I recently attended an evening audience with Sir Roger Moore at the opulent Art Deco Orpheum Picture Palace on Sydney’s north shore. Although he, himself, admitted to being “no Laurence Olivier”, the erstwhile Agent 007 did give some excellent advice to an aspiring 18 year old actor who asked what was needed to make it to the top of the profession.
First off, Sir Roger pointed out that you needed a lot of luck not only to get your first chance but for it to be the right sort of chance for your style. But, then he emphasised something that is true for all professions and trades, irrespective of time or place, and that was you must learn your craft.
In acting, we’d be talking about timing, deportment, projection, and so forth but you could replace those with the ball skills and hand-eye coordination needed for most sports. In the researcher’s case, the analogy would be along the lines of a fundamental understanding of statistics, critical thinking ability, and some clear communication skills before you’re allowed to comment on the meaning of any set of numbers, data, content, or text.
It is reported that ‘traditional’ research approaches (based around structured surveys and formal focus groups) are under threat from new methods in the social media environment of blogs, bulletin boards, online communities, member-created polls, and so forth. Nevertheless, fundamental craft skills are crucial for, if nothing else, knowing how to establish explicit objectives that can be communicated to those who participate and in developing some understanding of the kind of people creating this content in this newer milieu.
It has also been said that in tomorrow’s environment; yesterday’s skills will be redundant. That’s true to a degree but only so long as the former skills are replaced, updated, and re-applied. All the changes in the commercial and technological environment do not mean that research skills per se become unnecessary, they need to be augmented not replaced by business acumen and client servicing ‘savvy’ as well as an ongoing appreciation of the new consumer settings. Because even if you are studying blogs or online research community content it doesn’t mean you can avoid digging into the data like an “old-school” researcher or designing studies and framing issues to avoid bias and provide focus.
Perhaps, with today’s emphasis on faster return on investment from research activities, the traditional craft skills need to be understood by those learning them in a more commercially disciplined light. For example, questionnaire design not just from ease of understanding and elegance of language but more for the value of insights derived, robustness to environment, and the cost of execution.
Organisations that skim over or leave out the basics from their staff development strategies will find themselves at a disadvantage long term, risking potentially dangerous situations that arise from dispensing inaccurate and misleading advice. Researchers need the core expertise and must understand the strengths and limits, so they can best meet the needs of the end user, and maintain the integrity of their profession.
Craft skills underpin every successful and sustainable career. Everything that comes after, at an individual, team, and company level, is built on their foundation. A firm mastery of the craft made a self-confessed ‘jobbing actor’ an international star. (Or for current proof, wait ’til the DVD comes out and compare England’s first touch ball skills to Germany’s in the recent last 16 match and maybe the 4-1 score line won’t seem such a surprise after all.)