Five Professional Traits I’ve Learned from Researchers
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Five Professional Traits I’ve Learned from Researchers

September 9, 2014

It’s fair to say that I’ve spent a lot of time with researchers in my short career: working with UX researchers at an ad agency, working with design researchers at a product innovation firm, and now working with qualitative, quantitative, and design researchers at a consumer insights and strategy consultancy. With that kind of influence in my life, you’d think I’d be a researcher by now. Not quite. But I’ve had the privilege to observe researchers in the field, be a respondent for many of them, and collaborate on analyses and deliverables together.

It’s fair to say that I’ve spent a lot of time with researchers in my short career: working with UX researchers at an ad agency, working with design researchers at a product innovation firm, and now working with qualitative, quantitative, and design researchers at a consumer insights and strategy consultancy.  With that kind of influence in my life, you’d think I’d be a researcher by now.  Not quite.  But I’ve had the privilege to observe researchers in the field, be a respondent for many of them, and collaborate on analyses and deliverables together.

I’ve taken some time and compiled five professional traits that researchers demonstrate well, and that I would argue are important for us all to bring into the workplace to be more effective with people and get the most out of our work and, in turn, our lives.

1. EMPATHY

When dealing with people, empathy is said to be the most important characteristic you can display.  High emotional intelligence, as one who displays or portrays empathy must have, is paramount.  Empathy, or the ability to perceive and feel the experiences of others with clarity and authenticity, allows researchers to connect with others more deeply and effectively.  As researchers drop their selves, preconceptions, and notions and focus on really listening and supporting whomever they’re talking to, magic happens.  By establishing relatedness and understanding with respondents, trust and respect are created and respondents are more inclined to share in-depth and provide those richer details, yielding better results for everyone.  Just as researchers do with end-users and consumers, if business professionals, such as you and me, took empathy on more in the workplace, we’d have deeper connections to and understandings of the problems and needs of our clients, and thus more access to providing greater results for them.

2. CURIOSITY

Albert Einstein said it best: “the important thing is not to stop questioning…never lose a holy curiosity.”  Researchers foster their holy curiosity – it’s their job.  They are sent out into the field to ask questions and get answers.  But there’s a clear difference between asking to ask and asking to know.  Researchers define the distinction; they really care about knowing how it (whatever the subject or question may be) is for other people.  This is something I’ve taken on in my own life and has already begun to pay off in spades.  The minute I get curious about how an experience is for others, the better I am at listening and the more the people around me feel understood and thus the more willing they are to share.  Their sharing allows me to not only learn more, but also to connect more; and that connection is often valuable in many instances both professionally and personally.  Similarly, researchers take on a willingness to explore and discover and it’s through this – their insatiable curiosity – that opportunities or breakthroughs to improve or innovate are realized.  If you want to generate deeper, more insightful answers and relationships with people take on being curious about others.

3. PERSPECTIVE

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’ve had the conversation in your head of “there’s so much information our there, how do I keep up/learn it all? I give up!”  Yet, I’ve been having less of that conversation as I’m continually seeing from my researcher friends that a broad context is key and exploring areas, industries, news, and perspectives outside our interest or engrained skill sets is important.  In the words of Steve Jobs, “creativity is just connecting things,” and, as we all know, the only way to connect things is by knowing and experiencing a lot of diverse and seemingly unrelated things.  I know that researchers are true life-learners; they are connoisseurs of trends and gaining a macro-perspective so that they can apply a wide range of experiences or data points to any situation.  If we took on seeking and soaking up new perspectives in the workplace, our own perspective would expand and we’d be a lot more creative and smart.  Sounds pretty good to me.

4. GRIT 

Grit is one of the great buzzwords of our generation and for a reason.  Grit encapsulates so many enduring, sustainable qualities that really do make a difference for those that have it and demonstrate it.  My grandmother shared a great quote with me in college that I later learned was coined by Thomas Edison and not from her genius head: “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”  I believe that what my grandmother, or Edison, was describing was grit.  And I’ve learned that researchers embody that 90% perspiration.  They will get their hands dirty, do whatever it takes no matter how long it takes, and get to the bottom of whatever challenge they are solving for.  There is true focus on, perseverance, and passion for long-term goals; goals that bring creative, unparalleled results to a situation.  No great insight comes in a short period of time – even after multiple interviews.  What I’ve learned is that when we demonstrate grit we don’t settle and we push for greatness, or the longevity, validity, and sustainability of an idea or solution.  The researchers who embody grit are the ones who go a little further and wait until they confirm and validate their own hypothesis before they are satisfied.  Can you imagine the type of output that would be created if everyone demonstrated grit in the workplace?  I don’t need to say anymore to prove that this is a trait that makes a difference at work.

5. BEING A SOLUTIONIST

Though I did not come up with it myself and must give credit where credit is due (thanks Dad!), “solutionist” is my favorite term for kickass professionals today.  And I really see researchers, especially with where the field is heading, as solutionists.  However, it is my understanding that not everyone sees this cohort as such.  There has been a common perception that researchers are gatherers of information and fuzzy inspiration, not problem solvers capable of engendering actionable solutions.  To use the analogy: they are the line cooks, not the chefs.  I can say for sure that this is no longer the case.  Researchers don’t gather data for data sake – they are much more intentional about what they are discovering and solving for the perennial question “so what?”  – instead they gather information to deliver value and not just data points.  Using “so what?” as a guide gives researchers the ability to always see the application as well as go beyond normal or traditional applications.  If answered in a clear way, “so what?” can be the ingredient to making an improvement and providing solutions that weren’t there before, which is what being a solutionist is all about.  If we orient ourselves towards being the chef, and always come up with not just information but information that moves us forward, we’ll be more successful than we’ve ever been.

The beauty about these five traits is that they all live inside of us, which validates my belief that we are all researchers.  It just happens to be that some of us tap into, strengthen, and develop them more than others and get called “researchers.”

It’s my opinion that if we were all to do the same, it’d make relating to people and producing great results more possible and frequent.  When you begin to take on honing the traits of a researcher, I guarantee that life will be a little more interesting, exciting, and rewarding like it has for me!

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