Sunday, 2 December 2012

4 learnings from the gym that I can apply to research

I was embarrassed last week when one of my colleagues was flicking through my different online accounts and came across my blog. This wasn’t because the last article I wrote was a review of the Hunger Games (I still think it’s a great film!), but was more due to the fact that I posted the review on the 25th of March 2012. Given we’ve now reached the 3rd of December, it’s been a long time between drinks!

This did however spur me into action, and led me to actually sit down and write a post I’ve been considering on and off for months. As I trawl around the web, a popular approach seems to be looking at how learnings from broader life can be applied to business. Let it never be said that I can’t jump on a bandwagon, so without further ado, here are four learnings from my time in the gym that can be applied to market research.

1.         Planning is critical
Australia is at the start of summer, and gyms around the country are being swamped by a deluge of pasty people emerging from the cave they’ve been hiding in. While some know their way around a treadmill, many of them have been seduced by late night infomercials promising six packs and a toned butt in just 2 weeks.

Based on my highly scientific observations (wandering past the bikes on my way in and out), most of these people come in, sit on a bike at a gentle pace for half an hour, and then end up hugely disappointed when they don’t start dropping kilos immediately. They fail to appreciate that you need to come into the gym with specific goals in mind, and then tailor a program that will help you meet these in a realistic timeframe.

To my mind, this can be directly translated to research, where the wrong technique, a poorly framed sample or unrealistic timeframes can sentence a project to failure before you lift a finger. As with the gym, you need to start with your end goals in mind, and then continue to review and update your approach as you go.

2.         Learning never ends
I started going to the gym in about 2001, and have been a consistent visitor since 2008. While I do have standard programs, I like to mix up the drills or exercises I might do on any given day, both to avoid boredom and to stop my body getting too comfortable with a routine. This could involve completely new exercises, as well as variations on what I’m already doing that might be more effective, safer or targeting a slightly different area.

To help me with this, I’m constantly watching both instructors and other patrons (in a non-creepy way of course) to see what they’re doing, and pick up ideas that I can incorporate into my training. Whilst I’m not using everything I see, knowing what is out there allows me to make an informed judgement about what will be most effective in my personal workouts.

Similarly, research is constantly changing and evolving, with the development of new approaches and the improvement of existing ones. While not all of these are worthwhile, knowing about them, understanding how they work, and seeing when they might be applied is critical for me to be able to confidently tell a client what I feel they should use to solve the issue they are facing.

3.         Sometimes you need expert advice
While I’m generally comfortable with my overall approach, one area that I really struggle with is flexibility. To help me with this, I’m currently one week into a three week stint with one of the PTs at my local gym. He’s helping me work on some drills that despite making me cry like a little girl should improve my overall flexibility and take pressure off some of the joints.

While I do regularly stretch and work on flexibility on my own, the work I’m doing with him is more technically advanced and needs to be carefully set up and managed to avoid doing harm instead of good.

Working in research, the need for expert input is a constant reality. When I say this, I’m looking beyond senior input for more junior researchers, but thinking about the need to tap into subject matter experts. An obvious example is advanced quantitative analysis, with many agencies outsourcing complex analytics such as Choice Modelling. While I may be able to explain the model to my client, the involvement of the expert in the creation and implementation is critical to the success of the project.

4.         Junk in, junk out
Strange behaviour is common at the gym. To me, this includes the people who stand around a piece of equipment talking, without bothering to do an exercise, through the (generally) guys doing nothing but bicep curls to the (generally) women having a leisurely stroll on the treadmill while chatting away to their friends.

While all of these people would finish their training and head off to work or play feeling like they’ve had a good workout, the reality is that they’ve pretty much wasted their time. This is based on a pretty simple equation... more effort expended = more benefit, which feels fairly intuitive to me.

While this might be most easily applied to the level of work put in by researchers, I want to look at it in a slightly different way, in terms of inputs into the research process. This could include anything from your sample of participants through to your questionnaire instrument or discussion guide. If these are not clearly envisioned and fully developed, they will not meet the goals of the project and you will probably end up wasting a good chunk of someone’s money.

What does this mean?
To me, the main message to take out of this is that the basics remain the same regardless of what you're doing. Having more information or knowledge is always a good thing, and regardless of how much you know, there will always be times that you need help from someone else!

What learnings from life would you like to apply to market research?