A Worm in Horseradish

Research Questions

“To a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish”

–Isaac Bashevis Singer


The horseradish phrase was shared by Malcolm Gladwell when talking about Howard Moskowitz, a market researcher, who really got into his research on horizontal segmentation of spaghetti sauce.  (For a really entertaining TED talk, click here).   For my part, I’ve been thinking a lot about segmentation analysis for the past several weeks.  Segmentation is a process of grouping things or people together who have similar attributes, while things or people in different groups are maximally dissimilar.   For example, auto insurance purchasers my fall into several segments: cost conscious, brand loyalists, and internet buyers.  In each of these groups the members are very similar (e.g., the cost conscious purchasers may tend to be young, have ample time to shop, and may be high risk drivers; brand loyalists may be older, have been with their agent for years, and appreciate the relationship they have with their agent, etc).  Now, everywhere I go, I cannot help but think about how and why things are grouped together.  Not only do I see the groupings, I see the messages that advertisers are using to speak to that group—a world of horseradish.

I don’t think I’m alone here.  Most people have had the experience when purchasing a car, you somehow become aware of your exact car and color all around you.  Of course, there are not more of “your” cars out there on the road, but our awareness has changed.  But how did we miss that information before?  And what are we currently missing out on or filtering out?

This kind of tunnel awareness can happen in this final stage of any research.  While working on a dissertation or thesis, the whole world can feel like only a dissertation or thesis project.  Our awareness is primed, our attention set.  So I’m here to share with you that you may be in that horseradish, it likely not your first, and its likely not your last.  So, take a deep breath and look around—there are many more horseradish plants to sample after the dissertation or thesis is finished!

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