Musings from PAPOR Annual Conference


I always tell people to get outside their comfort zones. Meet people from different industries, attend conferences outside your industry, and basically just experience new things. As a long-time product and marketing guy, I have conducted market research to develop competitive advantages, solve problems, or create differentiation. Over 15+ years, I have conducted hundreds of market research projects and feel market research is an underused practice within most businesses.

Last week I attended the Pacific Chapter of American Association for Public Opinion Research (PAPOR) annual conference. PAPOR is my local chapter of AAPOR. The conference was in San Francisco and the majority of attendees were academics and professional researchers focused on public opinion research. So for a guy who focuses on applied research, this was a great experience to hear how the “pros” conduct research and find ways to improve how I conduct research.


The conference kicked-off with two short courses on mixed-mode surveys and tips for conducting web surveys. The next two days consisted of panel discussions. Multiple panels presented papers on sampling, design, and analysis. In addition, there were discussions on the current criticism with public opinion research (e.g., fake news) and the public’s view on health policy, aging & quality of life. Not your typical topics for a guy who uses market research to improve marketing and sales operations, or develop new products.

Research types

Listening to a wide variety of individuals present their academic papers was an excellent reminder of how important it is to apply the structure of basic research to applied research. Hearing how others conduct research and the struggles they encounter was a great comparison to typical market research. The conference also had presenters from the “real world” of research.

Selfishly, there was a great panel that discussed survey processes and best practices for applied research (as well as basic research). Shirley Yang from Dropbox discussed a segmentation project she worked on, and Jocelyn Landau from Netflix discussed how her team applies mixed-methods to product development. In addition, Bob Davis from Davis Research presented excellent reminders for data security and protection. Bob was the one who let me know about AAPOR and convinced me to join the group.

Netflix logo

The ability to “rub elbows” with a wide range of researchers from a variety of industries, both public and private was a great way to spend a few days. I returned to the office with several excellent tips to improve surveys and response rates, as well as meeting new people to bounce ideas off.

I strongly recommend joining AAPOR and your local chapter. Every one of us needs to become a lifelong learner. The best way to learn new skills and develop new innovative ideas is through meeting new people and collecting tips and techniques to improve your own work. Join groups like the American Marketing Association (AMA), Marketing Research Association (MRA), or the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), or just reach out to local businesses and have a coffee with someone in a related position.

PDMA logo

Don’t get in the habit of going to work, doing what you have always done, and then returning home. You need to break this cycle and move away from the status quo. The business world is changing rapidly and you need to ensure you have the proper skills to succeed. Skill-up, join various organizations, and learn from others. Don’t think that since you have done something for many years, you know it all. The world is changing too rapidly to be content. Now get out there and make a difference!

The Work Ethic of Comedians


In this era of instant stardom, YouTube and Instagram celebrities, and reality TV “stars” more and more people expect success to just happen. The problem with the expectation versus reality is that success most often comes from hard, ongoing work – working at your craft so when opportunity arrives, you are ready to take advantage. Sitting around and dreaming will not result in success. Success comes from continuous learning, ongoing practice, and failure. Successful comedians are an excellent example how hard, consistent work equates to success.

The life of a successful comedian is about writing every day, going to clubs every night to practice in front of a live crowd, and pushing the limits of the status quo. The late, great comedian Ralphie May was a great example for how hard work results in success.

An excellent video is Ralphie May discussing what it takes to be a successful comedian at a comedy workshop ( May’s “secrets of success” are writing every day, learning from those with more experience, and being prepared when opportunity knocks. These recommendations can be applied to any profession.

Ralphie May

If you listen to successful comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Joe Rogan, Bill Burr, Christopher Titus, Whitney Cummings, Tom Segura, Bert Kreischer, Dean Delray, Amy Schumer, Ari Shaffir, Greg Fitzsimmons, etc.) there is a common pattern they all follow – write daily, practice every night, take any job to get experience (no matter the effort), accept failure (e.g., bombing) as the only way to learn, improve, and grow. These comedians have worked year-after-year, driven thousands of miles, performed in all types of environments (e.g., dive bars, coffee shops, colleges, restaurants), and never gave up. This same work ethic needs to be adopted by anyone who is serious about becoming excellent at their craft or career.

Ari Shaffir

The lessons from these comedians are transferable to any career, especially business. Too often, business professionals stop learning when they leave university and enter the workforce. They join a company, do what they are told or how the company wants things done, and that’s it. Growth stops. Unlike professional comedians, professional athletes, or medical professionals, people in business typically do not live a life of continuous learning and improvement.

DeLaSalle basketball coach Dave Thorson analyzed video footage of other teams with the players on their ipads and from his laptop after practice Thursday, January 31, 2013. (ELIZABETH FLORES/STAR TRIBUNE) ELIZABETH FLORES ¥

Most people go to work, do the basics, and go home. This habit does not result in improvements, competitive advantages, or future growth. It is perfect for a relatively easy life, but one with a not-so secure future. If you are not improving every day, you are falling behind and there is a good chance you will eventually be replaced.


It is not just about you toiling away by yourself. It often takes a community to succeed. Many of these successful comedians work together, continuously talk and engage with one another, and learn from each other. In addition, they help each other grow, help each other get new jobs, and work to ensure the entire community succeeds. As a business professional you need to be doing the same thing. Interact with people outside your company and industry. Become an expert. Learn from others and share your knowledge.

As you spend 1/3 of your time at work, why wing it or do things haphazardly? Business is fun and should be conducted to win, create, and/or help others. Why spend 1/3 of your life accepting the status quo and mediocrity? Why not work your ass off, become great, and enjoy life?

Office Space

As global business becomes increasingly competitive with new entrants, quickly changing technologies, and ongoing socio-economic challenges, every person who is serious about their business craft, needs to continually evolve and adapt. What’s the easiest way to achieve excellence? Reading. Read the works of Sun Tzu, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, W. Edwards Deming, and other “business legends”. Learn new skills – statistics, market research, critical thinking, decision making, problem solving, etc. Use your skills and share with others. Don’t just read, but apply your learnings, practice, and improve.

Work hard quote

Listen to the following podcasts to get motivated and understand that success results from hard work. Success is about daily practice and embracing failure. A habit of lifelong learning is the surest path to success and fulfillment. Don’t do what everyone else does, be unique, zig when others zag, keep experimenting and learning. Success does not happen overnight. It happens after lots of work, pain, suffering, and continuous improvement. Don’t worry, it will be worth it when you’re 90 years old and sitting on your front porch contemplating your life. Don’t regret anything. Be proactive, get out there and get stuff done.


Ralphie May – Stand-up Mastery:

Joe Rogan Experience:

Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank:

Greg Fitzsimmons – Fitzdog Radio: