I’ve been on both sides of focus groups, as moderator (way down my skillset list, BTW) and as participant. Furniture design, fabrics, and colors were always good topics for a room full of would be buyers. Then came technology. The emergence of online surveys, sophisticated A/B campaign testing, and easily collected shoppers’ data points have pushed focus groups to the back of the bus, so to speak, as cost-effective ways to determine consumer likes and dislikes, as they head toward the moment of truth. But isn’t every good in-person meeting a focus group of sorts? I find this especially true with clients, who typically make a comment offhandedly that will likely find its way into the core marketing message in a matter of time. In fact, I’d say a majority of ‘big ideas’ have been born among the seeds of plain old, ordinary conversations.

Ordinary conversations, mind you. Not emails. Not texts. Not webinars. Ordinary conversations.

So, it should be no surprise (but it was) that my most recent focus group set a career high water mark. The 2nd grade class at West Maple Elementary welcomed me as Mystery Reader, and critiqued my book “Where Will You Go, Ricky Jo.” I entered the room with thick skin and moderate expectations, and exited with a great deal of information. . .and confirmation.

That my granddaughter Rachel was among them notwithstanding, the focus group members gave me an unexpected wealth of valuable feedback on the book’s prose and illustrations. These bright-eyed kids, at the upper age of my audience, were authentic, forth right and engaging.

I queried them. They seemed to like the airplane scene the most, the words were good as were the drawings, they corrected me on my knowledge of penguins, and were split as to whether or not the whole story was a dream.

My biggest take away, however, was the realization of how far I’ve let myself drift into the cocoon of technology, striving for inbox zero at the end of the day and a task management system that eliminates production meetings.

I had let the value of personal interaction escape my daily routine, replaced by an emphasis on friends, followers and likes.

I’m sure you can do both. I’m sure you can grow your network and still devote time to personal interactions.

Me, I need to get out of the office more often.