GRIT Commentary: Educating the Researcher of the Future

At IIEX NA, Reg Baker, the MRII’s executive director, discussed the most recent GRIT survey, which asked the question “What do you believe will be the three most important skillsets for a successful post-graduate Market Research program to focus on during the next five years?” What surprised Reg is that the hard skills of survey research show low frequency of demand, while “soft skills” (“not that I like that term”) like critical thinking and insight development lead the list.

As Reg thought further about critical thinking, he developed this definition for it:

The systematic evaluation of data, facts, and observable phenomena to distinguish between useful and less useful details, with the goal of drawing reasonable conclusions in order to solve a problem or make a decision.

The GRIT results reminded him of discussions at “Educating the Market Researcher of Tomorrow,” a symposium at Michigan State University in May, 2014. “We assigned people to heterogeneous tables, cats and dogs together, with just two keynote addresses, from Kim Dedeker, then Chief Research Officer of Kantar, and Simon Chadwick, CEO of Cambiar”:

  • Kim’s main point was that in the past the industry would focus on the “master,” but going forward it needs to “focus on agility.” Instead of a “master of a skill” the need is for a “master generalist,” who knows the landscape, not in depth, but what the potential is. She quoted Socrates: “Education is the lighting of a flame not the filling of a vessel.”
  • Simon focused on the need for a team to tackle research, with specialists, a polymath, and a business consultant: the specialists in the methodology (data scientists, computer scientists, neuroscientists, survey research); the polymath (the “someone who knows many things”, from the Greek: “the person GRIT is talking about”), being the person who looks at and evaluates the data; and business consultant, the MBA, who will be talking about the strategic issues, informed by the data.

“For the second day of the symposium, we re-arranged the tables to be homogenous and asked each table to come up with a plan for moving forward.” For instance, the academic table reported “We aren’t teaching the right stuff” and proposed focusing on four areas:

  1. Rethinking the standard university curriculum to produce well-rounded MR professionals.
  2. Emphasizing analytics, presentation skills, storytelling, insights mining, and other “soft skills”.
  3. Developing mini courses to cover new methods at a high level rather than at enough detail to implement a method.
  4. Creating stronger links between academics and practitioners.

Inspired by these discussions, Reg believes that researchers need to be able to do these four things in their work:

  1. Select methodologies and data sources that fit the business problem.
  2. Systematically assess “the safety of the evidence (as David Smith puts it).” He elaborated by saying “Too often we accept the data rather than evaluate it and consider its sampling approach. We need to understand the principals to evaluate the data set – do data measures actually measure what they say they do? How good are those measures?”
  3. “Synthesize multiple sources of imperfect data.”
  4. “Tell the most important story of the data in a convincing way.”

Reg concluded by saying that we need a curriculum that does two things: “emphasizes critical thinking and insight development and teaches the potential approaches.”

Jeffrey Henning is president of Researchscape International and a volunteer on the MRII Board of Directors.

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