Design Thinking and Montessori in Research


Design Thinking and Montessori in Research


Two weeks ago, I was honored to speak at the 2018 MSMR conference in Arlington.  

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized one of the best Master of Science in Marketing Research programs was here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at University of Texas at Arlington.  

I enjoy this conference, and the association.  In fact, of all the Marketing Research conferences I have attended in the last few years, this may be my favorite.  It’s probably because I appreciate the energy in the room.  The longer I live, the more I love being around college students.  Maybe I’m getting cynical and I just enjoy being around people who seem excited about life and are excited about this industry.  I am reminded of why I got into marketing research in the first place.

But I digress - I spoke about Design Thinking AND about a Montessori Mindset.  This is the second time I’ve spoken on this topic.  The first was at the QRCA conference last January.  This time I only had 30 minutes to pull together 2 very different frameworks and show how we used them in a research project…so I talked fast.  

You can see the presentation here.  And my original presentation here.  If you’re interested in the Design Thinking workbook we developed, you can text "Research" to 66866 and receive a PDF copy.  


Learnings from a Mommy Daughter Vacation to Mexico


Learnings from a Mommy Daughter Vacation to Mexico


I’m sure many might ask why I would chose to take a "girls trip" to Mexico with just me and my 7 year old daughter in the middle of spring. At least I asked myself that as the day of departure grew closer. When I first saw fares for $200 from Dallas to Cabo, I emailed my friend who lives there, and said "We’re coming!"  And I found a small window that could work, and bought the tickets!   But that was about 2 months ago…  As time grew closer, many fears started creeping in, wondering whether it was safe for us to go by ourselves, knowing that it would not be a typical "relaxing vacation" on the beach with just the 2 of us, as my primary concern would be her safety.  I also started stressing about taking the time off - we had just been on vacation for spring break and it felt a little indulgent to go again.  Plus, our lives are so freaking busy with work, school, activities, I mean it’s spring time, people.  "There’s soooo much to do!" I kept telling myself. It’s just not a good time.  I almost cancelled the trip.  




But at some point, a few days before we traveled, I made a choice.  I chose to make this the best mom and daughter trip we could possibly have together.  Tickets had already been purchased, and I became very cognizant of just how much of my life I spend "waiting for the perfect situation."  When she gets old enough, when we can all go as a family, when I am not so overwhelmed with work.  When, when, when.  When is now.  When is happening in front of me as I strive to perfect, perform and please.  I am so so grateful that I made the decision to go… Not only to go but to really BE with my daughter.  I learned so much about myself these past few days, and   about her. Here are a few...

