Friday, November 11, 2005

'sample noise' - taking the piss

Of the hundred’s of meetings I’ve sat through since opting to prostitute my soul in exchange for relatively easy-money, I can count on one hand how many meetings were of a productive nature. Given this low-strike rate, in preparing for a meeting I tend not to expect any significant ground will be made, but rather much old ground will be covered with no clear outcomes from which another futile meeting will be scheduled. That’s not to say I don’t approach meetings with a clear objective in mind. Experience has simply lowered my expectation of a result.

Consequently, when I'm not required to present, I find myself nodding my head at regular intervals to hide my inattentiveness (sometimes my absolute disinterest) during the long-winded, jargon-rich discussions I’m so often subjected to – generally by a consultant (or team thereof) that shares my client.

This week (as I nodded in all the appropriate places and thought of the nearing parma and two pints) I was rudely snapped-back into a discussion upon hearing ‘sample noise’ sprout from the mouth of a very senior researcher in response to a particularly challenging question.

“What’s this?” I thought, sounds like suspect jargon for ‘a poor-result we can’t explain’.

Sure enough, the term was picked-up and repeated a few minutes later when a junior researcher had his moment in the spotlight to read aloud some figures (which we all had on a hand-out in front of us) and offer us some primal interpretations. Yet again, ‘sample noise’ was used to dismiss an unexpected research result that couldn’t easily be explained. It was used in an outrageous context that suggested the negative result should be ignored, and we should assume for arguments sake that the result was positive.

Fuck me. Nothing like adding credibility to your profession. I’ll just bet our advertising budget on your findings then shall I?

What’s even scarier is the term’s contagious, so watch out – not long had it been introduced into the discourse before both the client Marketing Director and my Agency Head were freely tossing the term around almost as liberally as they were ‘consumer insight’.

After not much thought, it struck me that ‘sample noise’ is simply researcher-speak for “I’m too lazy to dig deeper into the data to find a logical answer", or it could be “I’m too stupid to do anything beyond data entry and collation”. Whatever the definition, the joke’s on the client, and the research company’s walked away with a bag full of cash.

If my definition doesn't make sense, just accept that it does – it’s just a bit of sample noise you shouldn't worry about.

Oh, and guess what? We're meeting again next week to go back over the research results.

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