How did you get there? Katie O’Connor

Great to hear from Katie O’Connor who is Research and Partnerships Director at Bounce Insights. With enthusiasm for research consulting and technology, she’s on a mission to accelerate insights and deliver transformational growth for brands.

I have my mom to thank for my introduction to the industry. She used to work in fieldwork operations, overseeing survey data collection in call centers. She worked hard to create a positive working environment, which sometimes involved employing me to hand out cookies to people who were conducting interviews. I was paid in cookies, of course. I might not have known what those calls were about or appreciated that it took a lot more than cookies. But by bringing me into her working world, my mom showed me from a very young age what empathetic leadership looks like and the impact that women can have in business. 

I didn’t set out to follow closely in her footsteps. But in college I developed interests in social sciences and international business, which led me to an internship at Research International. I loved that I could apply my academic interests in psychology, sociology and anthropology to solve business challenges. The emphasis on understanding customers and building empathy was compelling. After graduation, I took a job at BrainJuicer, which excited me about the potential for growth and transformation in the industry. There I had the opportunity to experiment with measuring emotions and generating insight from new data sources, including online communities and social media data. My curiosity was ignited. I was driven to deepen my understanding of consumer behavior and deliver better insights.

Looking to broaden my experience, I moved to Jigsaw CSpace in Shanghai. I led a quantitative research team that worked collaboratively with qualitative and online communities teams to generate and validate insights. We focused a lot on storytelling to help clients build empathy for Chinese consumers and meet their needs in the market. The experience of living in China also showed me the power of curiosity and how much insight there is to be gained by asking why – especially when you’re in a totally new place and really can’t make assumptions.

My next role was with Incite in London, where I continued to develop my research skills and a more consultative approach. With a focus on strategic research and planning, I built empathy for clients as much as consumers. Untangling business problems and delivering clear answers. 

After years of delivering insights, I was drawn to drive transformation through technology at Zappi and now, at Bounce Insights. Technology in our industry has come a long way since my early career experimentation with measuring emotion, online communities and social media scraping. Research automation and AI are not only enabling us to deliver better insights, but also scale through speed and cost efficiency. Throughout my career, empathy has been a force for growth and, with the power of technology behind it, I’m more excited than ever about the potential for insights to be the beating heart of businesses. 

It’s genuinely interesting. Whether your interests lie in consumer behavior, data analysis or business strategy, insights is a place where you can indulge your curiosities and apply your learning to real world problems. It’s no surprise that it’s also full of interesting people. Wherever I’ve worked or connected with others in the industry, I’ve been delighted by the depth and creativity of thinking in the room. Discussion flows. Knowledge is shared. Ideas are sparked. 

I have a propensity for jumping in to solve problems, whenever and wherever they crop up. This can lead to a couple of negative outcomes: 1) being overwhelmed with work or 2) missing opportunities to lead with strategic focus. The latter has a compounding effect that can restrict career growth. I’ve kicked myself many times for working on the wrong problem or not having time to deliver my best. 

Prioritization is an essential, but difficult skill to master. I think I’ll always have to fight the urge to jump in. As my career has evolved, I’ve learned to recognize there are limits to what any individual, team or organization is able or willing to do. I appreciate that the best solutions come from teams with clear direction and the right combination of skills. From there, there are numerous frameworks available to help prioritize in a way that’s best for your business, taking into account importance, value, effort, time and other factors. 

  1. Chart your course. Recently, I took on the task of developing a research careers framework. This exercise reinforced for me that careers in our industry are evolving quickly, especially as it relates to the intersection of research and technology (aka ResTech). So, leaders need your input as much as you need theirs to support your career growth. Take the opportunity to consider what areas interest you, including those that are established and new to the industry, and how those could form the framework of your career. Share your ambitions and set the course for the future. 
  2. Keep up connections. I’m sure you’ve heard that you should ‘build your network,’ but I’d encourage you to think beyond building. Keeping up with trends and colleagues across the industry will help your thinking stay fresh and broaden your perspective. I’ve also found that attending an industry event or grabbing a coffee with someone from my network can boost my energy and help me focus on what drives me in my career. 

I alluded to it earlier when I said empathy and technology are powerful forces in our industry. At times it appears these are disconnected or, worse, opposing sides. This shouldn’t be the case. As an industry, we will have the greatest business impact when people and technology work harmoniously together to build empathetic businesses. We have a lot of hard problems to solve, from improving data quality to building a more diverse workforce. These will not be solved with a one-sided approach. We need greater collaboration across disciplines and areas of expertise. 

I think helpfulness is in the nature of people in our industry. If I started to name the people who have lent a hand – or better yet, an insight – we’d be here for hours. Instead, I’ll add to my previous advice and say that if you need support, be it on a project, your career development or the enduring challenge of balancing professional and personal life, don’t be shy to ask an insights colleague. I have no doubt you’ll find an empathetic response and an interesting solution.