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Aliens vs. Dinosaurs

Given the diverse backgrounds of market researchers, there is a real need to continuously train. There are many resources that can be tapped into for help.

Editor’s Note: I have to admit to being a big fan of 1950’s science fiction movies.  Since I was a boy, I loved movies like “Them”, “Forbidden Planet”, “Godzilla” and yes, even such gems as “The Blob” and “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman”.  My favorite, though, is the original 1951 version of “The Thing”, starring James Arness as the monster, before his Gunsmoke days (and if you don’t remember Gunsmoke, you’re too young to be trusted).  With his clever use of the Thing (the Arizona version, not the arctic version in the movie), Aliens and Dinosaurs as metaphors for different kinds of market researchers, Jeffrey Henning makes some serious points about mindsets and the need for continuous training.  You don’t want to end up a dinosaur.

My parents have been spending their retirement driving all over the continental U.S., while my father travel-blogs. He was excited when the venerable roadside attraction The Thing received a dramatic upgrade. After passing a bunch of billboards like this, from El Paso to Tucson:



…you get here…



…where – since 1965 – you’d see this:



Is it a mystery of the desert or the skeleton of an alien?

Well, in a dramatic upgrade, the museum now offers this take on “prehistory”:



Apparently, macrame mummies don’t pull in traffic like they used to.

When my father excitedly texted me this photo, it hit me.

The market research industry has become aliens vs. dinosaurs.

Like the world of The Thing, there are two groups of aliens.

The most recent group of aliens are the tech-driven firms and their staff who typically understand technology more than they understand research. They recognize that their innovations create new ways to learn about consumers, but they often reinvent the wheel when it comes to research-on-research best practices.

The original aliens are the majority of researchers who ended up in the profession from somewhere else. As I wrote in these pages about the MRII survey Researchers and the Love of Learning, only a quarter of researchers surveyed had planned a research career while in college, while the rest of us found our way into the industry and simply stayed.

The dinosaurs are those in the industry who still write questionnaires and conduct research like it’s 1984: 0 to 10 scales that were great for the telephone but that are now known to be less accurate than five-point fully labeled numberless scales; direct questions when panel companies can provide behavioral data; and half-hour surveys of grid after grid when the science clearly shows the degradation of response quality from satisficing.

If you’re an alien to this industry or have a dinosaur in your life that needs an upgrade, please look at the rich training opportunities available. ESOMAR and Insights Association often offer workshops at their conferences, Burke Institute has in-person training, Research Rockstar offers real-time virtual classrooms, and the UGA/MRII now has a new line of self-paced courses: Principles Express. These on-demand courses with interactive exercises can be completed in 9 to 12 hours and are designed with the busy researcher in mind, whether that researcher is an alien or a dinosaur.

And the next time you’re driving by Dragoon, Arizona, stop and see a quirky bit of Americana: The Thing.

Jeffrey Henning, PRC is the new executive director of the MRII, for which he is overseeing the rollout of the Principles Express line of on-demand MRX courses. The MRII has just announced three new courses: Qualitative Market Research, Emerging Methods and the Future of Market Research, and Analytics 1-2-3.


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One response to “Aliens vs. Dinosaurs

  1. Jeffrey, I never knew I entered the field as an alien, though I’ve felt something of a dinosaur of late, but hardly an extinct one. As you say, we can all continue to learn and adapt while staying true to the basic principles of our profession.

    The key to successful evolution, wherever you fit on the continuum of species real and imagined, is understanding not just the how, which is constantly changing, but also the why. What are we really trying to do, not just what are we trying to learn? And recognizing that behind it all is the human ability to think, make intuitive leaps, and draw meaningful conclusions. If that sounds like taking a stand for humans over AI, I guess I’m still a bit of a dinosaur.

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