Improving Life through Empty Steps

Learn these 3 tools: Recognize, Reset and Reframe

Picture by Patrice Wooldridge

Neuropsychology has well established that we react to stimuli before our conscious mind can catch up. This means that it is easy to step – whether that be a physical, emotional or mental step – into places that aren’t in our best interest. Becoming more conscious of one habits makes positive change possible so one can improve their life experience.

In the practice of T’ai Chi, one of the basic principles is to learn to set the foot down without putting weight into it and then shifting the weight – essentially testing out the placement before committing. With repeated training the idea of stepping empty becomes habitual and in fact, it can feel surprising when one finds oneself falling into a step. This is particularly important for those who believe that the act of walking is basically falling forward with each step.

The training of learning to step empty before committing is also important in everyday life. Let’s take the example of a meeting that you are running and it isn’t going well. Our brains may react in a fight or flight pattern:

  • With the amygdalae instantly recalling previous situations and interpreting the current situation as a threat
  • This activates the hypothalamus, which sends coordinated response signals to both the nervous system and the pituitary gland.
  • These signals tell your body that you have a real threat and can quickly launch you into feeling angry, frustrated, fearful, sad or even hopeless.

And yet we tend to stay in the meeting, trying to convince ourselves that we can handle what is happening. Yet, in this state of raging hormones we are likely to either remain frozen like a deer in the headlight or, end up releasing the pressure by saying or doing something that is not to our advantage.

In both tai chi and life, learning some basic principles – and actively practicing them – will dramatically help to reduce the subconscious habitual pattern. Here are 3 steps to practice:

  1. RECOGNIZE: If you feel your body tensing up, your breath becoming shallower, your hands grasping, then it is time to immediately recognize and reset. The more you practice being aware in every moment, the more likely you will be to break old habits.
  2. RESET: To help reset and take conscious control you will first need to calm your body and mind down. The easiest, and most often suggested method is to take slow deep breaths and consciously be aware of the breathe coming in and out.

Once you are aware of your breathing (so putting consciousness into an autonomic action) then become aware of your whole body and see what tension you can let go of – if you are grasping something, set it down, if you are staring into a screen, look away.

The meeting can still go on, and you can still be listening while resetting, coming back into balance so that your next step is empty and appropriate (rather than falling into a place driven by your hormones).

  1. REFRAME: The next step of learning and practicing taking empty steps is to consider Reframing. This concept starts once you are feeling more in balance and able to take a conscious step.

Start to retrain your interpretation of the threat. For instance, think about your reaction to a roller coaster ride. The same hormones that make one person feel it is thrilling are interpreted by other person as extreme anxiety or even as a fear of falling or death. The idea for the reframe is to find a way to make the situation more playful or like a game rather than perceiving it as a hard and fast, unchangeable situation.

So, taking the meeting example, there are infinite possibilities to reframing your reactions to a negative situation and making it work to your advantage. Perhaps set up meetings differently where there is likely to be tension (for instance, make sure you have an advocate in meetings where you are likely to feel emotionally attacked).

We’d love to hear example of what happens when you try this method!

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3 Steps to Summarizing Qual Research in a Single Page

Ah, the one-page summary! It’s tougher to do than finding an obscure location in a foreign country. More and more clients are requesting this – and in a hurry – even if one has over 35 hours of interviews, 6 targets and several main objectives! Yes, it is challenging to write, even more so when it is expected in a day or two once the fieldwork is complete. As Wikiquote paraphrases Blaise Pascal, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

First, recognize that a good balance between text and graphics will convey information most concisely and then keep the following in mind:

1. State the primary objective in the title box – keep it short and to the point in 30pt font or greater

2. Center Visual and Theme
• Now skim your notes and transcript looking for the key answer to the primary objective. Consider this your theme and build off of it.
• Then, find a visual that highlights the key answer; this can be from the research, or search online for a (legally usable) photo or use your own photo and place it prominently on the page.
• The text box for this visual will need to contain no more characters than a tweet – so think, how would you tweet a rich answer to the primary objective?

3. Sum up Supporting Points
• Now, consider all the areas that have been reviewed during the research. Hopefully, before you started the project, you were able to hone in on no more than 4 or 5 specific areas that needed to be explored.
• Place the answers to key questions in independent text boxes in order of importance to the client. Again, make sure that none of the summary points use more characters than a tweet.
• Consider where a few more pictures would help bring to life these supporting points. Great content and visuals should stir emotions while answering questions.
• Arrange everything on the page in a way that aids comprehension (and looks good).

Last week I was challenged to summarize what makes me stand out from other consultants. I used my 3 steps as you can see from the visual below:
– The primary objective in the title text box
– A key visual and answer to the main objective in the center and
– Supporting points around this with a few more visuals

I recommend you try this exercise of taking your years of experience and putting them into one-page summary! It’s good practice and who knows when it will come in handy.

