Peloton, Mental Programming, Pocket Biases, & Deep Niche
Welcome to Perspicacity, a weekly newsletter by Kurt Reckziegel about insights & how they're derived. If you haven’t subscribed, please do!
Perspicacity noun /pur-spi-kas-i-tee/
🔮 the quality of having a ready insight into things; shrewdness.
Every week, we toss a few questions over to someone in the insights community to get their perspective on the world of research.
This week we welcome Lillian Smith who leads Global Consumer Strategy & Insights for Peloton. Read on as Lillian talks about serendipity bringing her to Peloton, reminisces on her time in the Blue Apron Test Kitchen, and touches on how brands change over time.
In today’s issue, you’ll also read about:
🧠 Mental Programming
🧰 Pocket Biases
💥 Deep Niche Expertise
💡 Inside Insights
Perspicacity: Who are you, what do you do, and how did you get there?
Lillian Smith: I’m Lillian; I’m a career researcher and I run Global Consumer Strategy & Insights at Peloton. I am an anthropologist by training, and started my career in women’s health research and non-profits, before moving into research on the agency side. I ended up going in-house with Blue Apron, where I ran consumer insights and user research, and then joined Peloton in 2019. I came into this role somewhat serendipitously - I missed out on a role at a company I really wanted to work for in 2016, and then years later the hiring manager recommended me for this role at Peloton. You just never know how things will work out!
Perspicacity: How is the research & insights function structured at Peloton?
Lillian Smith: My department sits within Marketing and services the entire org — media and brand measurement, brand strategy, product marketing, comms, creative, all of it. Our team is set up so that everyone is responsible for managing their key stakeholder relationships and respective roadmap, and in the aggregate, we are set up to ensure that the work we do ladders up to the biggest priority areas for the business.
We’re somewhat unusual in that unlike other research teams, our projects are not commissioned - we work very closely with leaders across the company, working collaboratively on how best to support them in meeting their objectives through research.
Perspicacity: What is a topic you’d love to find an excuse to research? Why?
Lillian Smith: This is a throwback to my time at Blue Apron but, food! A lot of my focus there was on trying to understand how Americans prepare and enjoy meals and in turn, how our chefs and product team should design the user experience. It was fascinating work, with the added bonus that I got to cook and eat a ton. It was a lot of fun to combine my job and my hobby in that role, I still miss my Test Kitchen Tuesdays where I would go and work with the chefs to plan the menus; it was a blast.
Perspicacity: Is there a key tool or resource you couldn’t live without?
Lillian Smith: People resources yes, tools less so - you can do anything with the right team in place. There are a lot of tools out there, but they’re only as good as the people wielding them. There’s no substitute for smart, strategic, and thoughtful researchers! Without a great team you can’t do much of anything, so that’s always #1 for me.
Perspicacity: When have you been undoubtedly wrong? How did you react?
Lillian Smith: Remembering to always challenge your own bias and assumptions is a must. Whenever I find myself making too many assumptions, I always remind myself of this one time where I was CERTAIN a concept for a TV ad was going to flop in research. I was waiting to see how much consumers hated the idea and I just knew I would be vindicated for all the concerns I had raised with the internal team. In the end the results came back glowing, which was humbling to say the least. It also helped me see that the brand had changed - what might have worked well three years ago won’t necessarily work well today. You need to grow and change with your audience, and they’ll remind you of that - if you listen.
Perspicacity: Anything else I should be asking you?
Lillian Smith: Firstly, I love that you’re closing with my favorite final question in discussion guides, well done!
I guess I’m always curious to learn how people came to research, so maybe some other people out there are too. It’s an area where it can feel like there are many meandering paths, but the big revelation to me was that scientific research approaches could be applied to creative and lower-stakes topics like design and brand strategy. That’s ultimately what made me comfortable with the decision to leave public health and policy research to join Interbrand, and I’ve never looked back.
Perspicacity: Thanks Lillian!
🧠 Thought Patterns
The “layers of mental programming” from Geert Hofstede’s book ‘Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind’, originally published in 1991.
The landmark study of cultural differences across 70 nations, Cultures and Organizations helps readers look at how they think—and how they fail to think—as members of groups.
Symbols: jargon, clothing or hairstyle, brands
Symbols are words, gestures, pictures or objects which carry a particular meaning, only recognized as such by those who share the culture[...]
Heroes: community leaders, sports stars, company founders
Heroes are persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture, and thus serve as models for behavior [...]
Rituals: greetings, religious ceremonies, celebrations
Rituals are collective activities, technically superfluous to reach desired ends, but within a culture considered socially essential: they are therefore carried out for their own sake [...]
Values: defining what is evil vs good, abnormal vs normal, dangerous vs safe
Values are among the first things children learn—not consciously, but implicitly. Because they were acquired so early in our lives, many values remain unconscious to those who hold them. Therefore they can only rarely be discussed, or directly observed by outsiders. They can only be inferred from the way people act under various circumstances [...]
I don’t remember where I found this 2x2 (it’s not mine), but it takes look at those cultural elements on scales of visibility and centrality. Mapping them onto these quadrants demonstrates which elements are easy or difficult to change, and of course, that change could come from outside the group, but it could also come from within as an evolutionary change.
🧰 The Toolkit
Pocket Biases is a useful little tool for having “every cognitive bias in your pocket.”
⚡ As always, you can find my full toolkit here
💥 Observations & Provocations
I’m noticing this shift in expertise towards niche depth. Broader and more generalist expertise from polymaths like Dan Frommer (The New Consumer) or Web Smith (2PM Inc) is still fantastic, but there’s an obvious new crop with focused expertise.
Anyone else on your radar with deep niche expertise?
If you have a friend or colleague who would find this interesting, please be a pal and share.