  1. Walmart CAN be wonderful - I can’t believe I am saying this but when you’ve had a rough travel day and still need to get food, there’s nothing like having a Walmart in Mexico to stock up on breakfast items and snacks for your stay.
  2. There’s an "art" to planning- Figuring out the right level of planning for a vacation with a child is definitely an art form.  Sunset sailing?  Dinner at a Brazilian restaurant? Sounds wonderful, right?  I am so lucky to have friends in Cabo and when my friend planned a wonderful sunset cruise she invited us to, I was thrilled.  As time grew nearer and my daughter continued to enjoy herself in the pool, I knew that a sunset cruise for her wasn’t going to be joy-filled for anyone who showed up on that sailboat.  Here’s the thing, I get that kids need to learn to go along with plans and adapt to situations, and it can’t be all about them.  I also get that I can choose to stick to this belief doggedly or create a situation where (at least on vacation) we can adapt to how we’re feeling rather than sticking to a rigid plan. It’s an art, meaning there’s no perfect answer… and that’s ok.
  3. Being on the beach is great but being in the ocean is better - we were so blessed to go whale watching on the last day of the seasonand got to see a mother and child whale pair migrating together.  I mean, can you even believe that luck??? It was AMAZING! Seeing a “baby” 10-foot humpback whale breaching (playing) was stunning and glorious and reminded me that the connection of a mom and child is a universal gift.  My 7-year old may not understand what a miracle it was to witness this but then again, maybe she understands it even more than I do.  Regardless, I am so glad for the miracle anyway.  So, so grateful!!!!
  4. Limiting electronics is a rule for mommy, too - So we’re all concerned about the electronic addiction of kids, right? But I have to say that it’s funny how concerned I am about her electronic addiction and tend to ignore my own.  It’s hard to put down the phone, knowing that clients, employees and others all have questions or other needs that “require” my attention. Oh, and just one quick peek on Facebook while I’m on the phone. It requires SERIOUS intention to just be ok with not responding immediately to every email/request/need/question that others have of me, and instead, choose to put down my phone, and be with her in the moment. It was not lost on me that my own addiction is looming in the background of my electronics rules for her.  And breathing through that without all the guilt that goes with the realization helps me put down the phone more quickly.
  5. Boredom is beautiful - I learned that my child is evidently accustomed to an over-planned life, too, and that it’s ok for her to be "bored."  When my daughter’s bored, I recognized my first reaction is to help her find something to do - put an activity in front of her, give her some ideas for using her time. However, awareness of this is the first step, right?  And breathing through it is the 2nd. And then just being ok with her boredom, I realize that boredom has its beauty.  
  6. Mommy melts down sometimes, too -  My belief that I should be strong enough to weather even the biggest emotional storm of a child with total and complete calm is well, bullshit.  Yes, breathing is good.  Being with what is is even better - but sometimes, all of that just goes out the window and an emotional storm has to be met with an emotional storm.  That’s ok, we can pick up and try again.  And don’t blame me, dear, for the cuss word you just learned, I will certainly deny it and blame it on someone else who is unsuspecting!


Essential Oils for Everything


Essential Oils for Everything


I have become a little obsessed with essential oils starting a few years ago, increasingly so in the last few months.  I’ll be honest, the whole essential oil thing was all a little overwhelming and confusing at first.  Some oils could be used topically, some should be diffused, still others should be taken internally.  There were so many oils and so little time to understand what, when and how to use them.  Little by little, I have found some routines that have stuck and am now officially on the bandwagon.

Here are a few of my favorites and how I use them:  

  1. Serenity – my daughter uses this as a part of her nighttime ritual, rubbing it on her neck, chest and feet to help her relax (we put about 10 drops of it with fractionated coconut oil.  I also put ~5 drops directly into my bathwater along 4 cups of Epsom salt.
  2. Frankincense – People claim this to be “the king of oils” because of its long history of healing properties but it’s expensive so I typically use this more sparingly but often by mixing a few drops in both my face and body lotions.
  3. Past Tense – one of our team members, Shelley Miller, first introduced this to me a few years ago and I swear by it.  Rubbing this on the back of my neck can reduce tension and give a refreshed feeling for hours.  I love this!
  4. Lemon, Slim & Sassy and Peppermint blend – Recently, I got creative and decided to create a mix of the best tasting oils.  I used a partially empty bottle of Lemon and eye-balled it, putting equal parts of all 3 in the bottle. I use it daily, all day, dropping a few drops in every bottle of water.  It’s refreshing, helps me get my water intake daily, and I notice feeling better.  Tip: use a klean kanteen, swell or other bottle - not a plastic one.
  5. OnGuard Beadlets– we have made it through the flu season with only 2 days of a high temperature (crossing my fingers as I write) and I believe one of the reasons is because of our preventative daily dose of 5 beadlets.  It’s anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties are keeping our bodies from full on attack thus far.
  6. Emotional blends (Motivate, Peace, Cheer & Forgive) – these are a few of the ones I use.  I love having them with me so that when I’m going into a high-pressure meeting, all day research, or just need to get myself in gear to focus, I use these to trigger the mood I want to move me forward.  We love them so much, we gave these out as our Christmas gifts this year and they were a hit.  Here are the cards we made along with them!

Motivate is an encouraging blend with elements of peppermint, citrus, and spices which help with feeling confident and courageous. 

