OPINION5 July 2017

Survival of the fittest

Opinion Trends UK

Have you got what it takes to survive in an automated future world of market research? ZappiStore’s Stephen Phillips offers some pointers

This is not just another blog about how automation is the current hot topic in market research. Automation is no longer a simple discussion point; it’s happening now, globally, in industries all around us, and it’s affecting market research right now.

PwC predicts that over the next 15 years robots will take 38% of jobs in the US and 30% in the UK. Jobs will be disappearing quickly, but new jobs will be created in turn. The fact is there will be winners and losers in the race for automated market research. But what does this mean for us as researchers in terms of our personal careers? What skills do we need to prosper in an automating world?

Based on our new report ‘The skills needed to prosper in an automating world’, co-written with Ray Poynter, here are four ways we can respond to automation in order to thrive.

  1. Decide to embrace the future, before natural selection takes place

Success won’t just happen; you must choose to succeed. It will take commitment, and it will be an ongoing process with continual learning and exploring, but it will be worth it. To do this, we need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. This means understanding what an automated future really means for researchers. In fact, the future isn’t about AI at all, it’s about IA (or intelligence augmentation). While AI gives machines all the power and removes the need for humans, IA places the power behind the human, letting the machines support the researcher by amplifying our skills. AI measures the ‘what’ by tracking and finding patterns, but IA gives researchers the time to understand the ‘why’. We must embrace the future by empowering researchers, not replacing them.  

  1. Learn new skills for a new age

In their 2014 Esomar Congress paper ‘Après nous le deluge?, Simon Chadwick and Reg Baker, identified three skill groups that are in demand – consultants, specialists and polymaths. You need to be one of these.

A consultant is someone who can see the bigger picture and take the strategic path. With every client and every problem different, this is a skill that cannot be replaced by a robot. A specialist is an expert, such as a data scientist, semiotician, programmer or ethnographer. These are people who become complete experts in their respective areas and will be in great demand going forward. Or, be a polymath, skilled in multiple areas, with the ability to choose and combine different skills.

  1. Think creatively and actively

Automation will undoubtedly continue to create changes, so changes within the required skillset will be ongoing. You want to be the person who is constantly evaluating new options within automation and actively raising suggestions to your team. You want to be the first to be trained in new approaches, processes and methodologies, or you’ll fall behind. Remember that new techniques require new skills, so this leaves opportunity to train others in using the innovations.

  1. Choose your path – entrepreneur or artisan

An entrepreneur will take on the things that can be automated.  Yes there is still endless opportunity for tasks to be automated. Explore them. On the other hand, if you want to be an artisan there’s an alternate route to automation: take the path which involves choosing the things that can’t be automated. This is ideal for those who would like to work closely with a small number of clients but remain respected, high-level researchers with skills that involve a deep level of people to people involvement or the use of creativity.

As researchers, your main task is to make your customer successful, and that’s a people job, not a robot’s job.

Like it or not, it’s time to embrace the benefits of automation – faster, cheaper, better, scalable. Yes jobs will be lost, but they already have and we’re doing just fine. There have already been something around a million jobs lost in market research – we’ve just forgotten about them. These were the people knocking on doors, picking up the phone for interviews, printing and posting questionnaires and punching in data.

But this leaves room for new careers – and it allows researchers to spend more time with the client, truly understanding their business needs and providing insight. Research is evolving, and it’s less about the methodology and more about the client and end-customers.

Stephen Phillips is CEO of ZappiStore and spoke on this at the MRS’s recent B2B Conference