Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Just Add Skills

Just Add Skills

I was reminded of an ex-colleague the other day – someone for the purposes of this blog I shall refer to as Doctor No.  This was someone whose arrival at the company for which I was working at the time was heralded in almost messianic proportions.  Not only had he been working in London (and we were based in a sleepy Stockport suburb), he was in his mid-20s and already had a PhD on his CV.

So Doctor No arrived and was immediately entrusted with looking after some important clients and conducting some important group discussions.  Internally, some of us had our doubts about the Doctor almost immediately.  Openly flirting with respondents had not been a part of any training manuals we’d read on qualitative research.

Time passed and concerns over Doctor No grew as clients began to murmur about potential misgivings over his behaviour and perhaps more importantly, his intellectual capabilities.

My bosses at the time were reluctant to hear these negative views being expressed openly about the Doctor, by staff or by clients alike.  This may have had something to do with the fact that they had originally appointed Doctor No, agreeing to a high salary (well he had worked in that London) as well as a large percentage of the first year of the same to the agency from whence he came.

Concerns and complaints continued to surround Doctor No, however, and eventually he was summoned for a final showdown.  My then boss confronted the Doctor with the ever-growing list of misdemeanours to which he had few answers to offer.  And as the tension rose she finally made the suggestion which had been on everyone else’s lips ever since he’d arrived.

            “You know what” she cried, “I don’t think you’ve even got a PhD”

The Doctor remained brazen as ever as he looked my boss in the eye.

            “I said I’d started one, I didn’t say I actually had one” was his eventual retort.

Well, as you might guess, Doctor No’s stay was cut rather short at that point.  The agency was informed that their bill would not be paid and an agreement was made with the Doctor that if he walked quickly enough, he might be able to begin a new career elsewhere, preferably in a different industry.

The Doctor came to my mind as I reflected on what he might be doing now.

If he has a company website I’m thinking he might be the sort who’s pretty decent at making sure it remains pretty high on Google searches.  I can hear him now – ‘let’s say we work in every part of the UK and all over the world, and let’s make sure we take those key words to the max’.  Yes, he did like the odd clichĂ©.

And if he’s on LinkedIn I’m reckoning that he’s bought himself a few thousand contacts on the internet and his profile appears on hundreds of other influential people’s profiles day in and day out.

And I wonder what his actual profile now contains.  Is he still claiming to be a doctor?  Is he still saying he’s a qualitative researcher?  Is he now saying that his career in the north went swimmingly well?

Truth is these days we all have more opportunity than ever to big ourselves up.  And these days there are plenty of companies out there ready to encourage us  and to help us do the same. 

So where do we draw the line?  And who will be the final arbiter?

The Doctor was exposed…eventually.  But what of all those other people currently designing their websites, filling in their LinkedIn profile pages?

To tell it as it is, as we say at Park Lane Research, or to ‘just add skills’? You decide. 

Oh, and if you endorse me for my skills, I’ll endorse you for yours.  Cheers.

Monday, 10 September 2012

New Verb Please

Considering the number of group discussions I’ve moderated over the past couple of decades it’s interesting that one comment made in one group comes to mind more often than most.

I was conducting some work on behalf of Waitrose and during the group one man, having realised that he was in amongst fellow Waitrose shoppers came out with the following line, ‘of course you know why we all go to Waitrose it’s because it’s full of PLUs’.

‘PLUs?’ I asked.

‘Yes, people like us’ he replied and looked around the room for approval.  And approval was indeed forthcoming.

I was reminded again of this incident at the weekend when I asked my wife whether we should go and buy something for Sunday lunch.  ‘Oh it’s ok,’ she said, ‘I went shopping this morning when you were out. Well it wasn’t really shopping, I went to Waitrose’.

This has set me thinking about shopping in a more general sense because I knew exactly what she meant.  Shopping at Waitrose is a somewhat different experience to shopping at some other supermarkets.

Somehow it feels more relaxed, you feel better looked after, you feel like the products have been looked after too, and nothing will be too much trouble if you have a question for any member of staff.

So I’m wondering whether to put forward a new verb for the next Oxford English Dictionary; it’s the verb ‘to waitrose’.  The definition would be something along the lines of having a pleasant shopping experience during which one feels at home and during which one has confidence that all will be well.

Because all tends to be well at Waitrose, and of course you shop in the knowledge that you tend to be surrounded by PLUs…

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

'Cheap Gourmet'

‘Cheap Gourmet’

Please see above the name for a new chain of restaurants I’m considering. 

It’s inspired by the name of another company I came across recently which calls itself ‘Easy Insights’.

