Just Enough Research: in theory

“It sounds like money you don’t have and time you can’t spare, like some egghead is gathering wool in a lab or library when you could be moving forward and building something. Scariest of all, it means admitting you don’t have all the answers. You may have a vague idea that research is a good thing, but the benefits are fuzzy while the costs are all too clear. 

Just Enough Research, Erika Hall

Earlier this year I stumbled down an internet rabbit hole (“that’s Just Enough Scrolling for you today, young lady!”) and discovered a gem of a book called ‘Just Enough Research’. The author is Erika Hall, design consultant and co-founder of Mule Design, and the book is one I wish I’d read, though probably wouldn’t have appreciated, as an early career agency-side researcher 20 years ago.

‘Just Enough Research’ feels like the right book for our times, with its common sense perspectives and practical take on using the right kinds of research to move our projects, designs and business objectives along. Rather than feeling like an austerity measure, Erika turns ‘just enough’ into a positive, creative trait; research becomes focussed, not wasteful; warm and human, not cool and detached; collaborative and open to everyone, not just trained experts.

In that spirit, I’ll share just enough here to give you a sense for the book and its contents, then hand over in a follow-up article to a talented leader who works in international education management. She’ll be sharing her own insights into why some of these skills feel so relevant right now in the education industry, and outline suggestions for creative ways that colleges and universities can think about applying ‘just enough’ research to make a positive difference.

Mind map of book chapters and content from Just Enough Research

Apart from being thoughtful, insightful and practical, ‘Just Enough Research’ is just so damn quotable. Below are some of my favourites; if they don’t encourage you to dive in, nothing will!

“Yes, research is a craft and a set of skills, but above all it’s a mindset. If you would rather be proven wrong quickly and cheaply than make a huge investment in a bad idea, then you have the right attitude.”
“Think of an organization as physical terrain. A small startup is like an island. It might spring up out of nowhere and sink down under the waves just as quickly, but for the duration of its existence, you can get a clear view of the landscape pretty fast. A large corporation is more like Australia: it’s impossible to see the whole landscape at once and there are so many things capable of maiming or killing you.”
“Qualitative analysis can seem like a mysterious process. A group of people enters a conference room with interview notes and stickies and emerges with recommendations for creating or changing the functionality or interface of a system. 
For us humans, this is actually the most natural thing possible. We’re social creatures and pattern-recognition machines. Getting people together to analyze qualitative data is like throwing a party for our brains.”

And finally…

“Listen. Be interested. Ask questions. Write clearly. And practice. Whatever your day job is, adding research skills will make you better at it.”

That’s Just Enough from me for now. Stay tuned to hear what ‘just enough research’ can mean in practice. If you need something to listen to in the meantime, I made you this research-inspired mixtape on Spotify. Enjoy!