Patrice Wooldridge Hightlights

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Top 3 Axioms of 2016

or What I learned in 2016

Sunrise in Chicago

Sunrise in Chicago

As we come to the close of 2016, it occurred to me that there have been quite a few slogans which have approached meme status during the year. While many didn’t stick, I’ve found three to have been particularly helpful in keeping positive. These included (in descending order):

  1. The answer will always be ‘no’ if you don’t ask.” Thanks to Jim Bryson who just recently shared this with me. I was explaining that with all the changes in qualitative (and marketing research in general), I’ve been considering new ways to solve business questions. And, as with any time one is exploring a range of new ideas, there needs to be an understanding that “no” will almost certainly be the answer at least part of the time. It was great to be reminded how important it is to take the risk of asking – even if there is a fear that the answer will be no. (When Patrick heard this, he reminded me that this axiom is excellent with regard to sales and marketing, but when dealing with bureaucracies, the corollary is, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission.”)


  1. Network as if you are the host of the gathering.” It may seem strange that someone like me who loves to interview people and engage in every manner of qual research might say that they have a hard time with business networking. In fact, I’m GREAT when I know the objective of the conversation and have thought out a variety of ways to probe and explore to gain rich answers. But I don’t think many people like the feeling of their main objective being “sales” – certainly I don’t. (You really don’t want to get me started on the number of vendors who would like me to “partner” with them by me buying their system/product or otherwise giving them business.)

When I heard this slogan, it made a lot of sense as it is easy to see that I’m not the only one in the crowd who struggles with interactions – particularly if we don’t know anyone. The idea of working the room as if I was the host helped to reframe my discomfort of walking up to complete strangers. Reminding myself of this slogan as I approach others, considering what the person might enjoy or like to know (i.e., to find out when sessions will start, the Wi-Fi password, where the food/drinks/bathrooms are, etc.) has helped me to interact with genuine interest and to provide useful information.

  1. And the most important this year: “Your net worth is your network.”How very true this has been! It’s been a tough year for many of us, but knowing that we have connections and colleagues who think positively of us is worth more than anything. When I’m emailing to share a news story or to say hi, calling because it’s been it’s been a while since we talked – it always makes me feel good to receive a friendly note or hear a friendly voice.


I hope that all of you have learned or recalled a few slogans this year that were uplifting and helped you to stay positive. Happy New Year!  May 2017 bring happiness and inspiration to all.

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3 Key Take-Aways from the Nonconscious Consumer Forum

Last week (on November 14 and 15) I attended 2 days of excellent presentations about the “Nonconscious” consumer. If you are at all like me, your first thought might be, “What are they talking about, sleeping consumers?” Of course my next thought was to recognize that this forum could be a place to better understand how to research the subconscious decisions that influence and sometimes drive consumer behavior. Here are my top 3 Key Take-Aways:

1. Question the 95/5 rule. I have been hearing (from several leaders in the field, and previous to this conference) that the widely cited “statistic” that “95% of a consumer’s decisions are nonconscious” is misleading. First off, a good half of the brain’s functions are serving the autonomic nervous system and I would guess we are all happy that those functions are nonconscious – who would want to need to constantly make decisions regarding one’s heartbeat and breathing?

OK, so that leaves only 50%, and (yes, I’m simplifying here) while it has been shown that a good percentage of our everyday decisions are made before being conscious of them, it depends on what is being decided. If one is, for instance, thinking of a major purchase or a new category, typically many factors go into this decision and there is at least an element of conscious decision-making (e.g., what color, price, style, etc.). If, on the other hand, one is clicking around on the internet, then very likely the quick decision to click or not to click is 95% subconscious.

I’ll reflect more on this point in a future blog but for right now, let’s just agree that continuing to reinforce the narrative of “the 95/5 rule” in many ways undermines our believability and over-simplifies when it comes to the field of understanding decision-making. Several of the presenters strongly called on us to consider mixed methodologies in order to more fully accomplish our research objectives.

2. IAT (Implicit Association Testing) is rich and fascinating! My previous work with IAT primarily revolved around using pictures, personifications, collages, etc. as analogies of brands or products. Now Meta4 Insight has taken that technique and amped it up with a validated library of over 600 images that give, as they say, “qualitative richness backed by quantitative rigor”.

Then there was another supplier – Sentient Decision Science – who allowed us to personally experience their IAT method. At the forum they had a demo where one first sorted words into sets associated with the qualities of either honest/trustworthy or dishonest/untrustworthy – with truthful words being swiped down on the screen and dishonest words up. After getting used to sorting words, I was then told a brand image will appear before the words and I should try to ignore it.

