The Curious Case of the Cat’s Paw and the Untouchable Developer

The Curious Case of the Cat’s Paw4 and the Untouchable Developer

Don’s reluctance to talk to me was obvious

Don’s Problem

Six months earlier, Don developed and launched, into the market his idea for a new service. His concept made a direct charge for compliance testing that had been gratis. Don’s VP urged him to hire me for research to estimate the probability that customers will adopt Don’s new service.

Don is a Compliance Specialist. He ensures his company’s procedures comply with regulatory standards. Don has held this position for 30 years.

Don’s Solution

Don contracted me for the research project suggested by the VP. Before starting, I met with Don and his co-workers to set up the guidelines for the project.


In advance of the meeting, a Google search unearthed:

  1. Information on Don and his project’s co-workers. Most were people I’d worked with in earlier projects.
    LinkedIn’s profile described Don as a career Compliance Specialist. He has no experience in developing and launching new services. Some findings in the Google search hint that nepotism favors his career.
  2. A frame of reference for Don’s idea. In 2007 the European Union passed REACH1,  regulation on the production and use of chemicals.
    Don’s concept is a web-based system linking REACH compliance data with a company’s enterprise management software.

    Setting up the guidelines for the project
  • Project will be a blind study2. That is, respondents do not know the identity of my client.
  • My first task is to build a list of 200 knowledgeable individuals in the REACH compliance industry.
  • Second task is to chose, at random, people on the list and cold-call them.
  • Third task is to analyze data collected during the calls. For statistical significance, I analyzed the data using the Central Limit Theorem3.

Executive Summary: Validating Don’s Concept For REACH Compliance

All 30 knowledgable individuals interviewed say the pathways they’ve chosen for REACH compliance are adequate.

“Your client is 2-4 years late with their concept. Need for pre-registration meant that most companies sorted out their REACH compliance issues at least 2 years ago. I see nothing coming across my desk now that is innovative in terms of REACH services.”
      REACH Project Coordinator — Shell

“Our company internally manages all aspects of REACH compliance. We do not see a need for additional services or a service provider to do any part of it for us.”    
      Project Manager — Valvoline

“I’m having a hard time seeing what your client’s innovation will do for people who have been involved with REACH compliance for the past few years.”
      Regulatory Project Manager — E. I. du Pont


At completion of the Executive Summary presentation, the VP drew out his cellphone. He instructed regional sales managers to shut down launch of Don’s concept “Now!” .

Don remains a Compliance Specialist.

Lessons Learned

A nepotism legacy can launch a new product without up-front customer research. It is a prudent investment to engage, as a cat’s paw,4 an objective, customer-research expert.


  1. REACH: Wikipedia accessed 03-07-2020
  2. Blind Study
  3. Central Limit Theorem
  4. Cat’s Paw: One used by another as a tool to do the dirty work.