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Hello, it's me. Welcome back to Insights Unlocked. The next season kicks off a few Mondays from now with some incredible guests such as Don Norman, Teresa Torres, and Jorge Orango, among others. In this bonus episode, we look back to our conversation in episode 87 with Ari Zelmanau and user testing's Michelle Huff. Ari is a former police detective turned UX researcher and now leads UX research over at Twilio. In this clip, Ari explains why he thinks we need to reinvent UX researchers' role within organizations to be less of a service provider and more of a consultant providing strategic advice. Enjoy the episode.


Welcome to Insights Unlocked, an original podcast from User Testing, where we bring you candid conversations and stories with the thinkers, doers, and builders behind some of the most successful digital products and experiences in the world, from concept to execution.


I think there's always been this interesting dynamic between research and business and outcomes and how people translate between the two I guess I'd love to... You wrote, if anyone checks out on Ari's LinkedIn post, he has some strong opinions, but I think they're really insightful. I'd love for you to share a little bit more. You've talked about how maybe we need to blow up how research is actually done and replace it with this strategic insight and foresight team. Maybe that connects back to the future of where you think should go and this connecting back to outcomes.


Starting from where research was or has been, we've relegated ourselves as a profession to service providers. We feel like the value or at least the revealed value that we've had is we're going to do usability tests, we're going to do interviews, we're going to represent the voice of the customer in conversations. The problem with that is that it doesn't paint to an outcome. Those are all outputs. Cif teams or strategic insight and foresight teams, I think, are the research of the future. They should be centralized teams, accountable to all, but beholden to no one. If you think about checks and balances or independence or being independent from influence or bias, these researchers would still serve marketing. They would still serve customer success, they would still serve product or UX teams. But they would do so by having a single source of truth for all of the data and information. Like a detective, they would put together cases about what the business should do, and then they should develop a point of view and present that to the business. Now, that's also, it's based upon business stakeholders. Like, Michelle, you're a CMO. You don't want a researcher coming in and being like, I don't want you knowing anything about the customers.


We're going to tell you everything, and you shouldn't have a point of view. You should have a point of view, and research should have a point of view. When you have that, you're using data to have better conversations and make better decisions. You're doing it based upon data rather than bias, conjecture, or opinion. I think that pulling together insights teams from across the company to tell a more holistic and better story, it makes me think of the story of the blind men the elephant. One feels the trunk and says it's a snake. One feels the tusk and says it's a spear, the tail's a rope, the side's a wall, et cetera. Then if you step back from that and you had all of them come together, they would be able to piece together the story that it's actually an elephant. That's how it should go with today's research teams.


Oh, definitely. Well, it's interesting. I think to that point, I remember, it's just even a user test, we used to have a little video clip, and it was someone interacting with Alexa device in their kitchen. It was a small little clip of someone interacting. I've always pointed out it could be the exact same clip, but depending on your function, people had really different observations. Someone in the design team would probably look at it and go, Oh, that's so interesting. It's just plopped right in the center of the island, and the cords are everywhere. I would have never thought they'd put it there. Someone from the marketing organization maybe would be listening. It's like, Oh, that's interesting that when they were showing it off, they referred to... It's a her, it's a she, it's a lex. It's this person. Then from the product management, it was at the very end, they said, I sometimes use it as an alarm clock. Sure product would be like, Oh, there's an interesting feature. I never thought that... Maybe using in a different way. You think of all the different observations that different teams would have from that one clip.


It just reminded me of your trunk first. I feel like when people have different points of views and they're coming to the table, it almost creates a better, richer debate and conversation of what should be done.


A hundred %. I think the problem is that researchers have historically delivered data. I believe that researchers shouldn't just deliver data, they shouldn't just deliver insights, they should deliver counsel. They It should be the consigliere to the business, like Tom Hagen in The Godfather, or in Game of Thrones, the right-hand to the king of the person that gives advice. I think the other part of that that's interesting is people, I think, have historically thought of research is needing to be this impartial box where people collect things and it's unbiased. But I think that a research project is really three phases, right? It's phase one is data collection. That should be impartial. As a detective, you go to a scene and make sure that you don't taint the evidence. You don't put your DNA in other people's DNA. You collect the fingerprints in the right way. Everything is collected with impartiality. But then the second phase of a project is building the case. That's when you're piecing together the evidence and making sense of what all that evidence means. Then the third is negotiating an outcome. It's presenting that case to make a decision. As a detective, it's, should we prosecute this individual or should we not?


The same applies in business. Is. We collect the evidence, we build a case, and we negotiate an outcome.


Yeah, I love it. I guess maybe related to this is, okay, if you see this shift to have research teams be more, they are strategic consultants. Some organizations really have a belief that really no one else should speak to the customer. It should all go through something centralized because they would be doing it wrong or it wouldn't be non-biased. They'll use it just to prove their own points. There's a lot of fear in other people talking to organizations. How do you think about that in the spirit of what you think research should translate to and then what should the rest of the organizations do? Because on the flip side, I also talk to sometimes product managers, and they're like, Yeah, don't we have a team that talks to the customers? I don't really have to. I see the dynamic in lots of different ways.


I think that product managers, marketers should talk to customers, full stop. There's no research should not be gatekeeping, although I don't think gatekeeping is the bad word that people make it out to be. I think that research being an independent function that works and reports directly the C-suite that isn't measured on research report output makes that okay. Here's how that works. If a product manager is talking to a customer and they're calling them interviews or something else, but research is doing what research is supposed to be doing, they're corroborating or triangulating evaluating. Now, a product manager might come to a point of view, but a researcher should be developing a point of view. If those points of view contradict, well, then you try it in the court of business appeal. You Let's talk about both points of view and the evidence that gets us here. I think it makes for a much better, richer debate and conversation. We should not be delivering that for other people to just make decisions. I believe that we have to be independent. We have to be free from influence. The problem is that many research teams right now are under UX, they're under design teams, they're under product, or they're under marketing.


And what ends up happening is you'll hear in the language, We need to validate this idea. When somebody's saying, We need to validate this idea, they're saying, We need you to confirm what I'm thinking is right. And that's Confirmation Bias 101. Instead, if you heard language like, Hey, can we test these assumptions? Now, that's much more interesting to me.


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