Monthly Archives: May 2015

What is a good strategy when researching a topic?

Research isn’t all that tough. But it is time consuming and the information deluge on the web doesn’t make it any easier.

I found this question on Quora: What is a good strategy when researching a topic? And thought it’s a nice segway into how to research.

What do you think?

Answer by Edwin Tam:

I find that there’s general and specific research.

In your case, you seem to be looking for specific information: e.g. did this invention exist? How do I know if my giga-watt-powered Oatmealy gadget can actually grind Oatmeal?

General Research

I usually do the following:

  1. Identify research dimensions: Environment, Competitors, Technology, Own
  2. Write a list of questions for each dimension
  3. Hit up the library/Google/Academic papers/forums to get answers quickly. This helps me winnow out unanswerable questions, specify questions, and develop other questions from the earlier list
  4. Repeat 3 until happy. But now, I look for stats, data, and if necessary, conduct some primary research (e.g. surveys etc).  I’d usually give myself 3 days to do the research. Otherwise, screensuck!
  5. Review info. Develop insights and answers to your (now modified) Questions List.

Quora Question: What is a good strategy when researching a topic?

Severe Optimism Kills

Not by paying the ultimate price (i.e. life) for marketing and business strategies. But by extending the project duration and raising the budget – simply by being optimistic about plans.


Optimism sucks.


Image from

Optimism causes us to do Bad Things Like

  1. We don’t look for base rates in similar situations
  2. We think our skills are up to the task
  3. We ignore luck, yet it is far more important than skill
  4. We neglect obstacles

all of that lead to a false sense of control.

It causes over-confidence in a flawed/incomplete plan. That we exaggerate our ability to deliver. That we give overly rosy presentations to prospects as we promise them the ends of the Earth and more.

We could tone down and admit that we don’t know. But in this need-answer-now/I-pay-you-for-answers day, it’s quite possible that admitting ignorance will equate to getting laughed out of the room.

Solution to Optimism: Pre-mortem Your Plan

It’s similar to the post-version. But in reverse:

Imagine the plan 1 year from now and failed miserably. What’s the history of its failure?

This helps to uncover obstacles, point out the elephant in the room, and minimise risk.

At least, as much as it humanly can.

Source: Engine of Capitalism, Chapter 24. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman Get it! It’s a great read!