How Researchers are like Pearl Divers

“Sometimes, unexpected things can happen.” - Alex Flinn, Beastly

With the advent of technology, many software solutions claim to replace the need for human analysis with algorithms and word charts. While these tools can certainly aid in the analysis process, I have yet to see one that actually produces relevant, actionable insights.

In my opinion and experience, getting those insights takes a real human with skill and, more importantly, the chutzpah necessary to dive deep into the data and discover and bring pearls of insight to the surface.

This process really is very analogous to pearl diving. It would appear from the outset that pearl diving would be a difficult, yet very rewarding line of work. Kind of like research analysis, right?

So we took to the web to check out what we could learn about pearl divers. One bit of trivia that was interesting was that the inhabitants of what is now the United Arab Emirates at one time were primarily fishermen and from time to time they would find a pearl in an oyster and use those to barter with others. (Otherwise they subsisted off their fishing as the land was soulless desert that offered no reward for farming or any other endeavor.) Over time, as people actually settled in the UAE, pearling became an occupation that was fully integrated into society with some very strict rules around the practice--set by royalty and absolutely forbidding any use of technology to aid in the diving for pearls. In my opinion, that is a foreshadowing that we could learn from well in our industry.

For me personally, though, pearl diving evokes images of Japan. I have always associated the two very closely. From the web, I learned about a fascinating aspect of Japanese pearl diving history. The Ama pearl divers (海女 in Japanese) are often known as the Pearl Diving Mermaids. (Ama translates literally as “woman of the sea”.) The first references to these divers is in 750 AD.

The Ama would, and from what I can tell, still do, dive as deep as 30 feet in the freezing ocean waters, going under for as long as two minutes at a time. They would work up to four hours a day doing this. All this wearing nothing more than a loincloth. In my mind, that’s akin to hunting bear in an Alaskan winter in nothing more than a loincloth. Either extremely hardy, or extremely foolish. For the Ama, I go with hardy.

For more, including some historic photography, go here:

Analysis and diving for those pearls of insights is something I believe market researchers do not get much credit for. It’s a tough job to dive deep into the data and sort out the oysters to find those few pearls of great worth. It’s not something that can really be automated. Sure, organizing, sorting and slicing and dicing the data can be and ought to be automated, but there is a part of this that is truly a human endeavor relying on experience, a thorough understanding of objectives and a keen mind for connecting the dots among data. I have found that every analyst has their way of analyzing the data and that no specific way is wrong. Personally, I think of analysis as analogous to a game of pick-up sticks. I like to “dump” the data on my desk and then start to tease one stick after another out of the pile until I begin to see a narrative that makes sense. And from that narrative will emerge those pearls that become so valuable.