Traps stopping a research agency from growing

a couple of days a go I had a couple of meetings – catchups if you will with owners of research agencies – one who has made a small fortune from running and selling research agencies and one who is in the full burn of start up. It was really interesting to compare the two conversations. I can't comment much because most can't be repeated. But 2 themes I came away with were these:

Profitable research solves client problems. An awful lot of time is spent on ideas and new methodologies and what have you. And researchers tend to be people who find ideas interesting. Which means they are easily distracted and can find themselves pre-occupied with ideas which have little or no commercial value. Now this isn't to reduce all research thinking to the small pile of scorched earth which most research briefs seem to come out of. Of course there needs to be innovation. But it would be better for us to focus first on the big problems before we focus on the big methodological issues.  I've commented before on issues to do with the research code which seem to me to be more and more about protecting research agencies privileged position than protecting respondents from exploitation.  There's a lot of time wasting. And you could do a lot worse than make a list of client problems you either have solved or think you could solve – and rewriting your creds presentations to deal with this.

Researchers don't find growing their companies easy. The simplest reason is not being able to let go of the research projects to find other people to run them for you – particularly if you don't think they will do the job as well. Management by being the best practitioner (which is poor management). The next is the political one of letting go those primary relationships with the client – without which you will never have an entity worth selling to anybody. You've just got a bunch of stringers executing. Who can do it without you but you won't let them. The third is feeling insecure about hiring people who might do it differently or be better. These three reasons are reasons why lots of companies don't grow as they should. But because research is such an intellectual product it is particularly difficult for researchers to escape these traps. And particularly easy for principals to make excuses and lock the company into a certain size.







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