Optimism for a better future... and better research
The optimism bias and how it can help us embrace the unexpected, leading to more inspiring research
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In times of crisis, we can become paralyzed by anxiety and fear of the unexpected. It makes decision making more difficult and results in lowering our expectations of the future. Whether or not the pandemic turned you into an optimist or a pessimist, we’ve all experienced this in recent years, which is why psychologists are so interested in measuring the effects of this mentality on behavior today.
Why is it that we lower our expectations when life throws us challenges?
Simply put, there is a common rationale that if we keep expectations low, we won’t be as disappointed when things don’t go well. While this seems logical on the surface, it’s actually not the case according to neuroscientist Dr. Sharot in her recent TED talk .
In fact lowering our expectations does not improve the outcome of our lives. So at One Minute to Midnight, we don’t do it!
We approach client challenges with optimism and the purpose of making great things happen.
Three findings from Dr. Sharot’s research on the optimism bias are lessons for life, and ones we bring to our research.
Dr Sharot’s Three Principles of the Optimism Bias:
1. Whatever happens, good or bad, people that have higher or more positive expectations will always feel better.
Example: When optimistic people get a good result in an exam, they think that it is because they are intelligent and capable. If the result is bad, they think that the exam was difficult but intend to do better next time. Pessimistic mindsets see good results as a product of good luck, and negative ones tend to see it as confirmation of their innate lack of ability.
2. The anticipation of achieving something good reduces stress and anxiety, and will immediately improve our wellbeing and health in the time leading up to whatever we anticipate.
Example: In studies of happiness levels among people with something fun to look forward to (like vacation), participants rank their happiness level highest on the days leading up to the vacation, rather than on the actual day.
3. But most importantly, being optimistic about the future will lead you to take actions that point you in a more positive direction, therefore increasing the chances of a good outcome.
Example: Optimism builds resilience, and keeps us feeling our goals are achievable, which results in more creative and resourceful behavior towards achieving results.
So, how do we enhance optimism towards better research and strategy for brands?
The optimism bias guides our approach to research by enabling us to take smart choices and embrace the new, something essential for brands trying to make real impact.
1. We improvise.
Adaptability is key in the research process. Beyond the everyday logistics, good research adapts to the conditions and the truth of our audience. If our client’s hypothesis starts to become disproven within the first 10 minutes of a group, we listen, watch and learn with a positive lens, thinking 'what’s going on and what can can we do'. An optimism bias means we tune our minds (and our discussion guides) to business objectives rather than just research questions, always thinking about what’s next for a brand rather than what’s wrong right now.
2. We embrace.
The everyday of market research might look limited on the surface. But all focus groups and IDIs are not created equal. With each new RFP we receive, we brainstorm heavily with our team about how to reach the best outcome for our clients, rather than fitting a template that has worked in the past. This keeps us humble and always looking out for new systems of researching and thinking from every level of our team.
2. We play.
Part of the beauty of the optimism bias is that it builds an excitement about what is next. Play, in essence, is a kind of experiment meant to take you on a journey of surprises.
Our weekly inspiration sessions are a time to hear from our diverse team about what inspires them, from the world around us, ads for new products, the latest in psychology, to new developments in tech. We then creatively play with these ideas to see how they might apply to our work (and lives) and provide us deep understanding of what’s going on the world and what this means to our clients brands.
Our Values methodology similarly takes us on a journey with respondents, prompting deep reflection and leading us toward exciting and often unexpected insights that are rooted in human emotion and experience.
All along the way, we make sure optimism is backed by real expertise. Our projects with innovative global brands like TikTok and Playstation, expertise with Gen-Z and comms research ensure our approach to briefs is backed by real experience and deep knowledge.
This helps us find new, creative solutions to client problems, while embracing the unexpected along the way, leading to more powerful insights.
How can an optimistic approach to your insight and research take you to better, more interesting and ultimately more useful places?
Interested in talking about our optimistic approach to research? Reach out to one of our open and positive humans! We’d love to get realistically optimistic with you and your brand(s).
From Human to Human,
Amalia & Raquel