I first met Momo (they/them) just after the above photo was taken, as I congratulated both my colleague James Crouch (left) and Momo (power-fist) on their Young Researcher of the Year wins, and my first thought was “what a fantastic breath of fresh air!” Momo is The Future Laboratory’s Senior Strategic Researcher and D&I Coach. As mentioned, Momo is the winner of MRS Young Researcher of the Year 2018, and a notorious troublemaker. An expert in consumer foresight, they are the Lab’s consumer lead and can be found talking to those at the forefront of change and innovation. Their passion lies in the pursuit of systemic change, within brands and within the MRX industry.
Hi Momo, always exciting to catch up! Lets get right on with it shall we! How did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?
Like almost everyone else, I am yet another accidental researcher. I stumbled into the industry because of a combination of luck and a number of late night agency after parties that somehow serendipitously ended up in my flat at 4am.
I had shown no discerning skill or passion for the sciences or mathematics, so I couldn’t be a doctor, engineer or accountant as is expected of Pakistani children. I was given a choice when I was young, about whether I wanted to get married to a person of my parents choosing at the age of 18 or that I could do a law degree.
So nearly 3 law degrees later, I had finally managed to escape the option of a forced or arranged marriage. Eventually I realised that I had already wasted so much time and money trying to make someone else happy, so I had a crisis of faith, a minor breakdown and for the first time in my life I had no idea what to do.
But capitalism needs are never-ending, and one evening as a number of qual researchers curled up in my living room listening to Graceland in the early hours of the morning, and smoking dramatically out the window while talking about their jobs, I discovered there was an internship at their agency.
I applied thinking that this will tide me over for a few months. I immediately fell in love with the work in a way that I hadn’t I was promoted to full time after two months. And I’ve been enjoying myself in the industry ever since.
I’ve found myself at The Future Laboratory after spending some time at Flamingo and at BAMM, working on exploratory briefs and consumer futures.
And the #mrx industry is all the better! So glad you found your way here. What’s one thing you didn’t expect when starting out in market research?
I really had no expectations of the industry at all. I had no idea what it was going to be like until the first day of my internship. Up until that point, really my entire experience of the market research industry was drunk research managers passed out in my living room.
It’s not the best impression of our industry, and it’s something that we really need to work on – how are we telling others about who we are and what we do?
So, how much difference can you actually make in research?
One of the things I wasn’t expecting was for market research to feel so empowering. There is this immense feeling that the conversations we’re igniting for some of the most powerful entities in the world can actually start to instigate real change.
And on the other side is the ability to do the work for causes and organisations we cared about. At Kiosk, we worked on an amazing project for the Prison Radio Association and got to visit HMP Brixton to speak to some of the inspiring people working on the project.
Once you realise that research isn’t just about selling more shampoo that you can really start looking at the power you have to be able to influence the future, to impact people from the big things all the way to the little things. For me, it was the moment I helped an 82 year old take a selfie video for a project for the first time and hearing him start every video with ‘Hello Momo!’.
Research is so fundamentally human, trying to understand the world in a way by creating this beautiful intimacy.
It was telling clients that Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter. It was interviewing returning citizens about their experiences and identifying their needs and hearing the honest story of someone who had committed manslaughter. It was crying with a struggling mother when she spoke about the death of her mother who inspired her to become a nurse. It was getting my place of work to sign the Trans Rights Are Human Rights pledge.
How can you make yourself stand out when starting out in market research?
I think the idea of ‘standing out’ can be a little elitist. What I want is a research world where we don’t need to stand out to succeed when we start out.
The pressure to stand out is immense. Often standing out means working 70 hour weeks consistently so you’re not seen as someone who’s uninvested, or it means being able to have the right conversations with the right people at the right time to be noticed. It can mean being someone who shouts the loudest. Standing out is for those who have privilege, those who are able bodied, those who are neurotypical.
Really what we should be doing as businesses is standing out for new starters.
What are we doing to make our workplace accessible? What are we doing to support young researchers? What culture are we creating where we dismantle the privileges required to ‘stand out’? What are we doing to reframe what success looks like?
What are 3 qualities you think every great young researcher needs or should aim to have?
There’s so many qualities that we as researchers should have ranging from curiosity, empathy, analytical, autonomy, initiative, creativity, teamwork, negotiation, pattern identification, communication skills, critical thinking, strategic thinking, presentation and writing.
But for the three that I’ve chosen:
I think the first quality is to have the confidence to say ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ or ‘help me’. The industry moves at such a rapid pace, and often can be competitive so many young researchers feel the need to prove themselves. Knowing your limits and boundaries, and knowing when to ask for help will hold you in good stead.
Secondly is storytelling. Our job is often to make this world come alive for our clients, and we need to ensure that we’re telling stories that are relevant, credible, and actionable.
And finally – design. Never forget the importance of the visual representation of your story. It may sound boring, but a beautifully presented keynote presentation can often make the difference in engagement with clients as they all have limited attention spans.
If you could offer one piece of advice, or say something to the whole industry as we launch into 2021, the podium and the mic are yours…
Do better. Make inclusion, equity, justice, and systemic change a part of our core, instead of a check list. Take responsibility, take accountability and take action. Take down the systemic pillars that hold our industry back. Smash the tables of privilege. Be confident in challenging brands. Make space for marginalised members of the industry. Give them platforms to speak on something other than their marginalisation.
Support young researchers – teach them, guide them, mentor them, pay them well – stop throwing them in the deep end.
Go home, get some sleep and turn your work phone off on weekends. No one cares about pizza parties, everyone wants access to therapy. Forgive yourselves for that one bad debrief. Have codes of conduct for clients not just yourselves. Clients are important, but so are you. Implement 4 day weekends. Unionise. Breathe. Breathe again. Also yeah okay, pizza parties too.
I know you said one piece of advice, but I was never very good at following instructions.
That’s what we love about you Momo, among many other things! So do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to say thanks or give a shout out to?
I have had the joy of working with some of the most amazing minds in the business, many of whom have made me feel like I could achieve anything I wanted to, and that I had the capability to do it.
Firstly, I think if I didn’t have Dave Kaye as the first leader in the industry that I came across when I joined Flamingo/Kiosk, I don’t think I would have stayed. His leadership approach was empathetic and self aware, and his belief in his team and desire to see them prosper was truly inspiring.
Nathalie Gil was a phenomenal Research Director at BAMM. She and I bunked together (literally in a bunk bed!) during my first few months. She really inspired me to be a trouble maker and it was together with her at BAMM that we started the D&I journey that I’m on now.
Alena Joyette and Fiona Anderson are who I describe as my partners in crime at the Future Laboratory. Although we’re not a team in a research capacity, we work together on instigating structural change within the business and implementing our Diversity & Inclusion strategy. I have not had such an open, and nourishing relationship in a workplace context before. It’s truly quite special.
Finally I’d like to thank everyone at the Future Laboratory. I’ve never been at a business that is so open and willing to strive for the kind of change we need to see in the world.
Always a pleasure Momo, and keep trouble making, ok. Our industry needs more ‘trouble makers’!