Anyone who has been in the market research industry for any length of time has worked with dozens, if not hundreds of researchers. No doubt, some of those people have been very impressive individuals, and some, not so much.
What makes a great researcher?
While there isn’t any magic formula, there are certainly traits that great researchers share. In compiling this short list, I’ve eliminated a host of items like basic research process knowledge, detail orientation, etc. These are critical qualities, but they are “cost-of-entry” skills that anyone working in the field is (or should be) assumed to possess.
Here are three of the most important traits that come to mind for me.
A great researcher has to be curious by nature. This trait works on several levels; first, curiosity is what drives a researcher to want to ask the questions. Sure, a paycheck is a fine motivator or a little while, but no one survives in any job for long if they aren’t engaged in the work. Natural curiosity is what makes us care why the 35-44 year old “suburban mom” segment prefers product x.
Curiosity is also what drives us to uncover the story in the data. It leads a great researcher to dig a little deeper in the data and find the relationships that aren’t immediately obvious. This curiosity is often what gets us to the “why” behind what people do.
Finally, curiosity is what leads a great researcher to push the envelope. An average researcher, when confronted with something new or different, will think of all the reasons it won’t work, dismiss it, and go back to doing what they’ve always done. A great researcher will think of all the reasons it can work, and then try it to see if they were correct. Regardless of the outcome, the great researcher whose curiosity led them to experiment is that much better for the experience.
Connecting the dots
Another key trait of a great researcher is the ability to connect the dots. A researcher’s ability to see patterns and relationships in the data is what creates value for the users of the research. I’m not talking about the superficial relationships that are obvious to the casual observer. I’m talking about the less obvious relationships that take time and effort to uncover. This isn’t an easy task because it requires both the ability to apply critical reasoning and deduction and some amount of subject matter knowledge to identify the most likely scenarios.
This trait may be the most important because it is the quality that makes a market researcher’s skills evergreen. Techniques and technologies (and the businesses built around them) will come and go, but the ability to see, understand, and create insight will always be needed.
It doesn’t matter how good your research skills are if you can’t communicate what you know. This has been the subject of one of my more popular posts over the last several months.
Solid communication skills come into play in at least three ways. First, a great researcher will be able to articulate clearly what they have found, both verbally and in writing. This means speaking or writing in clear language that effectively gets the point across without obfuscation or equivocation.
Second, a great researcher will frame their communications with the recipients’ needs and background in mind. As a result, the great researcher captures and holds attention because they are speaking the language of the listener and are explaining why the listener should care.
Finally, a great researcher knows how to edit. They will communicate the message that needs to be conveyed without piling on superfluous details that don’t support the central point.
What did I miss?
These certainly aren’t the only three traits that make a great researcher. In my experience, these three often separate the merely good from the great.
What about you? What are your top three traits of great researchers?