Square Holes Profile: Jason Dunstone

The Square Holes team are made up of a cohort of researchers and inquisitive minds, poised to sink their teeth into the complex problems of our clients, to deliver insights and a roadmap forward for brands and organisations alike.

Jason is the founder, managing director and principal researcher behind Square Holes. Awarded as a Fellow of the Australian Research Society in 2022 for his contributions to the industry, Jason spent his formative years in market and cultural research at Frank Small & Associates in Melbourne, going on to create Square Holes, in 2004 after returning to South Australia. He is passionate about helping Australian brands go global and inspiring corporate and government decision makers to evolve the cultural narrative.

SH: What drew you to this sort of work?

Jason: A desire post university to not work for a bank or another ‘boring role’ and an early seed of curiosity to understand people and that research might be interesting. I posted (yes, it was the mid-1990’s) my CV to some research agencies in Melbourne, got a few interviews, went for a trip to Melbourne, got the first role, and didn’t bother with the other interviews. I worked for Frank Small and Associates  / Net Effect, an agency with a network across Asia founded by Frank Small in the 1960’s, in a team doing a large amount of ongoing research for Telstra. I was the Operations Project Manager working with a very clever team, and we had an intimate client relationship, which was great. Other clients were ANZ, Australia Post and other large research buyers. Frank Small was purchased by Sofres (the early incarnation of Kantar), and I was lucky to be able to visit their Paris office, which was inspiring.  It is amazing how much research has ever evolved from how it collects data to the analysis and outcomes.

SH: What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?

J: Meeting and getting intimately close to the lives of real people, and the huge diversity of work. It would be impossible for me to estimate the number of people I have met and researched over my time, but it has been a fascinating adventure. Balancing qualitative and quantitative research approaches, seeking new approaches and the problem solving and influencing change is very rewarding, and it is great to be increasingly getting more and more impactful and interesting projects.

Photo by Thomas McCammon.

SH: What do you find most challenging?

J: Running a business is full of both joy and anxiety, uplifting and frustrating, and while I have loved the challenge and being able to take on a role of mentor over the years, there is rarely a day when some form of new complexity arises, often unable to be hand-balled to others. Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a satisfaction with pushing against friction and growing the team, clients, reputation and business we have. I have learnt that ‘this too shall pass’ and just when you feel everything is perfect, something tricky arises to keep me awake / thinking.

SH: What’s a current obsession you have?

J: Last night after focus groups I watched the last episode of Ted Lasso and it was great. I also have been binging podcasts, with a particular interest in comedians, primarily from the US. I find it fascinating the work in confronting discomfort that is required to be a successful comedian (or likely anything else).

SH: What would you like to learn more about?

J: The world, different cultures and our consistencies and differences. I’m keen to study in the UK / Europe, and from a trip in early 2023 with my family my fascination has been stimulated and a hunger to learn and experience more.

SH: What’s something you have discovered about yourself since working at/starting Square Holes?

J: Never stop learning, and how rewards in such a pursuit are more so non-financial. I have learnt that driving change and creating something new and unconventional was always my hope. It is not easy, but with perseverance, and ever trying different things, seeds planted many years ago (networks, ideas etc) often start to grow and flourish. But it does take time, learning from successes and mistakes and ever getting close to the original intent.

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