I’ve been thinking about why I still love doing research after 25 years.
I’m not sure people outside the business really get it and it isn’t easy putting your finger on it, but I know a lot of researchers feel the same as me. Lets see if I can explain it in 600 words.
I was up in Leeds last month chatting to a room full of mums. I won’t go into what we were talking about but, as usual, I was pretty amazed by what they were telling me. And while they were jabbering away I noticed myself thinking how cool it was to get paid for this.
My LinkedIn profile tells anyone I do ‘insight > strategy > planning’ and I enjoy all those part of the job, and I'm pretty good at them, but none of it is worth anything if I didn’t enjoy the research: The nitty gritty, fiddly bit at the beginning with the logistical nightmares and dodgy hotels and little brown envelopes full of tenners and curled up sandwiches and the no-shows and the gobby types who won’t shut up. Not exactly glamorous I admit, and I have a job explaining to my kids where I’m going at night. But its a great job.
Of course it’s taken me all over the world. I’ve sat on porches in the Alabama backwoods wondering if I’d get out alive, hid in Saudi apartments avoiding the ‘Prayer Police’ and chased kids around Central Park as they test out water guns (occasionally on me). But mostly I’ve sat in front rooms and viewing facilities trying to avoid the crisps and M&M’s. And what’s so cool about that? People are cool. People are funny and poignant and practical and real. Some of them are arseholes, but the majority are just great and I have the job (I won’t say privilege as that sounds pretentious) of talking to them and getting paid for it. I know a large part of the satisfaction from journalism or being in the police or the health profession comes from the human interaction and I get that same buzz. But then I get something else that really puts the cherry on the iced bun.I think it was Socrates who said "The unexamined life is not worth living”. (yeah, it was him - I just looked it up). That’s a bit OTT, but I know where he was coming from. Life is AMAZING, but we never have enough time to think about it. We’re too busy dealing with its challenges to sit back and just observe it for a while. But that’s what my job gives me. I talk to people, I get them to do silly exercises, they give me their time and considerations, and then I go away and think about what it all meant.And here’s the best bit: I’m having breakfast or taking a shower and in the background the old CPU is turning over. I might listen to the tapes or drawn a few venn diagrams and suddenly…. BAM! The whole thing opens out - as if I’ve been trying to solve a jigsaw without the box to tell me what the picture is. Then something clicks and I understand why Janice doesn’t like to drink red wine or why Phil uses a roll-on rather than a spray and the pieces start to fit. It all comes down to something about being human that I hadn't noticed before.It’s like I’ve found a door to a secret room and now I can go in and look around at the stuff inside.They say the devil is in the detail, but when it comes to insight, detail is where the angels live. My job lets me examine those details.