Darien LaBeach
Jul 12 · 5 min read

Sick and tired of boring research? So were we, plus over 200 thinkers who RSVPd to our first collab workshop with Nonfiction Research: “Going Rogue with Research” not once, but twice! And it was a f*cking blast, y’all! Ben Zeidler and Gunny Scarfo indoctrinated us in the philosophy of Rogue Conversations, which, at its core, is about embracing both danger & heart in your work.

It felt electric to be reminded that research can be…dangerous. But, on the other side of that danger is the truth of what people really believe and how they behave. Getting to that truth requires getting real yourself. Think about “Who is intimate with the audience I am studying?” Figure out “How do I get them to talk to me?” And then the real challenge, “How do I get them to open up?” Easier said than done, but hella worth it.


Ben Zeidler & Gunny Scarfo spreading wisdom and lmfao-ing // photo by @kay_lynnea

“I can’t tell you the joy of going and finding a person that tells you a story that unlocks something. We made a whole company about it.” -Ben Zeidler


Here’s the gist of what we learned, ways to dive deeper and how to run with it.

Best Bites

  • “You can read that future of retail bank report or you can talk to a bank robber.” The magic of Rogue Conversations is interviewing someone who has a wildly unique view on your challenge. When Nonfiction interviewed a bank robber on why he hated banks, he opened up fascinating insight territory: “I hate them because they understand how money works, but rather than helping people understand how money works they hide it from people and use it against them.”
How to get an unexpected expert to talk to you
  • “Look for a natural confidant.” When trying to think of unique experts to talk to, think about what unexpected people your audience might be confiding in. “When we were doing the Intimacy Report we discovered a lot of people call up QVC just to have an intimate conversation and then they buy shit and pile it in their spare room. So we talked to a QVC customer rep.”
  • “The art of interviewing is the art of creating intimacy.” Gunny taught us that a crucial piece of creating intimacy is validating people’s emotions and putting your heart on the line with them. Your goal is to transform this formal business interaction into a conversation that feels like you’re talking to a friend. A good litmus test? How soon into the call are you both laughing.
  • “Follow the THREADS.” Every time someone answers a question they create a buffet of threads, each thread leads you down a different conversational path. Some might be duds, but some might completely unravel a person. Mastering the art of interviewing is an exercise in deciding which threads to pull.
Example from Nonfiction Research “Potential threads to pull” in an interview

Go Deeper

  • Find a muse who inspires you to do some crazy ass shit in the pursuit of truth. You can start with a Nonfiction favorite, female investigative journalist Nellie Bly who wrote Ten Days in a Mad-house.*

“The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out.” -Nellie Bly

  • Check out Watching Dallas, Ben’s favorite example of the magic that happens when you find creative ways to get people to articulate at length why the love something (in this case the 1980s television phenomenon Dallas).
  • Need a better understanding of the South? Rather than a Mintel report check out Hillbilly Elegy, and Spying on the South, novels that shed light on politics & persons.
  • The art of identifying unusual experts is the art of being able to see people, what they do and how they live in a new light. A great place to find stories that will start training you to think this way is Narratively Secret Lives stories.

*free entry to STRTGST events for life for anyone who gets themselves committed to a psych ward in the name of research.

Community showing that laughter is a great litmus test for good conversation // photo @kay_lynnea
  • Finding unusual experts can take time so tap some trusted resources till you build up a list you can rely on. And don’t give up. Friends and family are the perfect place to start when looking for interviewees as well as platforms like Respondent. Oftentimes, the more unusual the expert you need, the more tenacious you might have to be to get them to share their time.
  • Don’t do anything illegal (obviously?) but it can help to give clients or your team a heads up on what to plan to do. But realize, you won’t have support the first, second, maybe even 5th time. Sneak your results into pitch decks, bring creatives you work well with to interviews with unusual experts. Go for small wins, one f*cking insightful quote in a deck that makes the client pause for 15 minutes could be the start.

“Your team will not believe in you that this is a good person, your account person won’t tell you you can’t just do it you have to believe in it with delicate ferocity.” -Gunny Scarfo

For the good of the world, don’t go back to arm’s-length research when you can have rogue conversations. It’s quick, exciting, and it will make you one hell of a dangerous strategist.

But, remember doing research this way isn’t easy — it’s going to take guts, perseverance and at least a dash of insanity. 🤜💥🤛

packed room full of rogue thinkers

If you’ve made it this far, reward yourself a few different ways:

STRTGST: Join our mailing list here. Follow us on the gram here (it’s new)! Nonfiction Research: Grab Nonfiction Research’s public reports.

THE GST /gist/

Putting the "gist" back in strategist. THE GST brings you event recaps & other musings from the organizers of STRTGST: a community where thinkers thrive.

Darien LaBeach

Written by

rogue thinker. organizer for strtgst. editor of the gst /gist/

THE GST /gist/

Putting the "gist" back in strategist. THE GST brings you event recaps & other musings from the organizers of STRTGST: a community where thinkers thrive.

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