent event or situation. So, yes, I am being skeptical, but I am also wow-ed. Boy is he good! He knows!  

With each “revelation,” I can see how his customers become convinced. Clarence here possesses extra sensory skills. His ability to assess what bothers me allows him to eliminate wrong guesses and focus on communicating statements that are more accurate.

Probability, statistics, and good old-fashioned story-telling are all at play in simple and fundamental ways here. From the moment I entered the office, Clarence went to work building a narrative with the highest probability of accuracy. Through observation he carefully took in as much information as he could: my clothes, my manner of speech, my apparent age, my physical attributes, my socioeconomic status, and my mannerisms. Mix those inferences with some pop statistics (see any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books), and my reader had a very, very good chance of being correct.

Unlike tarot card readers, we market research insight professionals take a more rigorous approach to validating our observations. After all, there are real decisions being made here beyond whether to take a dark, handsome stranger up on that drink. But the fact remains that in readings and in research, there is often no one “right” answer. The most useful insights and solutions are most often a balance of statistical validity, real-world usability, and a really good story.

**name has been changed to protect my destiny

Hannah is a senior associate on the Technology and E-Commerce team and is due for check-in to see what’s in store for her next at CMB. She, like Clarence, has a knack for predictive analysis and enjoys reading our clients’ minds from time to time.

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Topics: storytelling, consumer insights