The task was the same: to sort the words just as I had the first time. The brands were all financial and I watched myself have a momentary disconnect when I saw the brand name “Wells Fargo” and then the word truthful. As I noticed that I was having a hard time swiping the word truthful downward, it became clear that my implicit, unconscious associations were raising cognitive dissonance between the words “truthful” and “Wells Fargo”. I’m so happy to have been able to observe in myself what is being measured!

3. There is now a way to get biometrics in a natural setting! Anyone who has used facial coding and eye-tracking knows that it is tricky – while you can ask participants do this via a web browser in their home, you’ll typically lose half the measurements because people don’t sit still in front of their computers. It was great to hear that the MediaScience folks can capture a variety of biometric information (skin conductivity, heart rate, facial coding, response latency testing and eye tracking) in a fairly unobtrusive way in their MediaScience labs.

After the forum I visited their brand new Chicago facility and saw first hand how participants come in, sit in a very comfortable chair (which helps keep their gaze stable so that it is more likely their eye tracking and facial coding data will be readable) and then they might watch a 30-minute sitcom which has advertising inserted into the program. One can even allow the respondent to interact with their smartphone (which can be set up to also be measured) so that it is clear when and where they go on their phones while the program/ad is being shown.

In this way, the measurements are taken in a fairly real-world situation. AND, since 6 people can go through this testing at the same time (each in their own personal viewing room), when the client wants to discuss other ideas or probe more deeply with these consumers, one can easily run a focus group immediately after respondents have completed biometric testing.

#IIeX #NewMR, #mrx, #imd16, #qrca @HarpethMktg

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Are “Free” QR Methods Worth the Cost?

Patrick and Patrice Wooldridge are looking forward to presenting a look at free (and virtually free) QR methods at the 2014 QRCA National Convention in New Orleans on October 16, 2014.

We will cover the pros and cons of several free methods of conducting QR to assess what make sense – or doesn’t – to include in one’s bag of tool when we need less expensive options. Topics will include:
1. Overview of platforms like Google Hangouts and SKYPE which allow one to conduct video interviews as well as “free trials” such as GoToMeeting and WebEx
2. Ways to modify these platforms to suit our needs (e.g., how to let clients view real-time or after the fact).
3. Free methods to include homework, journaling/diaries, etc. and even real time feedback from smartphones
4. Security Issues, watch-outs, and how to handle this
5. DIY Short-cuts for editing and inserting pictures, audio and video

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The NGMR Top-5-Hot vs. Top-3-Not – From a Qualitative Perspective


1. Involving the client more directly into the research – Recently I’ve convinced more and more of my clients to open an IM chat box with me so that I can get their thoughts while I’m moderating a live, in-person group on the other side of the mirror.

2. Combining different methodologies – Where we used to be innovative when we offered online bulletin boards for homework to be completed before in-person groups we now have a large variety of ways to interact with participants (from mobile platforms, webcams, Vlogs, Blogs, Social Media, etc.). These methods will be combined to ways that expand how we understand our consumers and the needs, wants, desires and benefits they expect.

3. Teams of Researchers – In the past if one decided to become a Qualitative Research Consultant (QRC) it typically meant working on one’s own. In the last few years I have had the opportunity to team up with other talented QRCers in order to accomplish more research in a shorter period of time. While timing was what drove the initial foray into this area, I found the creative jump of 2 or more QRCs working together provided far more than quicker turnaround.

4. Quali-Quant – While some of us have been offering this for 20 some years, there are now many more software platforms to make these projects turnaround faster and more cost effectively. The question will be whether the abbreviated qualitative information actually provides the depth to get below the surface.

5. Qualitative Social Media Research – Up until now, most social media research has been done with word and phrase counts. There are finally new methods that will help us dig deep into what is being said online without being swallowed whole.


1. Standard 2 hour focus groups – Yes, there is still a need to gather a specific group of consumers together and have them sit around a conference table to respondent to materials that have to be touched, smell, tasted, etc. Yet there are so many more ways in which to have this conversation, even if it is only changing the configuration of the room so that it is more “homey”.

2. Taking time to think about what was learned – At this point virtually all my clients are looking for a topline that includes specific recommendations, within 24 hours of finishing qualitative interviews. While we are still asked to put together a complete report on the findings – which then takes the time to analyze and think about what was said – few clients seem to read this. Are the topline and final report all that different – well first off, let’s say, gosh I hope not. But then let’s ponder whether one can’t help but look for what reinforces the decisions that were made in 24 hours or less rather than being open-minded while conducting the final analysis.

3. Small Business Consultants Most large companies that hire qualitative consultants are making it extremely difficult to stay in business. Payments, even for out-of-pocket costs, are now 45 – 60 days, consultants have to deal with SAP, and Ariba and various other elaborate accounting software that is of no use to a small business (and some require a company to pay to use them – which means we have to pay to get paid).

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