Peace is a reassuring blend, which uses floral and mint scents to help cultivate feelings of tranquility and comfort. 

Cheer is an uplifting blend with a bright, fresh aroma that lifts spirits and creates positivity. 

Forgive is a rejuvenating blend that brings about relief and patience. The woodsy scent sooths strained nerves, helping heal through contentment. 


How to Make this Valentine's Day One to Remember


How to Make this Valentine's Day One to Remember

April Bell Research Group

When we decided to write a blog for Valentine’s Day, my first thought was “how are we going to talk about love in a way that’s interesting, non-cliché and meaningful? 

April Bell Research Group

Then, I asked myself: “what would I want to read?”  I want to read bullet points, ideas that are easy to act on, or could bring about a shift in my thinking. On a day where there is so much expectation about love, I wanted to write something that could go beyond a “significant other”.

So, the more questions I asked, the more I realized this blog should really be about key questions to ask on Valentine’s Day.  And as a researcher, this just felt better anyway!  So, here goes my list of Valentine’s Day questions as food for thought – along with some resources that helped me answer my questions!!

  1. What would happen if I smiled at everyone I saw today?  
  2. How would I feel if I complimented someone I admire?  
  3. Why is there so much talk about “self-love” being a precursor to loving others? 
  4. What are the things that make my heart happy? 
  5. How can I be more kind to people who really irk me? 
  6. How can I find time in my crazy schedule to spend more time with people I love? 
  7. What can I do to love more and stress less? Thank you, my dear fellow Texan, Brene Brown, for your poignant quote, downloadable here. 
  8. What can help give me an immediate lift of joy?
April Bell Research Group


Road Stories on how Married Couples Stop Doing Business Together Lesson #4


Road Stories on how Married Couples Stop Doing Business Together Lesson #4

They say that you’ll never know until you try. This is a story of trying and failing, but then knowing, and ultimately, growing.

Last year, Lloyd and I decided we were going to start working together, under the same business. My business. We had some stories to tell about that along the way. January 1st, 2017 marked the date we decided to make this intentional shift. January 1st, 2018 was our first and only business anniversary, because we’ve decided to pull the plug on this married couple working together thing.

What we are beginning to get comfortable with is that while it felt like a failure at first, in away it can be seen as a success. We have learned new things about ourselves and each other by choosing to do this. And we may have always wondered "what if?", if we had been too fearful of the "heat".  Well, we took the heat, and it nearly cooked the marriage!

How did that happen? Let’s unpack that, and the lessons learned:

Lesson #1:  The Most Efficient Way to Learn is to “Fail”

I realized that I have been living my life for a long time in a tight box.  One that I had created and “felt safe” in.  I have been scared for so long to try something new, risky and “unknown.”  And trying to make a go of us working together was all of that. It certainly wasn’t comfortable the last year and yet, here we are a year later, with more clarity and passion for what we do want than we have been in 10 years of marriage!  So, if I think of this in terms of “efficiency”, we got more out of 1 year of failing than we had of 9 years of staying in status quo.  I loved Will Smith’s video about “failing forward” here:

Lesson #2: “Positioning” Matters when it comes to Job Titles

April Bell Research Group

When we started, we agreed that the “right role” for Lloyd was General Manager & Data Doctor, and our assumption going in is that his savant skills at creating business analytics solutions would easily translate into creating more quantitative Marketing Research projects for us.  And that until we got that business flowing in, Lloyd could run the business operations and manage staff.  What we discovered was this -  what I thought Lloyd’s job descriptions were, was apparently different than what Lloyd thought his job description included.  Interestingly enough, now that we’ve switched gears, and Lloyd is now a “consultant” for the business, I have received more of the work I wanted from him in 2 months than I did in the las 12!  So, I’ll stick with the “consultant” job title all day long – let’s keep that rolling, we have some catching up to do!

Lesson #3: Follow the money.

