What makes a truly great researcher today?

Last week I had several discussions with corporate researchers on this topic. It's a surprisingly tough one and it goes to the heart of who we are as professionals – and even as individuals.

Are you truly great, or... still working to get there? The conversation challenged a couple of the corporate researchers I spoke with, even disturbed them, which was not my intent.

Here's the rub. At its heart, researchers are culturally incentivized to segment nearly all that they do. It appears that they are paid to categorize by efficiency and effectiveness, but that this very segmentation introduces bias, favoritism, oversimplification, etc. We're drawn to hierarchies, influences and factors, discovering winners and losers – all to optimize business decisions. The downside is that those rankings can undeservedly diminish important ideas or "ways-to-do-it." Perhaps that's why research still houses a very healthy art ying to balance its science yang.

So what might the gold standard characteristics of truly great researchers be? What do their attitudes and behaviors need to be for success? Here are five to consider.

Open 

It is human nature to be drawn to favorites. In MR, these can be broad attractions, such as qual or quant (revealing a genetic predilection), Big Data, online, etc., or methodologies that fascinate. The best researchers are aware of their favorites, but are open to everything, regardless of color, size, shape or flavor. This is the versatile, objective researcher; grounded in the proven, but fully amendable to innovation, the new and different in the hunt for better insights and strategies.

Curious

The sister of Open, the best researchers are genuinely curious about what's new and next, looking down the road or around the corner for a different way. This is not a passive endeavor, but requires a voracious reader and observer – a researcher who is connected and inquisitive. This is an open-minded approach to discovering new (and better) methodologies.

Innovative

The best researchers are innovators, adopting and implementing new approaches when new is better than existing or alternative approaches. How often do you do this? It's often challenging and uncomfortable to change or be disruptive, but the best researchers will turn almost on a dime to evolve smartly.

Expert

Everybody's an expert at something. Scratch beneath the surface of the best researchers and it won't be long before you find their expertise. Scratch further and you'll find that they used to be an expert at something else, but that that skill set has been overtaken by faster, better, cheaper, and will be again. This is where passion emerges, coincident with expertise.

An Evangelist

Sales, as a skill, is evergreen. The best researchers have an innate ability to market what they do. Enthusiasm, humor, and ease of delivery all are telling. Effective selling of research insights and strategies, whether through storytelling, cheerleading or raw mental horsepower displayed seamlessly, is a predicate to being best.

At how many of the above to you excel? And what have I missed?

Many of the best in marketing research will help satisfy the five (or more) by learning from their peers at the Corporate Researchers Conference, October 8-10 in Orlando. You should, too.

It's only at conferences like NEXT where a rich and nuanced exchange of ideas – from and between you and incredible speakers and remarkable peers – occur, which is what makes attendance so valuable. The best continuing education can improve competitiveness, hone cross-disciplinary skills and provide in-depth knowledge, as well as motivate, inspire and enable growth, directly benefiting you and all those who work with you every day.

We look forward to welcoming you.

David Almy

David W. Almy
Marketing Research Association
Washington