What is research

Research tends to have a mysterious aura, and it is many times believed to be a mystical process of discovering new fantastic things that revolutionize the world. Research is hardly that. Research is less about discovering the fantastic, as it is about revealing the obvious. The obvious is always there. It needs no discovery. It only needs us to take a look from a different perspective to see it.

It’s not what you do not know that kills you, it’s what you know that isn’t so, says Tom deMarco. Apples have always fallen in the same way from trees, and objects have always floated in the same way when placed in water. And they did it in plain sight. Yet, it took a Newton and an Archimedes to understand their falling and floating. Afterwards, everyone that learns about their work, gets to see the reality in a different light and gets to understand the motivation behind the surface.

Yet, not every new point of view counts as innovation. If a child, not knowing about Newton, would point to an apple and discover gravity could count as innovation in his context, but for the rest of us that do know about Newton it would be old news. That is because valid research is about revealing what no one has revealed before. Or, to be more precise, research is about revealing what no one is known to have revealed before.

To be even more precise, research is about revealing what no one is known to have revealed before, including you. You probably also went by your object of study and all you saw was what everyone else saw, failing to recognize what was there all along.

The most formidable enemies of research are our own assumptions. They are formidable adversaries because they represent the unseen facts that we got accustomed with and that we came to not question. As Verbal from The Usual Suspects put it:

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
Roger ’Verbal’ Kint - The Usual Suspects

If we succeed to expose our assumptions, we have a chance of fighting them fair and square, and research becomes a manageable process. If we do not, research remains a mystical battle that only titans can win.

Posted by Tudor Girba at 8 March 2009, 3:29 am with tags research link