As I look to further my explorations in research, now one month into my tenure with Great Lakes GrowthWorks, I am inspired by the potential that can emerge at the intersection of two worlds: Academia and Business.
And, there is no place I see these worlds more strongly converging than in Market Research, as two pillars of support: the research side that is able to efficiently collect and process information, drawing from it the insights that spur on development, innovation and growth and the business side that takes those insights and turns them into actionable, tangible ideas. Although these two areas crucially intersect in our work, the reality is that building business knowledge / experience and honing excellent research skills can often involve separate processes and groups of people.
On the business side, the goal of business school programs is not to enable or foster the same in-depth, extensive, rigorous research as that of an academic research program. While Marketing Research classes may cover specific research methodologies most applicable to companies and brands, most practitioners have relied on learning their skills through hands-on experience or professional development programs. Now, we recognize that different business school programs have different ways of building market research into the curriculum. However, a HBR article on business schools expressed a general overemphasis of scientific models (ironically in pursuit of academic credibility) at the expense of multidisciplinary approaches.
Meanwhile, academic research has a lot to offer the business world. The rigor of research at a graduate level increases exponentially at this next stage which aims at the production of new knowledge, in addition to mastery of extant knowledge. Researchers in this setting are also likely to have some years and worldly experience under their belts. If someone has survived in this environment, it’s a good bet that they have a lot of persistence, self-direction, critical thinking, and can cope with high levels of stress and long hours. It takes a lot to write a thesis, not to mention the writing, storytelling, and presentation skills developed over years of communicating and sharing your research. One might be surprised by the sales skills an academic researcher develops when they have to pitch every paper topic to a skeptical advisor. And these are all traits general to researchers before considering the specific advantages of fields like sociology or anthropology.
Granted, the transition from academic to market research brings its own challenges. The visualization and presentation of information resulting from a market research project is on a whole other level and the learning curve that first time around is pretty steep. Perhaps the greatest shift is the need for actionable conclusions rather than the generation of knowledge and insights being an end unto itself. Academic researchers like to really dig into an issue, demanding a breadth and depth of knowledge that clients neither want nor need. The quick rate of turnaround on projects can be daunting at first. These frustrations are hardly insurmountable barriers though. Rather, they demonstrate how much academic research could benefit from the business perspective. Social science and humanities departments need to emphasize and demonstrate applicable skills and knowledge.
Today there isn’t a commonly paved path from academic research to business industry. If anything, academic researchers are encouraged to think of themselves as incompatible with business and never stray from the ivory tower. These barriers may be from a lack of communication or awareness of the mutually beneficial relationship these two sides can really have when it comes to market research. Companies need good researchers and good researchers definitely want work that is simultaneously stable and engaging. Simply stated, it’s an untapped resource. Or to think of it in business terms, it’s an acquisition opportunity to bring in credibility, expertise, methodology, diverse experience and points of view, passion and a sense of purpose.
I did not enter Market Research through the straightest of paths. As much as this work seems to incorporate the diverse threads of my life in a way that is very fulfilling and offers tremendous potential growth, it is certainly an unexpected shift. But at Great Lakes GrowthWorks, there is no feeling of being the odd man out. We came here through many different paths and experiences – some more traditionally business, some very academic, and some that resist simple classification in either category. It’s what gives our team such an interesting mix of perspectives and helps us generate the more nuanced insights that propel growth.