According to that fount of all wisdom - Wikipedia - research is "the search for knowledge, or any systematic investigation with an open mind, to establish novel facts".
The dictionary defines it as the investigation and study of sources "to establish facts and reach conclusions".
Alternatively, and more pithily, American zoologist Dr Marston Bates said: "Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind."
Many people view research with a jaundiced eye. Here's a story that neatly illustrates the point:
A man is walking along a road when he looks up and sees a hot air balloon floating overhead with a single occupant. The man in the balloon calls down: "Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?"
"You are in the basket of a balloon 60 feet above the ground, drifting at four miles an hour in a Southwesterly direction," replies the fellow on the ground.
The balloonist says: "You must be a researcher."
"Indeed I am," says the other man. "How did you know?"
"Because," comes the response, "while everything you have told me is perfectly true, it is of no use to me and I am no better off than I was before."
In fact, research can offer a host of powerful business benefits. First and foremost, it gives you a solid foundation, a starting point from which you can build aspects of the business.
On top of this, arming yourself with appropriate facts culled from well-conducted research can help you communicate more effectively with your customers, learn more about who your potential clients are and what they want the most, help identify business opportunities, enable you to measure your progress by checking out the competition and benchmarking yourself against them, and minimise the risks associated with misreading complex situations.
Of course, research is not the same as understanding, but it can help businesses by providing clues about what they're doing right and where they're going wrong.
As no less an authority than Sherlock Holmes put it: "It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data."