Tweets of Pain

“… I am sooooo busy and soooooo far behind. I do NOT like that feeling!” @LoveStats (Annie Pettit – prominent blogger/tweeter on MR methods/issues)

Commencing what feels like first real vacation in 2 years. Excited to do tremendous amounts of nothing…”  @steveaugust  (Steve August, Founder of  online Quali  software platform)

“think you ever get used to heading for the airport on a sunday night? hate it!!!!” @ericsalama (Eric Salama – CEO Kantar)

An increasing number of MR professionals Twitter. And a surprising number of them share tweets like the above, which have landed in my Tweet Deck in recent times.  (I  picked these to illlustrate the range – there are plenty others!).  Many of us share their frustration.

(c) Randy Glasbergen, 2006

I had a personal epiphany a few years back when, after my third trip to Beijing in a year, I realised I still hadn’t seen the Great Wall, and indeed had not seen much beyond the usual airport, taxi, meeting room and restaurant for dinner. I had a vision of my grandchildren gathered around me in my retirement, asking me about my travels and all I’d be able to say was that “it’s hard to get a taxi in New York when you need it”.

By its nature, MR makes it easy to stay busy with travel, emails, phone calls and meetings or to get dragged down in coping with the latest “crises” that inevitably erupt at regular intervals. Yet, despite these things taking up much of our working life, in reality we probably severely over-rate the necessity of dealing (at least urgently) with this mass of “stuff”. In most of my career, the best actions and decisions I’ve made – whether in researcher, line manager or global product roles – have been associated with having been able to take a bit of time out and work through the issues.  In contrast to dealing with “stuff, it seems we completely under-rate the value of prioritising time to think widely and creatively.

Doesn’t that seem odd in an industry where we talk so much about the value of “creative insight” and the need for researchers to become more like consultants? Why is it we give ourselves so little time to stretch our brains? Many of us still seem to value quantity of work over quality and put in huge hours without really challenging the value of what we are doing.

One of the reasons David and I run this blog, is that we have come to the conclusion that research professionals at all levels end up doing an enormous amounts of work that does not generate much return either for themselves or clients (click on the “MR for Profit and Pleasure” Tab above for more on our views on this.).  If you don’t believe me, try doing a time diary for yourself and a few key staff (not just a simple time-sheet, but a record of what you are doing every 15 minutes for a few days). Over the years I’ve got many MR people, in many countries, to do this and it is a rare individual, who does not find the results personally shocking,

Perhaps this in fact the next great challenge for MR – we have to tackle working styles and the way research professionals use their brains. In the last few years, as an industry, we’ve put huge amounts of effort into out-sourcing and back-office functions. Tackling researcher productivity issues is harder, but potentially much more valuable. At the end of the day any added value we can offer our clients comes from our brain-power, and too often our grey matter isn’t  given an opportunity to function efficiently.

So, as New Year resolution time comes around,  I suggest thinking  seriously about resolving to find ways to give your brain some time to stretch and consider the bigger picture challenges. You may find, as I did, that such “down-time” is not only more fun, but often much more productive, than all those multifarious activities that currently lead us to  the  “Tweets of Pain”.


4 Responses to Tweets of Pain

  1. annie says:

    Great points. I too believe it is important to take time out for oneself. That is how a gingerbread house came to be even though a few things were still forthcoming. Balance doesn’t always happen every day but it needs to happen every month.

    • Alastair Gordon says:

      Hi Annie, Yes you are right the “gingerbread time” at Christmas etc. is important. But it isn’t so much “time out” that I mean, but time deliberately spent thinking about the bigger issues that impact our business or research or whatever. Systematic time put aside for issues are vital, but not as urgent or time dependent as the usual stuff that pressures us. This sort of time is where the transformational insights come from, but we do little to encourage or value it. Cheers, Alastair

  2. innotecture says:

    Alastair – I think this is a issue for many professionals who produce “intangibles” (sorry, a report is not the same as a chair) that can’t be reduced to a process – lawyers, consultants of all stripes, advertising creatives, even accountants.

    We have spent most of last 120 years taking apart & optimising first physical labour & then services that can be turned into processes.

    This affects not just the work/life balance of such people but the underlying business models of non-routine services businesses, costing & pricing, project management and client expectations.

    I think that a professional should be allotting about 20% of their time to reflect on “doing things better” as opposed to “doing things now”.

    • Alastair Gordon says:

      Yes, good point – I agree there is a business model issue here that is faced by many professionals in similar industries. I do think MR is perhaps more impacted than others because while many companies need desperately to improve the “value add” component of their business (which means you have to value thinking and creativity, not just number of hours worked), MR is also an industry with a legacy of business processes that make it difficult for mid/senior executives to avoid getting sucked into always prioritising the “urgent” over the “important”. I think many senior MR people realise that the way researchers work today is blockage in terms of getting where we need to be tomorrow, but since it is a messy issue that will take a lot of effort we tend to put it on the back-burner and dive back into our backlog of “urgent emails”!!

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