Getting leadership to connect with the respondents you just met on a research project is a challenge for many corporate researchers. Lisa Osborne, COO of Ignite 360 and I recently had an email exchange about this ongoing problem and some ways to get around it.

Here’s an excerpt:


Hey Rob. How are you? I just got off the phone with “Sue” (our client from a Fortune 500 company). She is struggling to land the insights we uncovered together on our innovation project. Although she feels the consumer learning is spot on and directly connects to rich emotional territory the brand can tap into, it has been difficult for her to get buy in. Leadership is resistant. They just aren’t getting it, or feeling it, as the case seems to be. It sounds like the conviction just isn’t there to make some of the moves and investment that is needed to revitalize the brand. I know we’ve run into this before. It’s just a big roadblock that so many organizations face! I’m thinking about how else we can help her because we’ve seen this before with other clients. Thoughts??


Hi Lisa! Hope your day is going well. Hmmm. Makes me think about that Kirk/Spock blog post you wrote last year [Note to reader: this is the post to which I was referring]. Consumers are all Kirk – making impulsive, emotion-based decisions. The industry has pointed fingers at data collection methods being too “System 2.” Yet, when you think about it, corporations are all Spock all the time. It might help “Sue” if we mention this idea.


That’s a great point. Organizations are machine-like organisms … business is rational, linear, and decisions are often made ‘by the numbers.’ It’s Big Data. And, employees are assimilated to think, and act, in a way that honors the quest for efficiency and steadied reason. Logic rules. But, that’s the Head. What about the Heart? What about the irrational, sometimes contradictory human element? That’s who these brands and organizations are trying to win over … the humans. So how do we get leadership to buy in to the touchy-feely Heart?


Totally agree! When you have all that time to think and think and think about your business, that’s all System 2. Sadly, consumers don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about a brand as the business team does. Locked in System 2, business teams totally miss/don’t factor in the gut decisions that people make at the key moment of truth – the purchase. Recently in a workshop, I reminded the clients that we all make a lot of gut, System 1 decisions in our personal lives. It’s only at work that they are in Spock-like System 2 thinking. Not understanding emotional decision-making leads to bad decisions on the behalf of clients. Didn’t they defeat the Borg in Star Trek: TNG with emotion?


LOL. I love the analogy of the Borg and Star Trek. Borg are a species, an eco-system, that forces assimilation to a very structured way of processing information (#imatrekkie). I think the empathy work and training we’ve been integrating into our client projects is one way to help our client partners build this muscle and bring in the Heart. But I feel like we need to do more. Not all of those key decision makers are able to take part in the empathy work on each project. So, in those instances, how can we help leaders move from System 2 to System 1? Is there something in the empathy transfer that can be of benefit here?


Starting with the team, I bring awareness of this difference. If they can start to recognize that they are in System 2 mode all the time at work, then they can develop the awareness of how they are interpreting System 1 behavior. It’s hard work though. And because System 1 is so less concrete, it can be difficult to make sense of it. It doesn’t follow the linear path of logic. At the leadership level, I’ve coached clients to talk about what they understand about their consumer. Ground the conversation in the ‘data’ but acknowledge that emotional decisions may be more of a driving influence than the functional decisions. I’ve used the the grocery shopping example a lot to best illustrate the point. Shoppers spend less than 6 seconds on every decision in the store, and I question if it’s that leisurely based on what we’ve seen on some shop-alongs. They aren’t stopping to think about all the hard work the client has put in to get that product on the shelf.


Makes sense. We can definitely support our clients by integrating System 2 with System 1. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. Train clients to be aware of SYS1/SYS2 thinking. Introduce the concept early in a project or learning plan to build awareness and help attune brand teams to look for, and listen, for these different aspects. 

  2. Continue to build in approaches and techniques in our research to better identify the System 1 mindset and decision-making.

  3. Bring in observation (vs. just Q&A), timed exposure, and realistic context to get us closer to the quick, gut-reactions.

And what about leveraging video to help ‘show and tell’ back to the leadership team or those who are unable to fully participate in the insights gathering?


Those are great points. Video is a terrific tool to see what’s happening in real life. Just 5 minutes of watching the mythical consumer in their native habitat can reveal so many actionable insights! Regarding empathy transfer, I go back to that first step in building empathy – dismantling judgment [Note to reader: I refer to a blog post I wrote about empathy tools].

First, you create awareness that clients are in System 2 mode at work which skews their perspective. Remind them that they are not the Borg, or robots, and when they disengage from the work collective, they go into System 1 just like everybody else. Then, once they’ve shed their biases, some contextual storytelling or role play to help them see life from the perspective of their consumer in the midst of System 1 thinking.

How do you bridge the gap between your organization’s System 2 reality and the System 1 behavior of consumers? What would you add to our list? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at and lets start a conversation!

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