A newsletter on progress-space research and audience development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

Earlier this summer, a colleague invited me to get on a call with another colleague to help him hone his skills as an interviewer. To protect the innocent, we’ll call these colleagues Friend A and Friend B, respectively.

Friend A: “Hey, Kyle. Friend B wants to do some Jobs-To-Be-Done interviews, and I thought you and I could help him practice. Are you interested?”

Me: “Sure, I’d be happy to help. Let’s just set up a time.”

Easy. No sweat.

A few weeks pass, and an hour before the call, like clockwork, my imposter syndrome kicks in. I’m lying on the office floor, staring at the ceiling, the little demons on my shoulders asking all the usual questions:

Demon 1: “It’s a good thing you have a PhD in— Oh, wait, you got an MFA in painting, didn’t you?”

Demon 2: “Oh, yeah. And what century were we in when you earned that irrelevant degree? I can’t remember.”

Demon 3: “Do you really think you even understand JTBD theory? And now you’re going to give someone a lesson in it?”

Demon 4: “Yeah! You just pick out the parts that suit your purposes — Cherry picker!”

So, I did what I often do — I got up off the floor, joined the zoom meeting, and introduced everyone to my demons.

I admitted that there’s a lot I don’t know — and there’s even more that I don’t know that I don’t know — and there are a lot of different ways to interview people, and I often find myself switching between different interview methods in any given interview, and your mileage may vary, and my mother pushed me out of a window when I was a child and I landed on my head, and… before I knew it, our time together was up and we said goodbye.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I’ve been writing a lot about the “problem space” and the “solution space” and I think I can make those rather abstract ideas more concrete by using different interview approaches as characters we can explore. But it’s easier for me to do that if I laugh at myself a little bit first.

So, now that I’ve made fun of myself, let’s think of these two spaces — the problem space and the solution space — as two different kinds of detectives.

Bad Cop (Solution-Space Interviewer)

The bad cop has a list of interview questions that she asks every suspect. The questions are pointed, relatively speaking, because the bad cop is here to solve a crime and nothing will deter her.

The bad cop usually interviews “users” — Ugly as that word may be, it does help us understand the bad cop’s frame of mind. She’s interested in learning from people who have an established relationship with the organization, and she’s more interested in the person’s relationship to the organization than she is to the person’s goals. (The bad cop has to stay within her jurisdiction, which is the person’s relationship to the organization’s existing offerings.)

The bad cop asks questions like:

  • Tell me about the last time you renewed your membership.
  • When was the last time you [used member benefit x]?
  • Tell me about your last visit to the museum… Who were you with? (Bad cop wants to encourage the suspect to recall details, so she might ask about things like the weather. But don’t be fooled — Bad cop is just trying to build rapport and get more detailed information. Bad cop always sees the person as a “user”.)

Note: The analogy is already falling apart

Because no matter what sort of interview you’re doing, you need to establish rapport and trust with the person you’re talking to. It’s not really an interrogation — You’re not really being a “bad cop”. But, relatively speaking, the nature of a solution-space interview is more determined and… factual.

So, I’m sticking with this analogy, in part because gives me an excuse to search the internet for gifs like this one:

Good Cop (Problem-Space Interviewer)

The good cop has a mental map, but he seems to wander more. The good cop wants to understand the underlying purposes of the person they’re talking to.

Notice I didn’t say “user”.

The good cop is interested in understanding what motivates different kinds of people — not just the people who are “users” of the organization’s offerings today (though you can conduct problem-space interviews with “users”). Whether the organization supports the goals that the good cop uncovers or not is of little importance because the problem space isn’t about where the organization is today — it’s about where persons of interest are today in their efforts to achieve their goals.

The organization will become important later when the good cop maps the goals of the people in question to the existing capabilities of the organization. But that comes later.

The good cop asks questions that echo the language of the person he’s talking to and nudges them to talk more and more about their thoughts and feelings about things that are important to them.

  • Why is learning so important?
  • You said ‘you have to feed the body and soul’… (pause. silence.)
  • What’s it like for you to donate that food?

The good cop is trying to get at why the person thinks, feels, and behaves the way they do because underneath those things are guiding principles and goals that the organization may one day want to support.

“Just the facts, ma’am.”

That brings us to an important distinction.

The bad cop (solution space) is gathering facts about what the user does. She wants to understand, for example, the customer journey and what obstacles people have to overcome to achieve certain goals associated with the organization today.

The good cop (problem space) is trying to get beyond the facts to understand people’s inner thinking — He’s trying to get beyond the horizon that the organization typically works within.

No cop good or bad, but context makes them so.

To be clear, neither of the approaches I’ve described today are inherently good or bad — it just depends on what you want to learn.

And you could argue that both of our cops are doing opportunity research. It’s just that the bad cop is focused on improving what is, while the good cop is exploring what could be.

But I do think that most cultural organizations spend 99% of their time in the bad cop’s precinct — They’re doing market research or evaluation, trying to understand how they can improve what they’re doing today for the people they serve today.

That’s why we’re creating The Museums-As-Progress Community. (See what I did there? :-)

And I think you should join us if you haven’t already.

As always, reply to this email to let me know your thoughts or leave a comment on this post.



Sign in or sign up to join the conversation.

Enter your email below to get a log in link.

You’ve successfully subscribed to SuperHelpful Letters
Welcome back. You’re now signed in.
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign in.