Professional Development – you don’t know what you don’t know!

Having recently assumed the chair of the AMSRS’s Professional Development Program, the first thing that struck me was the enormous range and diversity of subject matter one has to command these days to be a truly effective market researcher. The extent of knowledge required makes it even more important to encourage continuous learning if we are to retain the value of MR as a profession in both the commercial and social sphere.

At the risk of over-simplifying, there wasn’t that much to learn in the late 70s to early 80s. If you were capable of questionnaire design, understood stats and a bit of sampling, could analyse data, and maybe present with some coherence you could work in a research company.

Today, you not only need all the ‘craft’ skills, you have wider array of techniques to master. Also, you are expected to have a much better appreciation of the clients’ environment, along with in-depth knowledge of their industry, service, or government sector. And this is before understanding many of the fundamentals of marketing, consumer psychology, and the like needed to credibly deliver any of the research products your company may offer. (And I haven’t even touched on some of the newer MR fields of social media, biometrics, gamification, behavioural economics and so forth)

Changes in the corporate profile of the research industry, if anything, make the challenge of receiving fully rounded professional development even harder.

The consolidation within the research sector means, with a few exceptions, you either start your career in one of the ever decreasing numbers of multi-national giants or a markedly smaller locally based specialist. There are relatively few substantial but mid-sized firms around compared to the past. In those, you would generally receive a comprehensive and broad based training by being exposed to a mixture of clients and methods and working closely with several experienced research directors of varying backgrounds.  Nowadays, a new entrant would work under a less experienced manager or SRE in one circumstance, or a highly expert but probably more specialised director in the other. In the final analysis, this means there is a danger of the industry producing researchers with extreme depth of expertise but narrow breadth.

This not only is potentially damaging to the industry, but if your particular speciality becomes obsolete, is surpassed by some disruptive technology, or becomes victim to M&A events, it can be career-limiting.

This being the case, it is incumbent on the industry to complement the professional development of its membership by offering forums whereby, without compromising competitive advantage, its members can exchange experiences and expertise and so continue gain exposure and appreciation of the ever expanding research repertoire.  Or as one research guru recently put it… “…helping you find out what you didn’t know you didn’t know!”

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