FEATURE10 April 2013

Flex, future researcher


Jeremy Rix follows Jay Simpson, fictional future insight executive, during a typical working week to see how the job might change in the coming years.


We’re debriefing on a project about air travel. It’s a customer experience thing. I have the project team meeting at a departure lounge, and we’re going to run the session live – pull in customers who are waiting for their flights and get them to talk about their experiences. The wheeze is that everyone attending has to go through check-in and security before they get to the debrief. We’ll all be feeling pretty much how real customers do by the time we get together.

After the debrief, I have a meeting with the team – some are working at the agency, some in-house, but most are out among customers. We dial in to a Google Hangout via our Glasses and each spend five-to-ten minutes talking about where we are, what we’re doing and what we’ve learnt during the last week. We pan our cameras around a bit so everyone else can soak up the atmosphere. It’s a good exercise for breaking routines and interrupting lazy thinking. Then we crack on and catch up on projects and plans.

Then I’m out of the airport and home to pick up the children. I spend a few hours with them, cook dinner and get them ready for bed, and then, when my partner gets home, I’m off for an over-nighter.

We have a retreat which we call the ThinkSpace. I stay overnight so I can get up very early – I find I’m most creative from around 5am to midday – and work on some analysis without interruption. So all modes of communication are switched off. It’s green tea and a walk through the woods and starting work at 5.30am. I’m working on a confidential piece of research: it’s a complex problem that needs solving, and the thinking time is very important. We’ve done the research, and I’ve begun to see some patterns which I think could be critical, but I know if I don’t spend time doing proper thinking, we won’t get value from all of the discovery work we did. See you on the other side!

By 1pm I’ve cracked it! Feeling very pleased with myself. I’ve sent a video of my thinking through to the project team, and am feeling confident they’ll love it. Now time for home again.

“We dial in to a Google Hangout via our Glasses and each spend five-to-ten minutes talking about where we are, what we’re doing and what we’ve learnt during the last week”

A bunch of calls and catch-ups this morning, and progress reports on projects that have arisen from research I’ve been involved in. On some of these I’m an observer/sounding board, on others I have a role in making sure that the action promised is happening. I do all of this on the go. I like to vary my environment so that I’m exposed to a variety of stimulus – it helps keep everything fresh, and I find it easier to come up with ideas.

In the afternoon, I have some heavy data analysis to do. I’m using a tool to manipulate data in different formats from a variety of sources. We used to have specialists who did this, but I’d say I’m pretty typical in being comfortable with information and insights in whatever format. There’s no difference, from the perspective of meaning and interpretation, between a digit and a word or a picture or whatever other medium we’re trying to understand people through. If you’d been following me next week, you would have been able to see the work I’m doing with my own ‘personal’ community. I’ve got a longitudinal study with a group of people I’ve infiltrated – so I have a personal connection with them, at the same time as monitoring (with their permission, of course!) their every action, response and (as far as possible) thought.

Ironically, I’m running a workshop today at [-] called ‘Trust your gut: Having the confidence to ditch the data and use your intuition to make decisions’. This is part of a rehabilitation programme I’m running for executives who are suffering from data paralysis. We have to get gut feel back and create a happier balance between intuition and evidence. It’s got to a point where managers are paralysed by indecision – they require ever more evidence before they’ll make a decision, to a point where there can never be enough, so a decision doesn’t get made. A researcher is absolutely the right person to run this programme – we understand the benefits and the limitations of data. Research is an aide to decision-making, not the decision itself.

After the workshop back to my analysis.

Whoops. Didn’t finish my analysis until gone midnight last night – got a little carried away. So a late morning start, and then a couple of hours at my kids’ school. I’m doing some experimental work with them about learning, and I also find it a useful stimulation for some of the children’s research we do. It’s useful to have your finger on the pulse outside of project scope. You notice more.

I have a project briefing meeting in the afternoon. It’s got nothing to do with children or schools, but I’ve managed to get the team to come here, rather than have it in the office. It’s sunny so we end up sitting outside…. They’ve got a kind of assault course in the playground, and we decided to use that as a metaphor for the project, which threw up a completely different way of thinking about it. We ended up completely redesigning the approach, and we think we’re probably saved ourselves four weeks, and a good chunk of money.

Great way to end the week.

Jeremy Rix is the founder and chief listener at Oko. He’s online at www.engageoko.com