April Bell Research Group

Shortly after we made the change, Lloyd received some interesting work from a new client doing analytical work. For a while, he was able to do that and help with our business, too.  However, it soon became apparent that it was dividing his attention, and he was not able to fully give himself to our business operations and growth. Despite his client wanting to expand his project, we made the decision to decline the opportunity to give him a clear focus on helping manage, and bring in more research business. In hindsight, this decision didn’t result in new business, although the other path would have. In chasing a new business, we learned the hard way, it’s important to follow where customers are leading you.

Lesson #4: Hold on to what matters most.

It became apparent after awhile, probably after a series of “disagreements”, that this experiment was taking a toll on our marriage. At some point, we had to look up and say, “what really matters most here?”  We both tend to want to do it all, be everything to everybody, and still come out “ahead”.  And maybe that’s still possible but it may not all be possible at the same time.  At least for now, something had to “give”.  We realized how challenging marriage is on its own without intentionally burdening it further, particularly for the sake of doggedly holding to a career choice to build a business together. Love and respect are hard to remember when it’s the end of another long day of working together.

Lesson #5: Be Grateful for the Lessons

There are multiple ways we can look at the lessons we have learned – we can beat ourselves up for taking the plunge even though we were advised not to, we can be mad at each other for not getting what we wanted or needed from the other, we can be sad because here we are starting over yet again with a new plan OR we can just honor where we are and say, “Thank you.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn something new.”  And be at peace with what is.  That’s the lesson - the story I’m going breathe in.

Lesson #6:  Stop Pushing and Start Allowing

April Bell Research Group

I am crazy passionate about all kinds of personal assessments.  In fact, I asked Lloyd to take a Love Languages assessment on about the 5th date! In October, we discovered the Predictive Index assessment and in November, we discovered another assessment called The Harrison Assessment.  Both tools can create a “match” against behaviors of the test taker and the behaviors needed for “the job.”  The PI tool started opening our eyes to something not "quite being a fit", and then the Harrison tool completed the picture. The way we were operating was not a fit for our behavior style preferences.  Now, maybe those who know us best could have told us that without all of the assessments…but there’s nothing like seeing data and having your eyes opened from an unbiased perspective.  That was what helped us understand it was time to stop pushing what we wanted and to start allowing “what is.”  So, on to creating more based on our strengths.  I am more ready than ever to create a life and business that’s right FOR ME.  And Lloyd is more motivated to do that which is right FOR HIM.  Check. 

While we may create something together in the future, we know this time, we will do so with open eyes and more awareness of what we both want and need from it. 





Using a Guide to Pass Through the Analytics Wilderness Safely


Using a Guide to Pass Through the Analytics Wilderness Safely

Let’s face it, “Analytics” is a confusing term. Whenever I try to tell people what I do, they get confused. To simplify this, I like to use the analogy of cutting a trail through the wilderness. “Analytics”, after all, is more about the questions you ask than the data itself. So, let’s talk about what works

Every wilderness adventure needs a good guide, and that's exactly what an analytics partner is: a translator and guide.  One who seeks to understand what the nature of the business problem is first, before jumping to what the technical solution could be.

A good partner is one that sits in the middle ground of business and technology. They get and understand technology, and can develop solutions themselves if the tools are put in front of them. However, they approach problems, not by telling other people what to do, but instead, listening to the problem to help create the most effective approach. 

April Bell Research Group

There are all kinds of "analytics" techniques, and they all involve navigating a new path with data. It’s easy to get lost in the different definitions to gather, organize, and analyze data because the methods are vast: from machine learning, statistical analysis, data transformation, to data visualization. Analytics is a blanket term that includes all these things; so, when people ask me “what is analytics”, they often cite one of these ways and say, “is that what you mean?” 

Yes, but not really.

April Bell Research Group

Effective questions

An “analytics partner” is not someone you hire just for their technical expertise. The ability to do the job with precision and accuracy is a baseline expectation. You hire them because of the way they pose effective questions, which save you from going down the wrong trails.

