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A career in research requires Creativity, Connectivity, Integrity, Curiosity, Passion

The Straits Times
Strait Times Recruit
23 July 2005

A career in research requires Creativity, Connectivity, Integrity, Curiosity, Passion

As business becomes more competitive and investments in new ventures grow larger, many companies are relying increasingly on market research to understand their business environment better and reduce their risks in launching new projects.

This growing demand for market intelligence has created good prospects for people interested in developing their career in market research and consulting. However, the challenges of such a career have also grown.

One of the major challenges a market researcher faces is getting the right information. Very often, he is sandwiched between too much information of one kind and too little of another. For example, with the Internet, one can easily get lost in the mountains of information. On the other hand, the information structure and level of transparency across Asia Pacific economies remains uneven, resulting in a lack of sufficient and reliable information in some countries.

A researcher in the old days probably had an easier job. Those were the times when markets were defined largely by geographical boundaries. Now, the world is a global market. On top of the usual market forces, researchers face complexities such as grey channels, counterfeits and illegal trade, as well as challenges posed by fast changing global competition, in particular, the rise of China. Business problems are increasingly complex and can no longer be solved by traditional business methods alone. A researcher has to be able to diagnose complex business problems with a fresh perspective and find innovative solutions for new problems.

One of the common perceptions about research is that it is a desk bound job. This is probably due to the term “desk research”. As a result, many perceive research to be boring. During job interviews, many candidates say they prefer consulting, probably influenced by images of glamorous consultants in Armani suits, jet-setting around the globe dispensing advice that catapult organizations to global dominance.

But consulting requires knowledge about the external environment in which companies operate, which has to be obtained through market and business research. Market research involves not only gathering secondary information, but also conducting interviews, on site observation and interaction with the market. The latter are often critical to gaining insights.

Another common myth is that market research is all about statistics. Statistics are certainly important. They help to quantify trends and evaluate outcomes. But research is also about understanding the trends, what drives them and how they impact the market and the business. It is equally important if not more, to go beyond the figures and assess what they mean for the client’s business – the whys, what ifs and so whats.

Market research is often associated with surveys. Market research, simply put, involves finding and understanding relevant information. Conducting surveys is only one way of doing so. There are many methodologies that can be used and the one chosen should balance reality against research objectives.

Probably, the greatest myth of all is that market research is just a “good-to-have” tool. Many organizations prefer to rely on their experience and gut-feel about the market. 

Market research is actually integral part to sound decision-making. Successful companies pay serious attention to market research as they understand that having the right knowledge about the external environment is a source of competitive advantage. 

Makings of a good researcher
A good researcher certainly needs brainpower, knowledge of research techniques and skills in writing reports, presentation skills and so on. But a great researcher should also have loads of creativity, connectivity, integrity and curiosity.

Researchers need to think out of the box, which requires resourcefulness, an ability to deal with ambiguities, judgment skills as well as common sense.

A competent researcher should also be able to connect with people, whether in understanding client’s needs, conducting interviews, observing the market orpresenting to clients. Research is as much about people as abou tinformation. Great researchers understand nuances in the information-gather-ing process and are sensitive about how the markets operate.

The start of a research process often involves asking a series of questions. These questions are often the difficult-to-answer ones. Another perspective to this would be to also ask the dumb questions. Those questions may seem basic but are fundamental to the integrity of the research and to solving the real problems.

Many great researchers typically share one common characteristic – they are very curious people. They enjoy thinking and are always looking for the why, how, what, where and who. They have an immense capacity to learn.

They read a lot and this helps them to stay up-to-date with current affairs and new developments in business world. Their curiosity also makes them more observant of the real world as business is about everyday life too. For example, by noting that many of the food products on supermarket shelves in Singapore are made in Thailand, they can see the rise of Thailand as a food export center. Coupled with sensitivity, curiosity enables researchers to better able to appreciate the workings of the business world and relate it to their research.

The most important trait would undoubtedly be a passion for research. Many researchers would agree that one of the most gratifying aspects of being a researcher is when their research makes a difference to a client’s business.

Seeing one’s recommendations being implemented certainly makes all the hard work and heartaches worthwhile. It is passion that drives great researchers to persevere against all odds.


Article by Ms Koh Ee Mei, project management director of Spire Research and Consulting.

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