Q&A with Clay Dethloff, Senior Vice President – Innovation and Qualitative, Decision Analyst
Editor’s note: Nancy Cox is the founder of Research Story Consulting and former CPG corporate researcher. Her work and play include words, sketchpads, cooking (not baking) and the occasional sock puppet.
Passions, hobbies, healthy distractions and even guilty pleasures – discover how the research community plays and how that plays out in their work life. In the Venn diagram of work and play, what happens when work and play overlap? Research colleagues share their work and play stories in this interview series by Nancy Cox.
Hello to Clay Dethloff, senior vice president – innovation and qualitative, Decision Analyst
What is the “play” in your life?
Camping is my play. My way to rejuvenate, recharge and retain a lifelong passion. Some of my earliest photos of me are camping with my mom and dad. Today, camping continues to be part of our family identity – now the grandkids are coming along.
In the last few years, my camping has evolved to teardrop trailer camping. A teardrop trailer is not a recreational vehicle (RV) or a larger trailer like an Airstream. A teardrop is a small two-person trailer. One of the great things about teardrops is that you can customize it. Inside mine there is a bed, some small storage, a few outlets and USB plugs – not much else, no bathroom. Outside the trailer, you open the back to a little kitchen area with a sink and stove.
The teardrop keeps you dry. It keeps you warm. It keeps you off the hard ground, which I appreciate more each year. But I feel like I’m still camping.
Teardrops are a very old style of trailer. They became popular in postwar America, in the 1940s and 1950s. The enthusiasm dwindled, but teardrops boomed again with COVID. I was a bit ahead of this trend as eight years ago, my daughter and I built a teardrop camper. It took us about two years to build as there was a lot to learn. I had to learn to wire for electrical! I also included a large marine battery so I’m not tied to electrical when choosing a campsite.
We’ve done about 10 of the 88 Texas state parks and have camped at other parks throughout the state. There’s a West Texas state park we go to as a family every November, a dark sky camp. Dark sky camps are certified by the International Dark Sky Association – no ambient light coming into the campsite area – and you’re able to see an amazing sky of stars. A simple yet awesome experience.
We are also planning a Canadian adventure!
How has your play influenced your research work?
My research personality influences my play as I heavily research my campsites. Heavily. Texas state park websites have a lot of data – distances to the bathrooms, how many campsites would be right next to ours. If we’re at a lake area, how close can we camp to the lake? You can even search for virtual tours of various campsites so you get a feel for the area. I like to see if there are trees to put up a hammock and just veg out. Or if you’re in an area without many trees such as West Texas, I look for covered picnic tables and benches. Just like putting together a research plan, details help you better plan the experience.
In both camping and research there are things you can control and things you can’t. If your camping includes floating in a river, you can’t control the river – you float with the river. There’s a similar concept in business. When working with clients, I try to help them see things that a company can change, or control, and things a company needs to acknowledge are out of its control. Especially on the qualitative side, you may be discovering perceptions that a company may need to accept and work around. My camping experiences have inspired a control/out of control framework for reporting.
Finally, the most basic but perhaps most important influence on my work is taking a break from work. I’m not checking in with the office when floating down the river. I hope by getting away, I encourage my team to get away and take a mental break.
What would you tell readers who want to know more about your area of play?
Campers are a community, so of course there are forums and groups. Chat with that community; you’ll hear that everyone has their own reasons for camping. For me, camping is just getting away and taking a break. Some campers visit every state park in Texas; it’s more goal-driven, having that sticker on your trailer from each park. Camping is great because it offers different benefits.
Camping areas also offer many types of scenery and activities. Just with our Texas state parks, I can go to a dark sky park, a river, some wetlands or a forest. Depending on the area of the country, you can camp on public land or a national park might be your best option. Investigate the state park and national park passes for discounts.
If you already love tent camping, teardrops are a great step up. Teardrops are the bridge between tents and RVs. A teardrop keeps you closer to nature than an RV but you’re not so close to nature you’re sleeping on the ground. I can back my teardrop anywhere you might pitch a tent. Close to the river or the lake. When we go with other members of my family, they set up their tents in the same area while my wife and I are camping in the teardrop. A teardrop can also lengthen your camping season. I have a heater I can use in the teardrop so now I do more camping in the winter months. Another bonus, a teardrop can fit in a garage, all packed and ready to go.
A great way to try out a teardrop trailer is to rent one. With the increase in popularity, there are a lot of companies now selling already-built, even customized, teardrops at a much lower entry price than buying an RV. If you are interested in building your own, there are websites and amazing forums. You can download plans or customize from various plans. There are places where you can buy components or parts. For example, I bought the metal skins but then used standard 4x8s to frame. I loved building. I had a lot of fun solving the problem: how do I cram everything into this “tiny-home-away-from-home” space? Not unlike researchers’ problem-solving skills when we fit everything a client wants to know into a 10-minute survey!