Dear Emeritus: Feeling Overwhelmed by Tech?

Three seasoned qualitative researchers provide tips for staying on top of the rapidly-evolving market research industry, including new techniques, specialties, tools, and methodologies that are redefining the industry as we know it.

Dear Emeritus:

I feel overwhelmed by everything I need to stay on top of in the industry. There are so many technologies and platforms to learn about and compare, which is exciting, but I can’t possibly learn them all. Innovative approaches and methodologies, options for recruiting, changing regulations, tons of human behavior research… I’m keen on learning, but I know I need to prioritize. How should I focus my energies?

—Overwhelmed in Oslo

Dear Overwhelmed:

Philip Smith Responds

Overwhelmed, it’s great to see you are keen to expand your learning and development. I have found that a good way to focus is to broadly categorize learnings to allocate my time and energy. My four broad learning categories are:

  • Skill Development
  • Compliance
  • Technology
  • Niche Building

Skill Development—this covers vast areas of learnings that are often the most interesting, as we can often find a place for them in our day-to-day work activities and projects. My method is to select learning activities related to current or potential projects or areas of my specialization or interests. Rather than delve into something you may use, it’s better to act on what you will use! QRCA offers resources to assist, such as the Qualology Learning Hub, as well as the Forum with members sharing knowledge. Skill development requires some planning, but I also think it is important to be nimble enough to take advantage of opportunities that arise.

Compliance—this includes legal, changes in legislation, tax requirements, health and safety, and certification. These vary depending on the nature of your business and domicile. It is important to stay informed and up to date, even though some may not be that exciting! These should be addressed earlier rather than later. Allocating time on a regular basis often works best—plan and organize.

Technology—this has grown significantly, and it changes constantly! My thinking is only do what you need to do. Assess if upgrading or using a new technology will be a benefit for you and your business. As I’m not super technical, I need to learn and implement, otherwise I forget! Therefore, my technology learnings are often more spontaneous, based on an as-needed basis.

Niche Building—this is developing knowledge, skills, and information related to a particular industry/area of work. Examples are pharma, medical, hospitality, and urban development. It’s best to limit yourself to a few specializations, as fully understanding specifics of an industry/niche improves your approaches and outcomes. A great way to gain these skills is to attend other industry webinars, seminars, and conferences. Planning maximizes your resources.

Importantly, learning should be enjoyed and not feared or stressed over. It helps to do some planning and organizing, but flexibility and adaptability are important when approaching education. Qualitative is a lifelong learning experience. Enjoy!

Philip Smith


Dear Overwhelmed:

Jeff Walkowski Responds

I feel the same way, OIO. I used to think I knew almost everything there was to know about online qualitative. I even thought of changing my company name to “Mr. Online.” But the advances on many fronts make my head spin, and I feel there’s no way I can claim the crown of Mr. Online. But that’s OK. I’ve grown to realize that it’s impossible to know everything, and that learning never ends. Here’s some advice for you.

First, choose one or two things you aspire to be an expert in. This should be something you would want to incorporate into your own work. Keep it focused and narrow. Find a niche that not many (if any) others have already staked a claim in. Being an expert in all aspects of qualitative research? No, that’s too broad. Being an expert in the use of video clips in final reports? That’s more appropriate.

Second, set aside some time each day or week (whatever works for you) for your own desk research on the topic. Use Google to start putting together a reading list. Identify others who know something about your soon-to-be area of expertise, and schedule some time to talk with them. Find podcasts on the topic and listen to them. If there’s training available (for a fee) in your area of interest, consider investing in that training. Do this regularly, and you’ll be amazed at the body of knowledge you will accumulate.

Next, start talking it up. But first, if you’re not a member of QRCA, join, as your community connections are endless, and you’ll have greater access to many of the following ideas.

  • Pose provocative questions on the QRCA Forum, QRCA members-only Facebook page, or Qual Group from QRCA on LinkedIn.
  • While socializing with others at QRCA chapter, SIG, or other meetings, tell your peers about your newfound area of interest, and see what others have to say about it.
  • Is there a QRCA SIG that is related to your area of interest? If so, join it, attend meetings, and actively engage in discussions. If there isn’t a SIG that’s related to your area of interest, consider asking the QRCA Board of Directors to let you start one!
  • Discuss your area of interest with current and potential clients. You never know who might want to take advantage of your ever-increasing expertise. It’s up to you to get the word out.
  • Propose a presentation, workshop, or roundtable discussion that’s related to your area of interest to your QRCA chapter. Make it a compelling proposal—one that makes them say, “Yes, we need to hear more about that topic!”
  • Don’t forget about the QRCA Annual Conference and VIEWS. Both represent opportunities for you to share your expertise and create awareness that you are an expert in that area.

In our maturing industry, there’s plenty of room for more niche experts—experts in a particular methodology, in a particular part of the research process, subject matter experts in a particular industry, or experts working with certain target populations, etc. As the old saying goes, “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” Find your passion, go for it, and create your niche!

Jeff Walkowski?


Dear Overwhelmed:

Michele Zwillinger Responds

I empathize with you as I experienced the same feeling as I encountered the world of qualitative research shifting from face-to-face and in-person, to digital data collection options. In California, we got hit with changes to how we were supposed to recruit, interview, collect, and save/store data, as well as what our clients could legally do. It did become overwhelming. If you want to have time to continue working, you can’t be studying “the new” all the time. When everything looks important, it is hard to prioritize.

If I were you, I would do the following:

  1. Create a brain dump of all the things about which you don’t feel sufficiently knowledgeable.
  2. Categorize them (e.g., new methodologies, vendor options, legal/regulatory changes).
  3. Prioritize the categories in order of what will have the largest impact on your business right now.

Analyze the issues by category and divide them between those that would be nice to know eventually and those that will immediately be helpful in meeting your clients’ needs and growing your business. Take advantage of having access to much of the information you will be seeking on the QRCA’s Qualology Learning Hub. From prior conference presentations to vendor showcases, many of your questions will be answered without having to go out and collect the information you need to study. Start by deciding how much time you can realistically devote to learning. Then add a learning session on your calendar for the days when you will have time to study.

But you don’t have to do it all yourself! Once you have a sense of what you want to do, take advantage of QRCA colleagues. Post your questions/issues one at a time on the QRCA Forum. See who has recent experience in the area you want to learn. Reach out to pick their brain. Find out what works and what doesn’t—that will help you focus and prioritize. Better yet, partner with them… let one of your colleagues do the heavy lifting, learning from them as you go through the project. Your client gets the benefit of having someone experienced with the “new” technique, and you continue to learn while earning. It’s a win-win for all involved.

Alternately, if you have a methodology that you feel is appropriate for a specific project, partner with a trusted QRCA sponsor or vendor. Dive right in and learn by doing. They have always been willing to help us through all stages of a project. Similarly, learn from your recruiters about what approaches are most likely to be beneficial for your projects.

Michele Zwillinger