HiPPOs are extremely dangerous, aggressive, and territorial. No, I’m not talking about the African mammal.

HiPPO is an acronym for the “highest paid person’s opinion” or the “highest paid person in the office.” The acronym is used to describe the tendency for lower-paid employees to defer to higher-paid employees when a decision has to be made. – TechTarget

We’ve all heard stories of companies that went under due to executive leadership taking the team in the wrong direction. With retail giants reduced to closing box stores, and tech leaders forced to report disappointing earnings, these HiPPO led groups all suffer from the affliction – trusting their gut rather than the data.

HiPPOs are leaders who are so self-assured that they need neither other’s ideas nor data to affirm the correctness of their instinctual beliefs. Relying on their experience and smarts, they are quick to shoot down contradictory positions and dismissive of underling’s input. – Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy

There is nothing more dangerous to a company’s well being and longevity.


Screenshot of a website (askahippo.com) declaring A/B Testing is dead.

So what can companies do to combat HiPPOs? The answer is simple. Listen to your users. Do the research. Analyze the data. Make decisions based on a combination of facts and intuition.

I’m not saying your gut can never lead you, I am saying that your gut should always be used in careful consideration of the facts and data presented to you. And if you’re not doing research at all, then you’ve got even bigger problems.

The only way to truly understand what your users want is to ask them.

So you’ve decided to do some user research, what things should you ask yourself before starting a research project?

Who is best suited to conduct this research?

At Discida, we work with a lot of companies who house internal research teams, and that’s great. It’s always fun to work with like-minded people. The question you have to ask yourself is, “what pressures may be put on your internal team when it comes to user research?” One major thing to be cautious of is researcher bias. Does your research team know that the CEO prefers design A over design B? Are they going to be tempted to (intentionally or unintentionally) skew the results to meet that preference? What kind of response does the research team get when they present dissenting results? Are they well received and taken seriously? Or tossed out?

If any of those answers suggest a researcher bias could be introduced, choose a 3rd party research company instead.

How can I reach my prospective and current users?

One of the most difficult parts of any research project is successfully recruiting the target audience. First, you have to know who your ideal user is, and if you don’t, figure out who they are. Then you have to figure out how to find them, contact them, and convince them to participate. With email and phone scams running rampant, people are less likely to take part in legitimate research opportunities.

There are hundreds of companies who offer research recruiting services, and some are better than the rest. Make sure you are confident that your chosen company has access to your target audience.

What research methods should I use?

There are so many methods for user research that it’s truly impossible to create a comprehensive list. However, at Discida we like to focus on behavioral research. Mainly because we believe that people’s actions speak louder than their words. Some of our favorite research methods are task based experiences using eye tracking or interactive surveys. At the end of the day, you need to figure out your research goals and match them up with the methodology that makes the most sense. Don’t be afraid to combine methods.

I’ve done the research, now what?

Now is the toughest part, you’ve done the research, cleaned and organized the results, and made interpretations. The last and most important step is to create recommendations for your future roadmap. Research without solid recommendations is a waste. Sometimes, the recommendation may be to complete more research, or keep the company on the same path, or completely shift directions. At the end of the day the recommendations need to be grounded in fact, clear, and actionable.


As a research company providing research services, of course we’re going to suggest you hire a 3rd party team to complete your research. But, it’s more than just salesmanship for us. Our only goal is the success of our clients. We’re not introduced to the biases of internal politics, allowing us to create recommendations that are geared toward future successes and not pleasing the resident HiPPOs.

Also published on Medium.