Want more innovation? Ask the younger crowd.

One of the topics I’ve seen recently on the market research blogosphere has to do with innovation in our industry. I think this question of how to continue to innovate isn’t a new question, but the answer can often feel elusive. When I worked at a national laboratory years ago, one of the concerns that often surfaced was that of innovation – of the lack thereof – and how to fix it. Those same themes are sounding today in market research, only I think the innovation exists, we just need help getting it implemented in our studies.

What exactly is innovation?

It’s easy to think of innovation as the unicorns that are revolutionizing how we approach life. However, often, innovation can take the form of something much simpler – just doing something differently, no matter how small that difference might be. If you take a look at the hashtag #newMR on Twitter, or check out the NewMR site, you’ll see that the innovative approaches in market research being sought after exist, and are everything from making all studies device-agnostic instead of just mobile-friendly to changing the ways questions are asked or data is gathered so that the information is more accurate and more relevant to the business questions being researched.

However, there seems to be a reluctance to adopt these innovations. What do we need for this to happen?

Natural innovators: millenials?

Much has been said about millenials, from the term is ridiculous, unproven, and should be banished, to millenials are lazy loafers who don’t expect to contribute much to the workplace, and are entitled little whippersnappers who think they know everything.

In other words, they’re about like every other generation has been at the same ages of 18-30 or so.

All that aside, when it comes to embracing innovation, it seems to be the younger employees who are more willing to buck the trend (in every sense of the word, especially in market research). There are some elements about this group of employees that I think are a bit different from previous generations, though. I’m adding myself into the category of millenials; depending what you see as the definition of the generation, I’m either right on the cusp of being in or out of the group. When I read those lists of “how to know if you’re a….”, I often identify with both GenX and GenY/millenials. I work with a number of employees who are anywhere from 10-15 years younger than I am, and I’ve noticed we share the following in common. (Caveat: Please take the below as sweeping, broad generalizations that I really shouldn’t be making based on my small observed data set of coworkers my age and younger, and, therefore, with a grain of salt.)

  • Some of us saw the advent of technology, computers in the classroom, cell phones, etc. We’ve become quite accustomed to things changing; I’d even go so far as to say we fully expect today’s technology to be replaced within a year, if not sooner, by something better. In the workplace, that means we’re less likely to balk at the idea of changing up a survey. In fact, we’re rather eager to get away from surveys like trackers that can lock us into something that is unchangeable.
  • We’re willing to buck trend. When it comes to market research, this can be pretty big. We realize the world is changing quickly, and, sometimes, we don’t understand the desire to keep trending in surveys when the item being studies has changed, the audience has changed, etc. We’re willing to break all trending in a study if it means we’re going to be getting more accurate and applicable data.
  • We push back and we push forward. We push back when something doesn’t make sense; we push forward looking for better solutions to the problems presented. Stated usage isn’t painting an accurate picture? Then we look for ways to capture data at the time of usage, purchase, etc.
  • We saw Enron fail. We saw the housing crash. We saw the internet boom, then crash. Perhaps due to all of this, we handle failure as something to be expected. At times, this may make us almost cavalier, but innovation didn’t happen by staying safe. It happens by taking risks, and many of us are more willing to try something out to see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, we are happy to tweak the idea or try something else entirely new.
  • We adapt quickly to emerging trends and emerging tech. From AIM to Messenger to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram… I think most of us have become adept at learning new interfaces to achieve common purposes. In market research, we would be happy to try text-based mini-surveys; virtual and augmented reality for qualitative research; online forums for focus groups. I’d also venture to say we’re willing to try various software to analyze data. We’re interested in how the next piece of software could make something we’re doing easier, faster, cheaper. And we’re not afraid to try them out.
  • We’re all about visuals. This bleeds more into the new generation entering the workforce, perhaps, but I recently saw one friend post part of a conversation she had with her husband using only emojis. Tables and charts don’t speak to us. Infographics do (and even those are changing to be more interactive).
  • We’d rather find better ways to represent and tell that story. We aspire for a presentation that we could take to the TED stage! We’d rather spend our time crafting the story that actually exists in the data and finding a creative way to share it than putting together large numbers of slides with nothing but tables on them that don’t mean much to us or our audiences.

Don’t forget GenZ

As millenials keep getting older, it can be easy to get comfortable with the innovations that have taken place, and stop pushing for more. To keep innovation going, then, millenials will need to turn to GenZ, and GenZ will need to turn to the next generation after them, etc. We do this to a certain degree, but I think instead of just filling a career pipeline, teaching newbies how things are done, we should always be soliciting ideas on how the things we just taught them to do could be done differently.

That way, innovation could become a constant thread.

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