Why research is moving from star individuals to star collaborations.

What makes greatness in insight and strategy?

For decades the research industry has celebrated individual researchers and strategists for their unique set of attributes. Entire agencies have grown up around a singular talented and gifted personality whom, overtime, has managed to establish an aura of celebrity within industry. This celebrity is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it creates freedom and trust, sometimes perhaps even blind in its nature. On the other hand, it builds expectations that they alone can solve the problem.

Of course, it is a very rare individual indeed who can solve all problems to all people. Therefore, the researcher as superhero is a myth that is unsustainable over the long-term. Star researchers are human beings with frailties, personal prejudices and off-days just like everyone else. To expect them to come up with the goods each and every time is unrealistic.

Instead, the really good researchers build capacity around them. They know themselves intimately and their own limitations, as well as what their strengths are. They invest in relationships with key suppliers and create an infrastructure of trust and understanding built on great communication. Most importantly, the very best researchers seek out collaborations with other researchers who may think differently to them, as well as possess a different skills set.

Great research collaborations are like producing great music. The Beatles became great, not because of one brilliant artist, but because several talented artists (each with their own gift) came together and worked together over a long period. What happens overtime in great collaborations is that each person can almost read the other’s thoughts and can instantly build upon them, as well as challenge them if need be. This is what we call in research circles, a dialectic.

The concept of the dialectic derives from the German Philosopher – Hegel. The purpose of the dialectic method of reasoning is resolution of disagreement through reasoned discussion, and, ultimately, the search for a deeper, more universal truth or truths. Hence, the really great thinkers see the value in engaging in challenging discussion with someone of equal or greater intellectual stature. Marx and Engels are a classic historical example of a productive dialectical relationship that prospered over many years.

If a marketer were to ask me for my opinion on what makes a good young researcher in this day and age, it isn’t necessarily the marks that they receive at university, or their work ethic, or even their skills-set in using and applying new technologies… It is possessing an attitude of wanting to work with others, be challenged in their own thinking, and, an aspiration for uncovering Truth above and beyond their desire for individual status and fame as a researcher.

Nick Agafonoff

Director of Lived Experience