You’ve gotta speed it up: takeaways from the AMSRS conference

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in my first AMSRS Annual Conference held in Melbourne. The event brought together a welcome blend of agency, corporate, government and nonprofit researchers for two days of lively discussion. The diversity of attendees was carried over in the range of keynote speakers sharing experiences and perspectives from their respective vantage points, notably those outside the research industry. To sum up my overarching takeaways from the conference, I’ve singled out three keynotes that are not just noteworthy in their own right but provide a good overview of the conference conversations as a whole.

Chief Statistician, David Kalisch, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reflected on the innovative data and technology made possible with the new Information Age, along with the accompanying challenges, and what they mean for the ABS. He took a candid look at how lessons learned from an extended website outage in the 2016 Census led to success the following year with the national Marriage Law Postal Survey aimed to gauge opinion around the legalization of same-sex marriages. Failure – the projects or parts of projects that don’t go to plan – understandably is not discussed often. But it is how we learn and improve. I challenge any conference organizer to put forth the theme ‘Celebrating Failure’ – it is one I’d quickly sign up for.

Holly Ransom, the impressive 28-year-old CEO of strategic advising company Emergent and established global thought-leader, delivered a dynamic and informative talk to open Day 2. Reminding us that 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30, Holly discussed the inter-generational shift occurring in the workforce and challenged us to ‘understand before we seek to be understood’. I have attended many sessions where speakers, generally non-millennials, offer advice on engaging with this generation. This talk stood out not just because Holly is a millennial leader speaking knowledgeably and passionately about the topic, but also because her challenge strongly resonates. First, suspend your agenda to understand and learn. Only then should you move forward. This advice transcends building better intergenerational workplaces and can be applied to all we seek to change.

Perhaps the most impactful presentation came from Stephen Scheeler, a seasoned digital advisor and former Managing Director for Facebook Australia & New Zealand. Stephen’s talk hammered home what we all know – there’s no escaping, avoiding or outrunning technological change. All industries, with no exception, face the same disruption transforming market research.  Furthermore, time is against us all. Stephen summed up the challenge: ‘we are surrounded by a world of slow brands who need to learn to be fast brands’. Businesses still operate in the same way as they did in the 19th Century. Yet this is incompatible with today’s environment where the pace changes within months and even weeks – decisions need to be made much faster. It is no longer possible to wait for the next board meeting.

The speed of change, the advancement of technology and the continual need for innovation permeated the two days. Be it in the debate over which new opportunities offer the most promise (unsurprisingly AI was victorious, but I was also encouraged by the bullish views on Video Analytics and Blended Data, two areas I’m deeply passionate about), the discussions around talent and skills – new and old – required within insights today or indeed frank conversations about the industry’s current state of play. The message is clear: adapt, evolve, or even better – reinvent – to avoid becoming the next Kodak or Sun Microsystems.

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