After twenty plus years in research I was quite taken aback to find a company whose name suggests that it can provide insights that are simple.  The truth is I’ve always found them quite difficult to unravel.

Or was I just behind the times in terms of word definition I wondered?

The dictionary was consulted:

Clear or deep perception of a situation

A feeling of understanding

The clear (and often sudden) understanding of a complex situation

Grasping the inner nature of things intuitively

It seemed to me that the definition in my mind had not been too far from the truth.

But here’s a company that can discover deep perceptions easily.  Here’s a firm that can presumably make complex situations seem simple.

So good luck to them I say, maybe it’s time for me to consider my future career options.

And thanks to them, I had the inspiration for ‘Cheap Gourmet’.

We’ll create amazing dishes using inexpensive ingredients.

We’ll offer succulent meals made by untrained chefs.

Soufflés will be our speciality and ours will be simple to make rise.

If I build this, do you think people will come?

You see I’m not so sure.

I think there are still plenty of people who understand that top meals require the best ingredients and trained chefs.

And there are still plenty of clients, most of mine included, who believe that insights come from high quality research conducted by the best researchers.

So I’ll tell you what, scrap the ‘Cheap Gourmet’ idea, I’m off to gather some insight. 

And I really don’t think it’s going to be that easy.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Of Style & Substance

It’s always interesting to be given the opportunity to see how your competitors approach proposals and debriefs. Theirs is never as good as yours of course; either they’re asking too much for too little when it comes to the proposal; or they’re stating the obvious and delivering minimal insight when it comes to the debrief.

These days, though, another element has become a major issue, if not the major issue when it comes to how people judge both proposals and debriefs. And this is the way in which both these elements of a project are presented.

You see already in writing this I’m starting to get worried that I’m becoming a tad wordy. And already I’m beginning to have concerns that because I haven’t provided illustrations for the words ‘style’ or ‘substance’ in my title that many of you have switched to trying to find something else to read instead.

But for those who have made it this far I would like to make a point about what I see as a case of style over substance in some of the research documents to which I have recently been exposed.

In these documents I have seen colour aplenty, photographs in abundance, numerous videos, and musical accompaniments too; and whilst some of this serves to complement and support a given argument or story, much of the rest I feel is often verging on the gratuitous.

What I also feel is that in some cases such devices are employed at times when argument generally is lacking and when a narrative has not even been considered, much less thought through.

Please don’t get me wrong here; I’m all for the use of graphics, illustrations, video material et al if it is being used for a purpose and not just for effect. I’m all for the use of any means by which a proposal can be made more interesting, a presentation can flow more smoothly and be better communicated.

But I’m only in favour of this if a proposal is strong on substance already and a presentation has been thought through properly. If this is not the case then I believe that many of the devices mentioned above might eventually serve to devalue our industry more than enhance it.

The written word, I feel, has been fundamental to the way this industry has grown and developed to date. I’d like the use of words to remain a key part of how we continue to communicate. Let’s not gloss over this in our obsession with all things bright and shiny and new.

Now I’m hoping you made it this far in your reading. Otherwise I’ll start to wish I’d kept the original title for this piece. It was ‘fur coat and no knickers’, so you can imagine how much fun might have been had on Google image with that.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Strategic Futurologist Director of the Positive Solutions Boutique

How do you like my new job title?

If you’ve read other blogs you’ll understand the difficulty I’ve had in the past in actually putting across exactly what I do for a living.

Well I’m wondering if this might be the answer.

You’ll note the exclusion of the words market and research; they’ve never made me that popular at parties for one reason and another.

Then there’s the qualitative word – well no-one can pronounce that for a start and even those who can, have no interest in what it means apart from enjoying the chance to tell me that they know it’s different to quantititititative.

Added to this I’ve been noticing some fancy titles lurking in advertising and marketing magazines recently and I think it’s time I had my own version.

So I’m not re-naming the offices Fruit Towers but I do quite fancy ‘doing an Innocent’ on my job title.

And these new words are not chosen at random:-

I’m ever so strategic – a fancy way of saying I think about stuff I find out and how it might be interpreted.

I’m a futurologist – well, the past, it’s so yesterday. And hey, I’ve always wanted to be involved with an ology.

I’m a director – the most important person in this entire… boutique.

Positive solutions – that negative vibe, man, no-one wants that any more; it’s answers our clients want.

I run a boutique – which is the current way of positioning oneself as a small market research agency. We’re very popular now apparently, low overheads, personal service, what you see is what you get.

So there you go, new title sorted. What next?

Ah, now it’s just a case of finding a large enough business card (or should that be QR code) on which my new title might fit.
Here’s to the future – infinity and beyond!