Mind Genomics®, Rule Developing Experimentation (RDE) and a New Science of the Everyday
In 1981, just three decades ago, editor HRM began a series of experiments to identify what ‘messages’ for toothpaste might persuade customers of Colgate toothpaste to remain with the brand, and which might entice prospective customers currently buying the competitor toothpastes to ‘switch to Colgate. This rather simple question and the ensuing experiment, run in Canada at the behest of the late Court Shepard, General Manager of Colgate Canada, would turn out to be the basis of a science. It’s hard to think of a science built on commercial products, dealing with the issues of everyday life. But this volume is testament to that science.
Our ingoing assumption at that time was that the consumer may not know what he wants, but he will know it when he sees it. We had another assumption, just as important, but we did not realize it then. That assumption was that by giving a person a compound test stimulus, we would increase the chances of identifying what elements were working. That is, it wasn’t a case of learn by ‘isolating,’ but rather learn by creating naturalistic mixtures of ideas, testing these combinations with consumers, and then deconstructing the reactions to these combinations into the contributions of the components.
For the first 30 years afterwards, from 1981 to 2011, we hummed along, doing these experiments, working for clients, answering business problems ranging from toothpaste to prescription drugs, from services in a bank to public policy about emergencies. Those were, formative years, filled with learning, insight, and of course excitement. The test methods now developed, we applied the new approach to various problems, including dividing people by the pattern of their responses to test stimuli, and more profoundly by the pattern of their utility values, the ‘driving powers’ of the individual elements. In all that work, the emphasis was on applying the method as a consumer-research technique to business issues.
Enter a Grander Vision – A Science of Everyday Life
Perhaps it’s one of the unwritten rules of science; work at a problem long enough, and soon the problem moves from something momentary to be solved to a source of wonderment about how the world works. We had this experience with the research approach of this book, RDE, Rule Developing Experimentation. Yes, we had begun with the trite problem of communicating what to say to make consumers buy more toothpaste. What could be more prosaic; almost a throwback to the 1950’s. Yet along the way something happened. The problem of discovering compelling messages grew to something else, to a deeper measurement of what motivates people to respond.
And so the science of RDE began. It had started with the trite, the simple, the everyday. But then, almost subtly, and after two decades, a shift occurred in the nature of the way RDE made itself useful. Over time the focus moved from finding the specific answer, the one or two messages, to themes, to general patterns of ideas that excited consumers. The year 2001 was a seminal year; often seems to us that around that time we realized that projects using RDE were as focused on understanding people in their everyday lives as they were in solving a business problem. For instance, studies on what to communicate to the California citizen about energy costs, a practical problem posed by a utility, turned out to be a study of the mind of the citizen with respect to energy issues. Simple fascination with the results, with the patterns emerging from nature, blurred the boundary between problem and solution, or between person and structure of beliefs. Reading the data tables turned out to be a detective story, ferreting out how people thought. Only secondary was the importance of the actual problem, the reason for the study in the first place.
As this subtle shift continued, we realized that this new approach was creating a science of the ordinary, the everyday life, step-by-step, almost insensibly building a structure of how we go about evaluating alternatives. We were aware of similar ideas in the marketing literature, of so-called tradeoff-studies, where the goal was to understand what the consumer felt to be important. However, we were heading in a different direction, creating an archival science of the ordinary, a science whose data could be housed in tables and books, and pulled down from the shelf at any time to get a better idea of how people think and what people value.
What is the Essence of this New Science
As we rushed headlong into experiments, studying all sorts of topics, from foods to utilities, from public policy to technology and technical services, we found ourselves facing the same question, again and again, asked by those who hired us to solve the problems, by colleagues who were interested in new ‘techniques,’ and most intriguingly by students at different universities where we lectured. The question simply was ‘what is this thing called RDE, rule developing experimentation?’
We editors, who had been schooled in classic science, were not accustomed to questions as profound as ‘what is this new science?’ We were more accustomed to providing solutions as professional consultants and consumer researchers. Yet, when we gave our lectures at the universities, we could see the gleam in the eye of the students, who, perhaps even more than we, intuited that this RDE ‘thing’ was something bigger. Students, by the way, are the most critical; being so young they are often not particularly diffident, having no trouble asking the hard questions, and expecting honest answers.
So what is the essence of this new science? What is Mind Genomics®? Quite simply, it is the study of how people react to the world of their everyday. The goal of Mind Genomics®
is to create a database of the ordinary, to dissect specific experiences (e.g., buying toothpaste) into components, identify the different acts and messages, and then determine which of the components, acts, messages, drive consumer response, and which are irrelevant. At the end of the day, the vision is to open a book for any experience, show the experience dissected, show what’s important and what’s irrelevant, and finally identify different mind-sets, people who look at the same experience in different ways.
