Editor's note: Susan Fader is a qualitative researcher at FaderFocus. She can be reached at susanfader@faderfocus.com.

To begin designing or even thinking about starting any research journey, you need to make baseline assumptions. But with the current emphasis on agile timelines – which means getting into and out of the field as quickly as possible – little to no time is spent on evaluating if the assumptions used in prior rounds are the right fit for the research at hand. In many cases, no evaluation is done and past assumptions are just taken as givens. 

The trouble is, if you start your research relying on the faulty baseline assumptions, you can end up going down the wrong research path and, even worse, unknowingly end up drawing inaccurate conclusions – no matter how much data you are able to collect during fielding. 

For example, until about 500 years ago, astronomers believed that the planets and the sun revolved around Earth. All their observations, data-gathering and analysis of planetary rotation paths and movements of stars were based on a very incorrect baseline assumption. Under their Earth-centric view, the planetary movements seemed to follow erratic rotation patterns. But even so, since they felt that their baseline assumption was the right starting point for gathering their data, they continued to amass information and draw incorrect conclusions.

Then Nicolaus Copernicus recontextualized how astronomers should be analyzing planetary rotation. He did this by changing the baseline assumption and revolutionized the science of astronomy by postulating that all the planets – including the Earth – revolved around the sun. This belief provided observational data that mapped out a radically different view of planetary rotation and also made much more sense.

The world of market research can also learn from the Copernicus example. Right now the focus, in market research, is almost...