Owner and Researcher
What prompted you to start Craggy Peak Research?
I love doing research, but I also want that research to matter - make a difference in someone’s life. When I was working full time in academia, I would do research and it would get presented at conferences or published in journals, but it didn’t seem to have any impact outside my little research community. I started off doing little side projects for non-profits, and after a few years of that, when it wasn’t fully scratching the itch, I decided to make it into a business.
What do you enjoy most about working at Craggy Peak Research?
I love figuring stuff out and learning new things. I get to do both of those all the time in my work. I’m pretty familiar with the research literature on expertise and creativity, and there’s good evidence that experts can become rigid and inflexible over time, committed to one way of doing things. But it doesn’t have to be that way - an 85 year old can be just as innovative and creative as a 25 year old. The key is to not forget what it feels like to be a novice. That’s never a problem for me, because I have to learn new things for just about every project.
What skills are most critical to your work?
At its core, research is about figuring out what questions to ask, and how to get answers to those questions. You have to be deeply curious, the kind of person who starts with one question, and in the process of trying to answer it comes up with three more. You also have to be okay with constantly challenging your assumptions, even when it makes you deeply uncomfortable. Often the biggest things in the way of answering a question is our fear of what the answer might be.
Why is the work Craggy Peak does important?
Because what we do can change the world. Seriously. Do you know how much waste is involved with trying to sell people products they don’t really need? How much damage is done by using psychological tricks and manipulation to get people to hand over their hard-earned cash? It doesn’t have to be that way. I know it sounds cliche, but you can do good and do well at the same time. If we can be even a small part of making that happen, I’ll consider it a roaring success.
Is there a common misconception that a lot of people in your line of work have?
Researchers with backgrounds in academia (like myself) often assume that if you collect good data, people will spontaneously recognize its value, and rely on it when making decisions. They then get frustrated when business and public policy decisions don’t reflect the data. The thing is, for most people data is like an obscure foreign language - something like ancient Sumerian. Would you really go to people with a document in ancient Sumerian and say, “Use this, it will help you make better decisions?” If you want your data to be used, you have to translate it into a language people are comfortable with. A lot of researchers are either unwilling to do that, or don’t know how.
What are some of the biggest challenges you encounter in your work here?
If you read academic research articles in psychology, you’ll usually see a lot of hedges and caveats in their conclusions - a bunch of “suggests” and “could indicate” and “important to keep in mind the limitations of this study.” That’s not useful to a business. They want a clear answer - should we do A or B? If you just give them a bunch of “probably” and “maybe,” what are they paying you for? The most stressful part of what I do is offering concrete advice even when you’re working from probabilities rather than certainties. But it’s also the most rewarding part, because it’s where I can really add value for a client.
What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned since starting at Craggy Peak Research?
How about, how much of a pain in the butt it is to run a business? Seriously, though, I think a lot of small business owners have that experience. You want to spend your time on the things you’re passionate about - practicing your craft. But you have to keep the books, keep your employees busy, make sure you pay the right taxes to the right people, maintain your connections in the local business community, and so forth. That frustrated me at first, but now I’ve come to see it as a challenge and an area I can grow in.
What are some of your favorite hobbies?
My favorite hobby is hiking in the local mountains. I’d go on multi-day backpacking trips all summer if my schedule allowed. I spend so much time on a computer for work, it’s great to have a chance to really unplug for a few days. For more of a quick fix, I’m a big fan of jigsaw puzzles. Another way to take a break from the screens.