Objective Vs. Subjective
Haven’t done a vs. post in quite some time, so I figured we’re due for a new one. Lately, I have been pondering the value of objective vs. subjective as applied to various areas.
Objective vs. subjective in education
All of my academic career, I never took objective tests seriously. I recall at one point my peers were taking “prep courses” for the SATs and all I could do was think about how silly the idea of taking a course specifically to prepare for a single test was. This went counter to how I interpret the world, and my parents knew better than to put me in these types of programs – instead allowing me to choose my own path of personal growth. This was a smart move, and in the end I feel like I have a skill set far more valuable than those who are simply ace test takers.
Actually, it goes a step further than this, and I’ll share the truth with you since it doesn’t matter now: I never studied a day in my life externally of class for any objective testing in high school or at my university. With that said, I always managed to do quite well. That’s because I was engaged in lectures, freely discussed concepts with my professors, challenged the thinking of my peers and even textbooks, and was obsessed not with simply memorizing, but understanding concepts. I took things a step further by learning not just the how and why, but what the real world application was outside of academia. As a youth, I subjectively interpreted and applied all subjects and experiences to get the solutions I wanted from life. I still do this today.
Subjective tests on the other hand, I actually looked forward to. I would go into great detail, carefully organize my thoughts, and make multiple supporting arguments. Tests with open-ended questions allowed me to show my creativity and approach problems in a manner which fit with my personality.
The world is not A or B, true or false, yes or no, option 1 or 2. That’s 1-dimensional thinking and there’s no real value to being a sponge for data. In fact, our entire educational system needs to be revamped simply because so much of the process was designed for a previous era. Education should be designed to inspire a lifelong drive for learning and develop abilities to creatively approach problem solving, but unfortunately the current system seems to be geared towards turning people into living hard drives. And, there’s no value to simply possessing facts any longer – not when you can access Google in your pocket. Memorizing every detail beforehand is a waste of time, you can easily fill in the gaps as you go – and by doing it that way you actually learn the relevant ones.
Objective vs subjective in understanding your audience
If you have a blog, a business or brand and are seeking to gain a better understanding of your audience, the standard practice is to poll them objectively. Many bloggers do it, and it’s preached far and wide this is a good way to get audience data. I’ll agree here, certainly objective data is important for helping back up your business decisions and getting buy-in from key stakeholders.
Using objective data to please stakeholders or supporting your decisions aside, if you want to get to know your audience deeply and deliver what they really want, getting subjective data is perhaps even more important. Objective tests constrict thought by design, and if you have a large enough audience what inevitably happens is much of the results become normalized. That’s not to say you can’t get useful demographics data and pick out major trends, but without subjective answers you’re missing half of the picture.
Objective data points out larger patterns and problems you probably already knew existed. It’s sometimes surprising, but where you’ll really gain insight is by diving through the subjective data, especially if your audience is smart. Also, those who take the time to answer subjective questions are your true fans, and are the ones who deeply care where you go next. They’re the ones who are going to give you honest, open feedback and even tell you what you’re doing wrong.
When dealing with audiences at large-scale, objective data is valuable, however the more unique, interested and involved your audience becomes and the tighter connection you have with them, the more the subjective input matters.
Subjective data takes more time to go through, but spending the time to analyze it and interpret it is key to finding useful insights and those not-so-obvious or edgy ideas that really push your marketing to the next level. I asked my audience here to give their insights on Twitter in an open format instead of asking closed-ended questions because I knew the results would be more interesting. Open-ended questions are wonderful because of the inevitable creativity they inspire. You activate different areas of your brain to respond to subjective answers than objective, and emotion is mixed in with the logic. It is worth investing the effort to go through those responses even deeper than the objective data – they are what your audience really feels.
The web makes it easy, cheap and quick to get objective input and data. However, the subjective input is potentially even more valuable, especially in cases where you have built a tight-knit community. One final thought – when you are getting data from your audience – whether subjective or objective – you should consider sharing it with them as well. They’ll find it interesting, you might get some PR value out of it, and it also demonstrates an openness and transparency which people appreciate. It only helps generate more interest next time you decide to get data – whether objective or subjective – as your audience knows their input will be shared with the community and the world, not horded internally.