Group Speak

By: Troy Nottingham
November 19, 2014

Telling The Short Story

My favorite adage – by a well-known adage icon, Anonymous – is … sorry I wrote you such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write a short one.

In my line of work, some want to attach value to the deliverable based on its thud factor. You know, how big the sound is when you drop the report on the table. Sheer girth and weight are meant to give testimony to the quality of work for the money invested. The more you get, the better the research … right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Okay, I get it that when you pay for research, if you ask a question, you want to see how people responded. I do understand. But, I can’t say that I always agree.

Just because every human has access to the Internet does not mean every human has something worthy to contribute via the Internet (I would submit this blog post as a perfect example). In fact, quite the opposite is true. And, so too is it for research and the data it generates.

Just because every question gets an answer does not mean every answer is meaningful when it comes to figuring out what actions to take. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It is way too easy to get lost in a sea of data. Not every data point has meaning. Not every piece of learning is of equal value.

The real value comes in knowing how to recognize and separate the wheat from the chaff. The way I figure it is that our clients pay us to wade through all the data to find the things of greatest meaning. They are thrilled when we take the time to write the short story. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you said, whoa, I hope this research presentation is a really long one. I want to see every crosstab possible; in fact, I want to see every single number.

The short story is the greatest gift anyone can bring to your table. The president of an ad agency we worked with in the early years used to quote another favorite line – “I don’t care how the watch is made, I just want to know what time it is.”

And, I have found that the farther up the corporate ladder you go with your story, the shorter it needs to be.

My middle school aged son was complaining the other day about having to write and 800-word essay and looking to me for sympathy. “Dad, there is a ton of stuff we have to cover in this essay.” To wit, I replied – “well, thank goodness she’s not making you write a 200-word essay, that would really be tough.” Suffice it to say that my son is not yet able to fully appreciate this short story concept.

Next time you are tasked or have the opportunity, do someone a favor and take the time needed to write the short story. They will appreciate it and you will be glad you did it.