Wandering is good, working strategically is often better, and no matter how you might start your mission is to address the following four dimensions.
What interests you?
Identify your interest, follow your nose, give yourself a good reason to do this work, and do it in an interesting way
- Mind map your interests, and clarify them as you go along
- Revise this mind map as you go along, and keep your interests in mind
- Search “YourTopic …”
Who is your audience?
Identify the professionals you want to talk to and to hire you, learn what interests them, and prepare to engage them: identify who cares
- Mind map your audience by field, position, and publication: find the best writers in your field and read them
- Search “YourTopic … xxx” and where “xxx” stands for “pwc”, “hbr”, “kpmg,” “mckinsey”, “economist,” etc., etc., including whatever top-level journals you might find
- Revise this mind map as you go along, and you will be surprised and rewarded as you see your work developing sophistication and depth
What are the issues, methods, and concepts are they talking about?
Identify the current issues, list, and select from them
- Issues are things over which reasonable people disagree, such as the competing strategies a company in crisis might do well to consider
- Forward-looking research is on the lookout for opportunities, threats and anything else one might consider in order to gain advantage in competitive contexts
- Your first idea is probably a good one, but best is to build on what you know by surveying what researchers, writers, and editors who adopt the birds-eye view collect, make clear, and open for consideration
- You will know a good survey by its claims to have consulted many others and the systematic way it lists topics and sub-topics, prioritizes them, and invites you to consider choosing among them
- From such surveys, list sub-heads, keywords, and concepts, then re-arrange with your interests on top and so that the whole makes a general sense when you explain it to others: once you develop scope you will know why you choose the most interesting thing to dig in
What practical examples do these writers refer to?
Examples proving your original assumptions are great to get started and even greater to find challenged: if you don’t find counter-examples, someone else will, so look for the exceptions that may or may not prove the rule
- Learn how to summarize a great example and, in the same breadth, offer a counter-example: don’t just prove your point
- Learn how to look for the issues in your examples, so you don’t get lost in the details
- Report on what others say about your examples; best is when there is more than one opinion.
Anais arrived in class with a general interest in how big firms might compete with fast fashion, and by asking “why?”, “why?”, and “why?” we all saw how she knew her interest and topic in some depth, how each “why?” led her to reveal her assumptions, and how in addressing our questions she soon knew better what to look for and how
What are your interests?
Identifying our interests often starts off like picking flowers according to preferences, but if you let your partner ask the obvious questions you’ll pretty soon go deep, develop precision, know what you might do next, and become inspired
- Marketing … why?
- Because I am interested in both empirical data and creativity … for example?
- For example, I think advertisements are so interesting and creative … what is it about creativity?
- Budgeting and planning: you have to learn to be both creativity and plan well and work within a budget
Such conversations are best done often as you change, with new partners to help you see things differently, and as you write them down within minutes, literally, before you forget so that later you remember how smart you are and what you want to do next
Who is your audience and what are they interested in?
This time we first imagined who wants to buy this stuff and identified consumers who wanted “affordable luxury”, and big firms who wanted a piece of the action and followed the search term advice above, but this time searched using the very words Anais had used: “how big stores might compete with fast fashion”, to that added “mckinsey” and BINGO! — we found articles like Succeeding in tomorrow’s global fashion marketand more!
What are the issues, methods, and concepts are they talking about?
- Surveying their major sections — looking for sub-heads and keywords — we found a bunch, and selected “hybrid fashion” among them to narrow down our topic and search
- When searching for concepts, as it happened, we soon found talk about a “Concept Store,” a multi-brand store, retailing a highly curated selection of products, directed by a clear theme, lifestyle or philosophy: that the retail component is wrapped in an experience, including, a) a highly curated selection, b) a clear theme, lifestyle, philosophy, and so c) a strong customer experience
- Later, I thought her project so interesting that I kept going and looked up “mckinsey strong customer experience” and found by McKinsey The CEO guide to customer experience and, once again, BINGO!
What tools will you likely need to exploit?
Take a moment to learn how Google Search works so you will understand the strong emphasis on language developed here: why you want to keep track of keywords and phrases
- Google works with language, words and phrases which it analyzes for frequency of use, evaluates in terms of meaning and context, and indexes so that careful search terms will deliver what careful searchers are looking for.
- How Search Works explains how Google uses these terms when it sends out “spiders” to collect new web pages; determine context, meaning, and relevance; and to index the results so they can answer your questions fast
- Google Parisian Love offers a vivid illustration of context: how every meaningful search term helps Google narrow results to what you might want
The Big 4
- Before you narrow your project down to some tiny little shop at the end of a street in a small village, you want first to understand what the big boys and girls are talking about
- Developing an overview based on a systematic survey of the top firms will give you a wonderful perspective to start and might even help you change your mind, or at least help you put your interests into the terms others care about.
You will want to explore, but be systematic about it so for every new wonderful thing you find you make a choice and quickly narrow down your interest (before expanding it again later)
- Open up 1-3 articles from each of the eight sources listed above, select those easiest to understand and of the greatest interest and shut down the rest
- Outline the sub-heads, 5-9 topics their sources report of greatest current interest, list them in your outline, move your favorite to the top, and bury the rest under “more” like this
- Learn what is special about outlines, how as tree structures they can help us manage complexity, in a hierarchy from high-level generalizations on down to the details.
- Convince yourself that outlines are everywhere, as you will see by visiting CSS Zen Gardens and where they show how every single website is organized as an outline
- Follow my advice on outlining
- In my example from Deloitte, I found that “learning and development” go together, that “reinventing HR” is a key word used by many, that when HR people talk about “corporate cultures” they do so to the end of “engagement,” and so on down that list: write up your own lexicon for search, listing, exploring, and expression: learn how to talk the talk
- When researching “labor markets” you will find talk of “factors,” and “causality” so that as you read, note how scientists and professionals think
- Forget Leo: set up your browser with 3-5 more precise online dictionaries as I discuss on my Definitions page, look up a few special terms and learn what special meanings your particular field assigns to them
- Create your own lexicon, you’ll need only a few dozen special terms, but having collected them you’ll not only sound more intelligent, but you will think more intelligently!