In the mid-19th Century tea was involved in one of the greatest speed events of the era. Each year sailing ships competed to bring the new crop of tea from China to London, and the ships they developed became the tea clippers, three masted, narrowed hulled sailing vessels that were the fastest commercial sailing ships the world has ever known. Each year more technology, effort and inspiration was devoted to creating faster boats, with the spoils going to those who could optimise the best technology of the day. This focus on making the process faster culminated in the Great Tea Race of 1866 - the high water mark of the race to bring tea thousands of miles through some of the deadliest stretches of water in the world, including rounding the cape of good hope at the Southern end of Africa.
But three years later the Suez Canal was opened, opening a much shorter route and making it viable for steamships to carry tea (steamships were too expensive, in terms of coal, for the longer route). This shifted the focus from speed to capacity and reliability. You can read more about the tea clippers and race here.
The lesson for market research?
The lesson for market research is to know when to improve a process and when to replace it. In market research's history there was a time when improving face-to-face interviewing was the right option, and then there was a time to move to telephone interviewing. There was a time when improving telephone was the right call, and there was a time with moving to online data collection was the right option.
Market research is in time off flux at the moment. The world, technology, and markets are all changing and market research needs to change with them. The nature of speed is changing which is a topic I cover in my post "Built for Speed."
The Quick and the Dead
At Vision Critical we have collected our thoughts together on the 'Need for Speed' and we have published them in a short eBook: The Quick and the Dead, a Manifesto for Change in Consumer Insight, you can download a copy from the Vision Critical website, we'd love to hear your thoughts.