Sharper thinking is a big deal to us. And so is industry training and learning.
Starting now, we’d like to share our thoughts on all sessions we attend.
Because learning matters.
January 2020: AQR’s Models of Thinking
A full-day session designed to help researchers avoid getting stuck in repetitive ways of thinking and to help tackle client briefs in different ways.
- Mindframes by Caroline Hayter and Sarah Jay (Acacia Avenue)
- Brand models by Judy Taylor (Consult JMT)
- Communications by Laura Gillespie (Kokoro)
An enlightening course that’s changed the way I think when it comes to tackling briefs and report writing. I’m looking forward to: playing around with these various frameworks and models to help create a clear and compelling story for our clients, and to using the Pyramid Principles when I next write a debrief.
‘The session contents linked to a number of projects I’m currently working on. It provoked thoughts and new ideas for how I could approach different business challenges. I found the section on brand models and frameworks particularly interesting and am looking forward to using these methods in some upcoming analysis. Overall, the course challenged and encouraged me to think about how I could develop models within my own research to enhance understanding and to provide more strategic recommendations to clients.’
Don’t forget to check the AQR and MRS calendars for upcoming events and training!
If I were to distill the role of a qualitative researcher into two words, I would probably go for ‘professional conversationalist’.
Having great conversations underpins everything we do – yet how many times have you had, or viewed, a conversation with consumers where ‘it’ just doesn’t happen?
You know what I mean…low energy, basic answers, dead-looking eyes and real boredom both in front, and behind, the glass.
Like most quallies, I recently had such an experience and tried everything I could to get the conversation going – energisers, breaks, changing seating positions, challenging participants – all with no success. It was a dud.
Rather than deciding to just chalk the experience up to being ‘one of those groups’, I’ve been looking for solutions.
Drum roll please…
Allow me to introduce Celeste Headlee. She’s a veteran radio journalist who recently wrote the book We Need to Talk; How to Have Conversations That Matter.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough to…well pretty much everyone – but especially to my fellow professional conversationalists. In her book, Celeste looks back on her career in journalism and shares what she’s learned to help her have great conversations – interviewing everyone from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to truck drivers.
Rather than giving a long-winded review of the book, I’ll share three ideas it’s inspired me to try out:
- Showing consumers behind the curtain more
According to Celeste, good conversations happen when everyone understands what the topic is and what the interviewer is expecting of them. I want to play with this insight in future consumer conversations and try being a little more honest; letting them know more about what we know, what our hunches are and – most importantly – what we want to understand from talking to them. Too often, we try and shield our conversation partners from the bigger picture to avoid biasing them and they leave slightly confused asking ‘I hope that was useful?’ with a puzzled look on their faces. I want less of that.
- Rehearsing conversations and developing lines of questions
What comes across in this book is the sheer level of thinking that Celeste and her team put into the conversations they have – rehearsing and refining lines of questions and developing strategies for different potential avenues of discussion. Clearly, good conversation doesn’t just happen; it is crafted and planned. I want to put some of Celeste’s ideas into action and spend more time trying to pre-empt the conversations I have. I want to move beyond the discussion guide and think bigger.
- Shorter conversations for shorter attention spans
One of the big themes in this book is that the art of conversation is disappearing. Celeste attributes this change, in part, to our shortening attention spans caused largely by technology. Incredibly, an academic test to measure attention spans has shown a fall from 3 minutes in 2004 to just 59 seconds in 2014. Knowing what we know about our attention spans, why are we surprised that when putting 6 strangers in a room for 2 hours to talk about something they were not prepared for, they’re likely to become bored and lose interest? It’s time to start doing things differently and I want to find new ways of having shorter bursts of meaningful conversations with consumers. I want to learn how journalists maximise their time.
I’m now off to do some professional conversationing. I’ll let you know how I get on…
I’ve always been drawn towards the idea of meditation. Not so much for the spiritual side of it, but more with a view to quieting the mind and gaining greater focus on what’s right in front of me. Like all budding qualitative researchers I go from moderating groups, to writing debriefs, and jumping between projects. I consider meditation an invaluable skill in our line of work.
A few months back I attended a weekend course on Vedic meditation with 20 other individuals. We all signed up for different reasons, but shared an eagerness to learn how to make meditation part of our everyday lives. Since then, I have slowly developed my own practice. It’s still inconsistent – and there are days I don’t manage to find time for it – but I’ve realised that, as with all important things, you have to prioritise it. So I now get out of bed earlier or nip into one of the phone booths at work during lunch. I’ve noticed that when I do this my mind is clearer and I feel even more engaged with what I am doing.
Throughout this process I’ve started to wonder whether there are techniques or tools that could be derived from meditation, or indeed mindfulness, which could be used in qualitative research.
While I can’t imagine any scenario where we would ask respondents to sit and meditate before a group(!), I did attend AQR Spark’s Stop, Breathe, and Be (a mindfulness for moderators workshop). There we were asked to close our eyes while eating a piece of popcorn and to focus our thoughts on what we were experiencing. Going around the group afterwards, many felt they were recalling a deeper response where they were able to more clearly articulate their thoughts on the experience. I left feeling that there might be potential to incorporate similar techniques into our qualitative work. For example, focussing the minds of respondents on the task or topic at hand, or perhaps using it as a warm-up task in client workshops.
But the courage is in having the conviction to try it out! While meditation and mindfulness have a greater awareness and presence in today’s mainstream consciousness, there is a sense (I would argue) that it’s still something associated with ‘hippy’ culture. Thus it would be hard to sell to clients as a qualitative technique or a valid thing to spend five minutes of a focus group on. My hope is that, over time, we will start to draw in techniques from other similar disciplines to enhance the quality of the conversations we have and, ultimately, the insights we deliver to our clients.
I love the MRS Conference. I love spending two days surrounded by my comrades. I love my annual catch-ups with the same people I always vow to have lunch with within the next 365 days, and then don’t. I feel lucky that it’s become part of my annual social (and intellectual) calendar.
I love the fact that however hard the organising committee strive (I assume) to lay ‘theme’ across submissions and sessions (this year it was Impact with a capital ‘I’), it’s often delightfully hijacked by global and local fissures along with the sheer will, velocity, and personality of the keynote speakers – who in my view were more stellar this year than ever before. Okay, it might have been cheaper to watch some TED talks or go to a ‘how to…’ event to see people like Oliver James, Caitlin Moran, Dan Snow, and Hannah Fry…but choosers shouldn’t be sniffy beggars.
The themes that bubbled up eloquently amongst the speakers and panellists (and are now simmering away in my intellect):
- You should say the word disruption a lot nowadays. If you say disruption with emphasis, you will look as if you are a disruptor. That makes you look like a jolly good thing and quite an important person. I am not very disruptive.
Note to self: work on that.
- Being ethical is also a jolly good thing. The more ethical you are, the more people will like you and the more they will buy your stuff if you are a big company.
Note to self: hone ethics.
- The internet might implode soon. Or it might not implode soon, but something has to happen at some point because all the famous people who are on the internet are tired of the lawless wild wester-y (or should that be Westeros?) of it all. I have yet to be trolled so I probably shouldn’t complain.
Note to self: don’t comment – just in case.
- Being a woman is another good thing. If you were a woman at this year’s conference you were lauded and celebrated for simply turning up. I’m totally up for sisterhood in principle. I’m just not great at group hugs.
- Finally, David Bowie will reign long in the hearts and minds of researchers. I pity the other dearly departed of the last year as they quite simply didn’t get a mention. Who knew market research was so zig and zag? Maybe it happened when I wasn’t looking.
Note to self: be more Bowie.