If you were to ask an Australian what a Blue Trot is, they’d probably say it was colored diarrhea. I learned this other meaning of “trots” long after I had named the company, which was supposed to elicit feelings of global citizenship. I wanted the name to inspire similarities to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and how media can transport our minds elsewhere. Bowel movements weren’t exactly the intention, but international travel wouldn’t be complete without them! This type of surprise learning beautifully captures the spirit of our research firm.
Blue Trot was founded in 2017 because people were asking me a lot of questions about my expertise, virtual reality (VR). My graduate work at Stanford University, under Jeremy Bailenson managing the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, came at a time when the technology shifted from academic to consumer technology. It was there we hosted Mark Zuckerberg for a day of conversation and demos, the week before Facebook purchased Oculus for $2.3 billion. Startups, companies, and media conglomerates all became eager to dub cybergoggles as the next big thing. Even though in 1995, I owned a Nintendo Virtual Boy. Everything new comes from somewhere old.
I’ve always used media as a way to go somewhere else. Books, movies, and video games were my childhood virtual reality to feel like I could go anywhere. When I played World War II Online in 2001 on a 56k modem, I sat on an Allied tank for hours in transit to the frontlines. I chatted with other players/soldiers in the vehicle about life as we traversed the European countryside and gazed up at the moon. The internet post Y2K was just finding its groove for these types of online social game experiences. To my teenage brain, it really felt like I went to Europe.
Virtual reality is not hardware. It’s anytime you feel like you’re somewhere else. Cybergoggles of recent do this, sure, but they’re purely sensory. They avoid the cognitive lift and abstract jumps one does when reading a book. Despite its promises as an active media format, it’s paradoxically passive. You let your senses do their thing, which comes at potential costs for your brain doing the imaginative work.
I don’t remember the thousands of VR experiences I’ve had since 1995 on every sort of cybergoggle imaginable, but I do remember most every novel I’ve read. Reading feels deep and personal, like a dialogue between the author and me. Characters look different in my head than the author probably intended or imagined them. This is virtual reality, in the most active kind of way.
Blue Trot has grown from its initial vision in 2017 as a consultancy around VR. We’re now Blue Trot Group, and we’ve evolved into a research firm that digs at how to make any new thing outlast novelty. We’re lucky to have my childhood friend, Piera von Glahn, as our Principal. She coined the phrase, “People at Ease,” which is one of our core values in executing valid research. Piera is currently in graduate school for social work, where her conversational style of interviewing has become a core piece of our research brand.
Getting at how people really think is not easy. It’s why polling is notoriously difficult, and how self-report can be more sensitive than social scientists like to admit. This all requires good science, and doing good science requires looking at data objectively without bias. The strength of Blue Trot over the last two years wasn’t in any domain like VR specifically, it was in how we ask questions and tell the story of their answers to our clients. Brené Brown, eat your heart out.
When applied to companies, this research also requires creativity. Frontier stuff doesn’t have a “right” answer, yet. We love impact reports, especially when tasked with something big. Visualizations, reports, and communication to clients often matter more than the research itself. When we recently asked many researchers at a large engineering conference what they were doing to move their university research into industry, they shrugged. Most said it wasn’t their job. They used the words “heads down science” to describe their work.
We can’t think of anything more dangerous. This mindset permeates companies too, and results in technology not built for the people that ultimately use it.
Blue Trot Group aims to dissolve these barriers slightly. With our systems-thinking approach, and rigorous humility, we don’t pretend to have immediate answers. Yet with enough time and support, we can find an informed answer to anything. We call this curiosity capital, and we’d be delighted to chat with you about what it means for your business.
Holler at us anytime, anywhere.
Cody and Piera
P.S. If you actually have the Blue Trots, you should get really get that looked at.