Interdisciplinary Research: Benefiting from Diversity of Thought

“[R]evealing innovative and fresh ideas requires marrying expertise with creativity.”

As the world evolves, so does the nature of occupations. In the past, being an expert in a specialized field might have sufficed. However, in today’s world, we need interdisciplinary professionals who are able to provide creative results. Don’t get me wrong, we still need experts on different subjects. However, the industry is already saturated with specialized experts. As much as we need them, revealing innovative and fresh ideas requires marrying expertise with creativity.

Most traditional businesses, FMCGs, banks, insurance companies, etc. have been in the business for quite some time. Even their internet business counterparts have been dominating the world for some decades. Having worked with more than 50 Fortune 500 companies all over the world, we realized that most of them converge on similar insights and strategies after a while. Leveraging similar insights, they work on similar target audiences with similar marketing strategies.

Why interdisciplinary research?

To diverge from this rhythm, we have to complement these experts with individuals who are able to tackle the same problem from a different perspective.

Moreover, we are living in an omnichannel world. And to serve the needs of this omnichannel world, many new types of agencies have emerged over the past decade. UX Research, Design Research, CX, human-centered research, neuro research, and so on.

Having different agencies focusing on different skill sets leads to several inefficiencies:

  1. Somehow the expertise and know-how of these disciplines have been distributed and limited among these agencies, hence the output may lack the know-how of other disciplines.
  2. We have often encountered cases where a methodology is used for the sake of using it. Therefore, the brand KPIs are not aligned with the research outputs.

Although there are many ways to gain insights, the driving force of any research should be to empathize with consumers whichever way is better. On the other hand, what a researcher could learn from a consumer is infinite. Hence the researcher should be able to understand the Northstar of the brand, have the resources to reach that Northstar, and be agile during this trip.

What is interdisciplinary research?

In order to get the most out of a consumer insights, it is beneficial to mix and match different skills.

There are no wrong disciplinary combinations, there are only right possibilities. Consider integrating the following to add great value to research outputs, and note that this is not an exhaustive list:

  • UX; human-computer interaction
  • Psychology; how consumers individually feel and think
  • Sociology; how consumers think in a group
  • Strategy; how to make all this data relevant for the industry
  • Storytelling; how to make this data easy to digest and understand
  • CX; how to integrate customer experience and its metrics to the above-mentioned data

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

The word ‘interdisciplinary’ by definition means melting two or more disciplines in a pot. This melting part differentiates multi-disciplinary individuals from interdisciplinary individuals. Multidisciplinary individuals have many different tools in their arsenal to tackle a particular problem and choose the right one for a certain situation.

As Maslow claimed, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail’.

Interdisciplinary individuals, on the other hand, mix and match these tools to create new ones.

Concrete examples of interdisciplinary research

Let me provide two concrete examples:

  1. Once we were working with an e-marketplace to optimize their information architecture. However, at their level of sophistication, a textbook method wouldn’t provide significant value. They have been optimizing their operations with five-second tests, usability tests, and card sorting studies for many years. However, the whole information architecture had been created on top of traditional standards by industry professionals, rather than consumers. At this stage, we recommended a study where we mixed traditional card sorting (a method that is used regularly for UX purposes) with customer co-creation (a mostly qualitative method that is used regularly for design thinking purposes.) When building the whole information architecture from scratch, we revealed innovation opportunities that none of the competitors were currently tackling.
  2. In another case, we were working with an alcoholic beverage brand that wanted to target a younger audience. The audience was heavily involved with drugs, and it was not convenient to discuss drugs in a recorded focus group or in-depth interview. To solve for this challenge, one of our cultural anthropologists conducted a study using dating apps. With dating apps, consumers are fairly anonymous, and they are more than happy to talk about drugs. Our cultural anthropologist, proficient in nethnography, did a contextual analysis of the pictures of the individuals with whom she conversed. She combined this netnographic data with in-depth interviews/conversations to gain a holistic understanding. The medium didn’t just make the conversation more honest, it combined these two different data sources. This greatly increased the depth of the data.

Mixing different disciplines is an integral asset for today’s world, as differentiation and novelty continuously prove to be as important as expertise.

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