We can thrive on the Edge - even if it is scary

Understanding what makes humans tick is fascinating. Striving to understand people and the relationships between them is the most incredible pursuit. Yet sometimes I get a sense that, instead of being excited and inspired, we are fearful of what is happening to our industry. I think this is a real shame.

Why so serious?[1] We have hugely significant new influences in our domain of knowledge and expertise: automation, AI, neuroscience and social listening. These tools have come from outside our industry but are impacting the core elements of it. The consequence is that we are being led into a spiral of existential questioning of where we are and what we do. This is why so many conferences and sessions are entitled ‘The future of market research’ or similar.

As we wrestle with these challenging questions, I think we need to look to where our knowledge boundary is. In this way we will find our edge. As any economist will tell you, it is at the margin where the important things happen so that is where we need to look. What can we humans do to succeed and indeed thrive in a research world that is increasingly being run by automation, DIY and at the more burgeoning sophisticated artificial intelligence?

The diagram below shows where the edge is. If you start at the top left square, you will see that ‘analysis’ overall is increasingly completed by machines and is relatively easy for them to execute given the problem can be easily defined. The bottom right-hand cell to ‘inspire’ is the one that is most human as it links to emotional work rather than executional.

This diagram below is adapted from Greg Orme’s book ‘The Human Edge’ shows where researchers need to operate as a guiding hand to help clients define problems and inspire action from their work. This is where we will maintain and increase our relevance.

The Human Edge

So hopefully this short article will help inspire you on your journey to increased relevance and impact. Think of your destination, not where you are starting from, and it is OK to feel a little scared. When you are inspired anything is possible.

To quote The Joker in Dark Knight