Many times, consultants will suggest that you build a freeway through your data wilderness, or put an expensive solution in place that doesn’t really play well with your environment or culture. You don’t want to build a house in a location that doesn’t make sense.


Rapid approach

April Bell Research Group

“Design Thinking” is a term that better describes good analytics than does much of the analytics terminology because the active verbs in the process are similar: “Empathize”, “Ideate” and “Prototype”. Whereas analytics speaks in more conceptual techniques which sound complicated and mysterious...confusing. In an attempt to sound impressive, it alienates non-experts from understanding it.

For example, in the Design Thinking process, "Ideation" and "Prototyping" are key steps to help create a workable solution quickly.  The first idea is rarely the best one, so by testing and re-building it a few times, it's more likely to produce results that move an organization forward.  This is different than the traditional IT approach to solutioning, where precise “requirements” are needed first to build a more static solution. This is often at the heart of why solutions take so long to build but often miss the mark of what’s really needed.


Travel light

April Bell Research Group

Analytics partners are hired because business owners don’t have the resources on their team, or their team is fully committed on other things. The last thing they want is to have a partner come in and require their folks work 25% harder. They need a partner who has the experience to understand the right upfront questions – what are you trying to accomplish? Where is your data? What is the quality of your data? – and then is gone. Not burdening at every step or bogging down because things aren’t clearly defined.

When all this comes together, the experience with an analytics partner can be transformative. More than just a technical solution provider, because they serve as a translator and guide to carve a beautiful, new path through the data wilderness for you. They don’t seek to tame the forest or build a highway through it, because the right next solution may not be in the part of the forest you think.


Passion: The Job To Be Done


Passion: The Job To Be Done

Jobs to Be Done

One of my clients first introduced me to Jobs To Be Done theory, and since then, we have used it as one of the tools to help uncover consumer needs states in certain situations, in order to better understand “white space gaps and opportunities.” 

What I appreciate about this theory is that it starts from a place of “need or desire” rather than a place of “what’s missing” or lack? Many traditional methods for understanding wants and needs is looks at filling the gap to produce products - starting from a place of what's missing. People can typically comment or think about how to do something better than what it is.  When starting from a place of lack, one cannot help but stay in a place of lack. 

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But when one starts from a place of desire, suddenly everything shifts. Let me give you an example, For years I've been trying to figure out how to change things in my company that are frustrating to me – the feeling of never having enough time, wearing too many hats,wanting to create new ideas or better systems but feeling buried in the work we currently have.  From that mindset, I've been evaluating what's missing, what's not quite right, what I would do different as a starting place for trying to solve the problem.  And I haven’t gotten very far.

A Trip to Austin

So, I took a few days just to myself, thanks to my wonderful husband (who I think was secretly ecstatic for a few days alone and my mom, who took my daughter for a “cousin camp”).  I went down to Lake Austin Spa to spend time with… me.  I did this thinking I would come back with a new purpose, life planned out, with dramatic shifts along with a strategy.  Instead, I came back with something different.

vision board collage.png

This may have been the only few days I’ve lived without an agenda as an adult.

I took a step back and I slept, walked, read and journaled.  And then on my 2nd day, I started flipping through magazines, pulled out every image that attracted me, or emotionally drawn to, then labeled, and created a collage .  Suddenly, I was in research mode, and knew what to do – this time I was researching myself!  I started looking and what resulted was a really specific “Job to be Done.”


Turning it on Myself

I decided to start from a place of desire. I started asking myself why do I feel the urge to change? why is finding my passion so important to me? I have a great family and I'm doing work that I love and feels interesting to me so what's missing? I also asked myself the question what do I most love

Looking at my collage, I realized I needed to develop some patterns or themes. So, my second step was to create definition around the pictures, looking for similarities and differences. When I finished, I had discovered that a lot of what I had passion for was already in my life! In the discovery of trying to find my passion I found that I already had it. What a concept!

