Q&A with Lisa Horwich, Managing Partner – Research Principal, Pallas Research Associates

Editor’s note: Nancy Cox is the founder of Research Story Consulting and former CPG corporate researcher. Her work and play include words, sketchpads, cooking (not baking) and the occasional sock puppet.

Passions, hobbies, healthy distractions and even guilty pleasures – discover how the research community plays and how that plays out in their work life. In the Venn diagram of work and play, what happens when work and play overlap? Research colleagues share their work and play stories in this interview series by Nancy Cox. 

Hello to Lisa Horwich, managing partner – research principal, Pallas Research Associates

What is the “play” in your life?

I have all kinds of play but my biggest play is martial arts. I started back in 2007 through my son, a kid who needed a little bit of structure in his life, and martial arts were a perfect fit. There was a great dojo near our house, where my son took karate lessons, that began offering adult classes. My husband started taking them and I had total FOMO and thought, I want to do this, too! So, I did. Lucky for me, there was an amazing group of four to five women in the 20-person class and we stayed together for the next four-plus years of training. With that incredible support plus my own perseverance, I stuck with it and in November 2011, I earned my black belt. At that point, all three of us in our family had our black belts. 

I was never sporty growing up. I wasn’t a dancer. Having to work my brain and work my body together was something I had never done before, and it was very challenging. Karate became the first thing I did for myself that was NOT a typical accomplishment – not academic, not work-related. My black belt was significant. My black belt gave me a tremendous amount of self-confidence. Karate is hard – it’s hard to stand up there and learn all these forms – around 50 self-defense techniques that you have to remember. You have to quickly think on your feet to take on someone big, often much bigger than you, defend yourself and often throw them down on the ground. After achieving my black belt, I trained for another year and earned my first degree. 

After that, I didn’t have the time to get the second degree. But knowing I needed to do something for my body, I morphed over and started kickboxing. Kickboxing is more fitness-focused, but karate was my entry to doing something healthy. Which is a good thing as my other biggest play is baking!

How has your play influenced your research work?

There’s an interesting sign up in our dojo, “Fall seven times, get up eight.” It’s all about the idea of perseverance. All about the idea of sticking with something and getting through it. So even if I have a project that is less than exciting or challenging, I stick to it.

Also, the idea of practice. All the forms I had to learn are like the techniques we learn as researchers. We must practice techniques; they just don’t happen. You test them out – is this one working? Testing projective techniques in qualitative, statistical testing in quantitative.

Then there is the idea of randori. This has helped me the most. Randori is this frightening thing where you stand in the center with other martial arts students standing in a circle around you. One at time each student comes in and attacks you. You have to just defend yourself – no time to think about it. Your technique doesn’t have to be a perfect – just react and your body draws upon all that practice. I don’t think there is a qualitative researcher out there who doesn’t have to think on her feet because something can, and will, go wrong in an interview. You’re thinking, “This isn’t working. What else can I pull out of my toolbox? What else do I know? What else can I use that will help me?” For example, I was doing triads that were supposed to rank three vendors on a list of characteristics. I’m looking at the clock, no way we’re getting through this, it’s going south. Pivot and go to “OK, tell me who does this characteristic best.” “What’s the most important thing my client is going to need?” Understanding the best, was it that vendor or not, gave the client where they were stacked. That was what mattered. It’s often clock driven – maybe that’s our researcher’s randori circle – the clock.

As a bonus, I always use a “black belt in karate” in intro games such as two truths and a lie because no one looks at me and thinks that is one of my truths.

What would you tell readers who want to know more about your area of play?

If you have a kid who is doing martial arts, find out if their dojo offers adult classes. It’s a built-in community as the others will have children who are studying there. And you may get a discount as a family.

Look at what is being offered – there are a lot of different kinds of martial arts. Don’t just choose one – test them out. See what works for you. Karate tends to be a little more self-defense. And there’s different types of karate – my black belt is in Kenpo Karate which is a hybrid version of traditional karate. There’s kickboxing, there’s aikido, there’s taekwondo, there’s Brazilian jujitsu which is more grappling. There’s Krav Maga out of Israel. There are other martial arts that use weapons, like Escrima.

You can also observe classes to help you understand what you want. For example, are you looking for a class that’s more friendly or more competitive?

When you’re traveling, you can also visit dojos in your area of martial arts. Your form of martial arts is a community. I could walk in and take classes where I happen to be. I was in Spain last spring and I realized, hey, I think there’s a kickboxing class down the street. I could go … if I brought my gloves.