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Research underpins many terrific novels.

Novelist Tom Clancy attributes his success to “equal parts persistence and dogged research.” For “The Hunt for Red October,” he raked the likes of “The World’s Missile Systems, Guide to the Soviet Navy and Combat Fleets of the World.”

It’s not on my nightstand either.

But a similar mentality can strengthen corporate storytelling.

One quick example –

Years ago we supported National Semiconductor on a campaign for a new semiconductor. One of the target applications was keyless locks for cars. Apparently, the bad guys were intercepting the signal from keyless locks so when the car owner left, the thief would replay the recorded signal to break into the car. National’s new chip prevented this.

Our approach was to talk to insurance companies, which in turn put us in touch with an auto museum and its exhibit on the history of auto security devices. It turned out that one of the earliest theft-prevention devices for cars was a blow-up man that one would place in the driver’s seat so potential thieves perceived the car was occupied. We got a lot of mileage out of that anecdote.

What I’m suggesting for business storytelling is more of a discovery process than traditional research. (Did Napoleon get along with his mom? No, he didn’t.)

Which brings us to the Internet and the challenge of finding the “blow-up man” buried in yottabytes of information.

Everyone knows how to plug keywords into Google, but few communicators bring a little science to their searches.

For example, focusing on a specific file type can turn up gold. The query [filetype:pdf “storytelling” and “science”] retrieves all PDFs with the words “storytelling” and “science.” What I particularly like about this technique is you can stumble across information in the public domain that isn’t necessarily intended for all.

Illustrating this point, the query [site:apple.com filetype:pdf “intellectual property”] pulls up all PDFs on the Apple site with “intellectual property.” And the first page of the results include the document “Apple Channel Member Code of Conduct” marked by Apple as confidential.

Recently, I was stumped trying to search for an initial cap word, Oracle, the company, not oracle, the know-it-all in Greek mythology. I reached out to @GoogleResearch. Apparently, they didn’t know the answer since no one responded.

As a last resort, I emailed one of the scientists in Google’s Research lab and lo and behold, an answer came my way.

email from Dan Russell scientist in Google’s Research lab

At least I now knew it couldn’t be done.

Better yet, it inspired me to look further where I found a motherlode of information on Mr. Russell’s home page.

I’m working my way through discovery, but the presentation, “Advanced Google Search Methods for Investigative Reporting” looks particularly promising.


  • Todd Quinn

    Lou, this is what I do every day. I try to teach students (and faculty) how to use advanced features of not only Google, but all searchable tools (search engines, databases, etc). It is easy to search, but hard to find what you actually want.

  • hoffman


    Very cool.

    Do you have training sessions in slide form available in the public domain (like on Slideshare) that I can point folks to you?

    Any interest in writing a guest post on the topic?


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