Reactions to this New Science
When we began publishing the results of our studies in the archival scientific literature, we found a number of reactions, many quizzical, some downright negative, all enlightening. Most of the research that we had grown up with over the past decades dealt with the ‘grand questions’ about some aspect of how the world worked. The typical scientific paper would begin with a hypothesis, a speculation about the relation between variables, a speculation typically grounded in the knowledge and scientific contribution of previous researchers. The research should be organized in a way to prove or disprove the hypothesis. The statistics came in one general flavor, inferential statistics, statistics to confirm or disconfirm sameness or difference between two observations: Did the observed data differ from what was expected, and at what confidence level?
and its tool, RDE, came to the scientific world with a different world view. Rather than hypothesizing how the world ‘might work,’ Mind Genomics®
offered the organizing principle that it was here to ‘map the dimensions of experience.’ There was no need to offer a hypothesis, and spend the experiment proving or disproving that hypothesis. It was sufficient to identify a topic area, e.g., energy policy, map out the different ideas in this topic area through phrases, and then determine which of the different ideas appealed to consumer respondents versus which turned them off. The result was a description of a small corner of the consumer mind. Mind Genomics®
mapped that corner, identifying how ideas worked in the consumer’s head.
It took quite a while to realize that the reactions to Mind Genomics®
by other scientists were those of academics/researchers reared in the world of hypothetico-deduction to the notions and ideas offered by inductive research. We ended up realizing that Mind Genomics®
was essentially organized induction; we would map out a corner of daily experience with ideas, learn ‘what worked, what did not,’ and then make more sweeping statements about how people react to the specific topic area. Even our segmentation of mind-sets into different groups was purely empirical and inductive; we identified people who showed different patterns of what was important, and from that information we speculated about the distribution of different ‘mind-sets’ in the population. All in all, inductive science, mapping new worlds, seeing what was out there in this exciting world of the everyday.
Inside the Scientist’s Mind(s)
Developing Mind Genomics® has taken 30 years, a half a lifetime, three decades of experiences. In light of the nature of this book, a compendium of applications from many colleagues who have graciously said yes, we thought that it would be a good idea to share one’s feelings about this journey. We’re not talking about the science or the technology, nor are we talking about the applications or the future. We leave that to our contributors. Rather, we’re talking about the inside of the mind of the scientist, how it feels to be on this journey, what it means from a personal point of view, the ‘soft stuff’ of science that’s often forgotten in the rush to publish. So here are some of the feelings from the ‘inside,’ where it’s happening.
The first feeling is slight astonishment that one could actually be part of something like Mind Genomics®
. Most of us who do science or technology, whether basic or applied, grow up with the idea that we are going to ‘add’ to a corpus of knowledge, that we are going to be part of a community of scientists, doing normative research, identifying promising areas, adding to the literature, but doing so in a less than dramatic manner. We may dream of winning prizes, the Nobel, for instance, but we realize that that’s probably a pipe dream. Coming face to face with the implications of Mind Genomics®
, is in the colloquial expression, ‘something else, entirely.’ We recognize that this new science, flawed but promising, given birth with so much excitement but also trepidation, may be something important. That feeling alone is what astonishes us, and continues to astonish as we make new discoveries.
The second feeling is curiosity. Just what world have we opened up? We don’t know. Each new study is an adventure. The sheer simplicity, ease, speed of doing RDE studies and adding to the corpus of this new science makes us want to explore. Every topic we read about, from digital piracy to food safety, from stock market investments to creating new political parties, ends up being the inspiration for a new study. The goal was to find out – just how does that part of reality ‘work?’ And, that the curiosity, the inner energy of the scientist.
The third feeling is gratitude, an inner joy that comes from knowing that one has contributed something, perhaps of great value, to the generations to come. We all want to leave something of ourselves to the world, to those who we may never see, but who will carry on after us. Mind Genomics®
, the science, and RDE, the tool, is our contribution to the next generations. We don’t know where the science will take us; prophecy isn’t one of our gifts. But, we do know that we are giving those who follow some new tools that will move science and the world forward. And what could be more delightful than having our colleagues, the authors of chapters in this book, join us in giving to the next generation. For all that we are grateful.
As we close this foreword, we’d like to take a moment to thank some of the people who helped us along the way. No work of science, especially one that takes 30+ years to develop and ripen, happens in isolation. There have been many, starting with the late Court Shepard who had faith in us, moving to the many computer programmers who worked with us on the algorithms, and on to the staff of researchers at Moskowitz Jacobs, Inc. in Westchester County, New York, who struggled with the science, applying it to client problems, and in so doing improving it ever so much, continually, and with good spirit.
Our thanks go to our colleagues who accepted our invitation to write chapters. We are grateful to them; they bring so many different, new perspectives that we feel them to be co-inventing this science with us. Each colleague’s point of view sharpens the message, moves our thinking forward, and moves the science into new realms.
Finally, no work comes about without those who support it, day and day out. We’d like to thank our editorial coordinator, Linda Ettinger Lieberman, for her years of work, pulling the book together, making sure that all the details were taken care of, and essentially freeing us to do science while she made sure that we ‘delivered the goods.’ Thank you Linda, for this effort, and just as much for all the other efforts you have made on behalf of Mind Genomics®
and RDE. Your efforts have truly helped move this science forward.
Alex Gofman, Ph.D. (Deceased)
Howard R. Moskowitz, Ph.D.
Maskowitz Jacobs Inc.
White Plains, New York