Navigating beyond the Evaluative Loop: The power of generative research

Brandon Di Bartolo
February 29, 2024

In the fast-paced world of product development, it's easy to get caught in a cycle that feels productive but actually stifles innovation and growth. We refer to this cycle as "The Evaluative Loop," and it can become a comfort zone for many of us in teams. It's where ideas are constantly tested against predetermined ideas, leading to a false sense of progress as teams validate their solutions without truly understanding or solving the deeper user needs. However, there's a more effective path to creating products that resonate deeply with users and drive impactful outcomes: generative research.

Generative research - the compass for innovation

Generative research, or what some might call foundational, exploratory, or discovery research, is about uncovering new opportunities and ideas. It's about venturing into the unknown with an open mind, asking probing questions, and immersing ourselves in the user's environment to understand their world from the inside out. This approach is less about validating what we think we know and more about discovering what we don't.

Imagine diving into user interviews and contextual enquiries not just to tick a box but to truly listen and understand. These methods offer a depth of insight that's hard to achieve through evaluative research alone. They allow us to see beyond the surface, identifying the real problems that need solving and the opportunities that lie just out of view.

The trap of the Evaluative Loop

The Evaluative Loop is deceptively comfortable. It's where we test and refine existing solutions, relying on methods like usability testing, surveys, and A/B testing. While these are valuable tools, over-reliance on them can lead us to iterate on the same ideas without ever questioning whether we're addressing the most important needs or challenges.

The consequence? We end up creating products that might meet some user expectations but fail to capitalise on opportunities that significantly drive business outcomes. We miss out on the chance to innovate genuinely because we're too busy confirming the validity of our existing ideas.

Embracing generative research

To escape the Evaluative Loop, we need to embrace generative research with open arms. It's about shifting our focus from confirming to discovering, from validating to understanding. This doesn't mean abandoning evaluative research but rather complementing it with a strong foundation of generative insights.

It's about shifting our focus from confirming to discovering, from validating to understanding.

By prioritising understanding our users' behaviours, needs, and motivations, we can identify real opportunities that lead to impactful solutions. This approach not only fuels innovation but also ensures that our efforts are aligned with what users truly need.

Making the shift: strategies for a generative approach

Adopting a generative approach is more than a methodological shift—it's a cultural one. It requires us to be curious, open-minded, and willing to question our assumptions. Here are some strategies to help make this shift:

  • Engage in continuous interviewing and contextual enquiries, not as a formality but as a genuine effort to understand your users' world.
  • Expand the scope of your research to explore beyond the boundaries of your current solutions or products.
  • Encourage cross-functional involvement in generative research to foster a culture of empathy and user-centric thinking throughout your organisation.
  • Integrate generative insights into every stage of product development, ensuring decisions are informed by a deep understanding of user needs and opportunities.

By embracing these strategies, we can navigate beyond the Evaluative Loop and toward a future where our products not only meet user needs but also anticipate and shape them. It's a journey of continuous discovery, where our humility and willingness to learn from our users guide us to create truly impactful products.

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Brandon Di Bartolo

Head of Product @ Askable

With over 9 years of experience in design, UX, and product strategy, Brandon excels in turning insights into exceptional user experiences for both startups and ASX-listed companies. His approach is rooted in a deep understanding of users, identifying opportunities that bolster business outcomes. Dedicated to refining and innovating, Brandon is committed to crafting products that not only meet user needs but also anticipate and shape them.

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