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Life is the name of the game

Richard Owen
Chief Transformation Officer
Hall & Partners

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25 years experience in using smart technologies to inspire better methodologies to drive better insight and an obsession to move research forward and not protect the past. A proven builder of businesses, having launched and grown an office of a Hall & Partners, and then started and grown his own business too.

Joanna Fanuele
New York Managing Partner
Hall & Partners

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Joanna Fanuele and Richard Owen ask people to play with mobile to uncover real lives and behaviour

Picture the scene.

You’re taken from the comforts of your home, family and friends.

You arrive at an unfamiliar place, surrounded by lots of people you don’t know. It’s unusual, it’s exciting, it’s a bit nerve wracking. You’re guided through a series of questions, discussions and games by a lively and personable, if slightly egotistical host.

You’re settling in, you’re enjoying it, but it’s all feeling slightly out-of-body. Getting into it now, and you’re slowly rising to the top. The host is focusing on you more and more. They’re asking you if you want to carry on, stay longer, and they’re offering greater rewards and incentives for doing so.

This is where it gets weird.

We're in the pockets, hearts, minds, guts and subconscious of people when we're in their mobiles

You’re asked to sit in a soundproof booth. Occasionally you’re asked to wear a blindfold. Sometimes headphones. And then you’re asked to sit in front of a conveyor belt whilst a stream of relatively useless tat trundles by. You’re then asked to remember as many items as you can. All you can think of is a fondue set and a cuddly toy. Who can remember anything these days?

It ends in disappointment and a sense that you’ve not quite done as well as you would have if you were sat back at home under slightly less surreal circumstances.

Weird, huh?

Whether it’s Brucie, Tarby, Alex Trebeck or Bob, you wouldn’t for one minute suggest that observing people’s behaviour in a game-show situation gives you an indication of how they behave in real life. Would you?

Yet research is often set up just like that. It takes people out of context. It relies on them remembering things. It sits them down with strangers, or it tethers them in splendid isolation to their PC for forty minutes. And then it tries to draw conclusions about people’s natural behaviours.

It’s a funny old game. The rules need to be re-written. Better still, play a new game entirely. The game of life.

How irritating then, when opportunity is lost, because you play by the old rules

Technology has opened up new ways to understand what people are seeing, feeling, thinking and doing when they are seeing, feeling, thinking and doing it, with mobile technologies in particular. We’re in the pockets, hearts, minds, guts and subconscious of people when we’re in their mobiles.


Opportunity knocks for researchers. To be there when the moments that matter to people happen. To be there at the point of purchase, when the ball hits the back of the net, when your mate tells you there’s a new brand of sneaker in town, when Professor Green tweets his favourite new brand of hoodie, when your Jäger is bombed.

How irritating then when opportunity is lost because you play by the old rules. New ballpark, same old loveable, losing Cubbies? Why look a mobile gift horse in the mouth?

How can you guarantee you’ll miss the chance to immerse yourselves in people’s lives so you can understand them better?

Force it? Make it seem unnatural? Impose your rules on their lives?

Nobody likes an imposter. Enjoy getting texts about that car accident you never had for the insurance you don’t need? Love the ever-increasingly irritating brand messages in your Facebook feed? Didn’t think so.

Take all the rules of research you’ve ever known and think about whether they’re relevant for playing the game of life. Likely conclusion is they’re not. So re-write them. Better yet, play a new game entirely.


You want real truths about real people to learn real things about real behaviour?

Be there now. Let that moment seize you when it seizes them.

Their lives, their rules: play by them.


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