For my first job after graduation, my primary role was to research on small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Every week, I will plough through volumes of academic papers, research materials, policy white papers, and the like, looking for trends and patterns. I will then synthesize all that I read and put together a one-page summary report for the top management.

I became bored with research

My work would sometimes end up as quotes and examples for ministerial speeches or would serve as reference points for policy-makers. It was imperative that I got my facts right.

After a while, I actually thought I knew everything about small businesses. And frankly, I was a little bored at work. I asked my boss to let me do some industry work.

One time, at a networking event, I was speaking to a small business owner. He was lamenting about his problem with recruiting and retaining talented people. The reason he’s not able to attract and retain talented people, I told him based on the knowledge I’ve gained from research, was simply this. He, like all other small businesses, was not willing to invest in training his people. If only he took the advice of the government, of which I was a part of, his problem would magically go away. After I said that, he walked away.

Challenges faced by small businesses

What I didn’t know, until sometime later, was that small businesses, like his, face challenges at different levels.

Because small businesses don’t have the huge workforce like big corporations, releasing someone for training would require someone else to pick up his work or his workload would pile up after he returned. And because small businesses usually have one person to cover several duties, they might even face downtime if that guy went away for training.

Additionally, when this guy is well trained, he becomes more valuable and would be highly sought after by a competitor. Usually the small business would lose the guy because the competition would offer him better compensation and benefits. Afterall, that guy has industry experience and is well trained.

Two reason why doing research alone isn’t enough

These two problems do not get surfaced during my research. And not until I spoke to the people on the ground, did I uncover the real challenges that they face.

The key learning point here for me was this: no matter how extensive your research is, it is never enough. You’d always have to speak to real people who are in the trenches to truly understand their pains and struggles.

This would become an invaluable lesson for me in my later years as an entrepreneur.

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Category:
Thinking