Here’s how I translated my “vision collage” into a Job to Be Done.  I’ve wanted to buy or design a “creative, innovation space” for awhile but I have been rejecting in my mind that it’s a viable option…due to all of the negative self-talk rattling around in my mind.  But this process allowed me to open up to the “why” of how this is important to me,’s how I organized the picture and post-it data using the JBTD theory.

 /* Style Definitions */
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     ·        Note: the sentence structure we use for our research, I slightly changed.  Instead of “I use”, I replaced with “I need”

·      Note: the sentence structure we use for our research, I slightly changed.  Instead of “I use”, I replaced with “I need”

I need (what)

-       to create a beautiful space where light, water, nature and creativity connect

-       an innovative, transformative space for me and others to create

-       space to breathe - to feel, to be, to love, to give thanks


When (the situation)

-       I’m in my current state of desiring a life that’s true for me


I want to (what motivates me)

-       create vibrant ways for people to come together for fun, cozy connection

-       help others find their joy and facilitate groups growing together


So I can (the outcome I want)

-       set myself free and surrender to loving what's important to me

-       explore into the unknown with a spirit of adventure

-       let go of what doesn’t serve me

In the end, what came up for me was unexpected. What I discovered is that I was not spending enough time implementing experiences into my life which gives me joy. So suddenly these themes that emerged allowed me to start taking action on some small steps and over the hump of feeling like I had to make some huge life change in order to find my passion or make things better. And in turn, it has brought newfound passion for fulfilling this dream!




Being Present Through A Lens


Being Present Through A Lens

When folks say “follow your passion”, what often comes to mind are big ideas. Major dreams, many times ones we believe are unattainable. Things like starting a business, writing a book, or climbing an 8,000-meter peak. But sometimes following your passion is a series of small things, an activity that you find a way to weave into your typical day. Even if we struggle between passion and exhaustion in the job we choose, we can inject passion by taking small moments to do things we enjoy just for the sake of doing them. And in that doing, unpredicted benefits arise. For me, that’s photography. 

Like a lot of people my age who invest in photography, my interest started with back in high school where I learned to shoot black and white film on a manual camera. I enjoyed that tremendously, but It’s come and gone over the years without really sticking. I wasn’t willing to dedicate the time and money I felt was needed. Digital came on, but I wasn’t excited about the quality or expense – why spend a lot of money on a tool that may be out of date within two years, when you’re not even doing it that often to begin with?

photography umbrella.jpg

Over the years my life became more complex. Having a child, juggling two careers (1 helping my wife’s business + a corporate gig), which has now have morphed into one, making room for family, friends, two dogs and a Shasta trailer. In keeping up with all that, there became less and less time to pursue hobbies. About four years ago, I acquired two items that used to be passions of mine as a teenager – an electric guitar and a digital camera. That guitar has not seen much action, but the camera took off. It was something I could carry with me to the events of my life, and was especially encouraged if I was aiming at my now 6-year-old daughter. Perfect!

Noble winner, Daniel Kahneman has said there are 20,000 moments in every day. They are all different and your brain remembers them them in slices. When we recall a favorite moment in the past, we are often brought back to one of these slices that were especially meaningful to us. This is where our brain recorded that moment as the one that captured the feeling best.

photography butterfly.jpg

Photography trains you to be better aware of those moments. My daughter likes to take photographs now, too, on her waterproof/shockproof camera. This of course makes me very proud. Although she always likes looking at the pictures I’ve taken of her, she sometimes gets annoyed when I point the lens at her. To help her accept it, I told her that I am “collecting butterflies”. She asked me what that meant so I said, “memories are like butterflies that come in and then flutter away. I am trying to catch the pretty ones in my net so I can look at them later”.


Have I followed my passion by becoming a National Geographic photographer for a living? Not so much.



Have I followed it by weaving photography into the life I already have, and adding a layer of joy and appreciation to it? Yes, definitely.



What is that thing that you love to do for the sake of doing, that could maybe find a way back into your routine? You may be surprised by what it brings.

photography beach.jpg