James apologized for taking the air out of the room, but said that the pace and scale of disruption were changing consumer industries so rapidly that businesses were rushing to keep up, and as a result would change consumer insight as well.

The old objections to disruption no longer hold. For instance, “a disruption long in the making” has been coming for the branch banking experience, which was first replaced with “a robot, a machine, the ATM”. In 1977 one of those machines cost $100K in todays’ dollars, cheaper than a branch but still expensive. It did disrupt banking in a certain way, but it was expensive and not everyone would use it or they wouldn’t use it for certain transactions (such as deposits). Today, of course, people can make a deposit from their smart phone, as James did over the weekend. “I got my camera out, took a picture of the check, tore up the check, and the money is mine. The bank didn’t have to spend a dime on the device and on a per person basis they are spending pennies per consumer to develop this application. They didn’t have to teach me anything or show me how to use their app.”

Mobile banking is an example of digital disruption, which overturns the 2 traditional objections to “old” disruption.
  • People will never do that. — “Everywhere I look, that is being turned upside down. Look at Piinterest reaching 50 million users in less than a year.”
  • It will cost too much to do. — “It costs much less on a per person basis to innovate.”


As James said, “The objections to disruption are evaporating. The demand side and supply side are meeting on this high end.”

As consumers rapidly expand their digital behaviors, there are 2 things research has to find out:
  • What do they really want? Really want? – In the past, researchers really asked, “Given the constraints of our industry, given the problems making changes, what is the minimum amount that we have to to make to keep consumers with us or to make them satisfied enough to switch to us?” Now researchers have to ask the more fundamental question, “Deep down, what do consumers really want?” This is liberating “and terrifying.”
  • How quickly (cheaply) can we give it to them? – And digital technologies mean firms can do it cheaply.


James has a saying: “When companies adopt technology, they do old things in new ways. When companies internalize technology, they find disruptive new things to do.”

“Digital disruptors do it: better, stronger, faster. No, that is not a Kanye West song. I’m referring to the 6 Million Dollar Man — I had the action figure as a kid, and you could look through his eye! Well, through technology we could make Steve Austin better, stronger, faster. But it doesn’t cost 6 million dollars to do anymore.” Here’s how digital disruptors accomplish this:
  • “They will build Better product experiences
  • “That create Stronger (digital) customer relationships
  • “Bringing it all to market Faster.”


Old disruption was uncommon, only very few people were able to invest a significant amount of money to bring ideas to life. With digital disruption, many more people can participate, operating at significantly lower cost per idea, bringing many many more ideas to life. Some of these ideas are “bitty teeny ideas” but some are “huge, bigger than whatever could happen before.” Imagine you have 10 times the number of innovators, innovating at 1/10th the cost — you have 100X the power with digital disruption: it is a force multiplier.

How can consumer insights help? How can it be a force for positive research disruption?

Identify and prioritize “the adjacent possible” (from Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson). What is outside the circle of our consumers’ experience, what is an adjacent possibility that our consumers are seeking and satisfying? “Don’t build the future; build the next thing people really need and let the future find you.”

Say to yourself, “My customer is here, but if they moved out of my circle, what do they want and how do I get there to give it to them? Do that, and then the next thing magically presents itself, leading to future steps.”

“Now whose job is it tell the management team what are all the things possible? Your job could and should be to tell the organization what consumers need.”

James concluded with, “This is the end of the research as we know it, but the beginning of something much cooler!”

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.