Being a Field Observer

Before you begin your journey to observe your customers and better understand their needs and environment, you need to know how to take functional notes. The functionality of these notes will make a difference later on when you come back to revisit them - two days later, two months later or two years later.

Many people believe that their memory is good enough to remember everything they see. Good notes are a better resource than your memory. Do you remember trying to cram for all those finals and then forgetting it the very next day?

Statistics say that people only remember 80% of what is said two hours after it has been spoken. Two days later, people only remember 30% of what was said. Two weeks later, people barely remember anything that was said. Having good notes will be more valuable than your memory when you are trying to apply new product ideas in your company from your research.

This article covers a number of different data collection techniques to help you have meaningful and organized notes of your observations. Remember - the data collection techniques you use today are going to be your memory tomorrow.

I recommend using more than one technique, whether it is written, oral or visual (notes, audio, video). All are helpful in picking up on different aspects of observation. Different people also have different learning styles.

Finally, there are tactile or kinesthetic learners who need to learn by doing and experiencing things themselves. For those who are tactile learners, I suggest that they be those who "get their hands dirty" researching consumers. It is also a good idea for those in upper management to be involved in the research because this will make them more likely to support the results later on in the process

Skills to Improve Observation

Memory Facts

  • You only remember 80% of what was told to you two hours ago
  • You only remember 3% of what you heard three weeks ago
  • A typical person can remember only 3-5 things in a list
  • Visual, verbal and written stimuli increase the likelihood of memory


How Memory Affects your Research Efforts

  • At the end of a series of interviews, you will not be able to remember the first from the last interview. It is important to take notes and write things down.
  • A sharp memory will help you remember the small details
  • Your memory skills can be honed - but it takes practice 

Observation is a Skill

  • Visual stimuli abounds in every environment. We are conditioned at only processing the necessary information. The goal is to retrain your brain to become a better observer and to take in the entire context of the situation
  • With practice, you will begin to see things below the surface observation

Skills for observation

  1. Study the language, slang, jargon and culture of the industry before observing.
    • This will help with understanding while observing
    • One way to do this is to interview a number of people in the industry before entering into it.
    • Utilize the following resources to help with your study:
      • Books
      • Journals, articles
      • TV shows
      • Internet
      • Related organizations and associations
  2. Notice small details - look for the minute details that typically go unnoticed
  3. Work on remembering things
    • Memory exercises and games
    • Name games
    • Association exercises
  4. Pretend you are a novice learning the industry for the first time
    • Even if you're not a novice, it's important to understand the process of learning
    • Often times, we overlook the obvious because we aren't seeing things through fresh eyes. Pretend you are relearning a skill that you currently have or that you are seeing something for the first time. Imagine you are an alien and don't understand the rules of this world yet. What would you notice? What are the obvious things that you seem to take for granted?
  5. Increase your writing skills
    • Write letters, poems
    • Make lists of things
    • Learn how to write fast and use abbreviations

Happy Observing!

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