SIMON ROBERTS

Contributed Articles

Human and Artificial Intelligence: The Same, Different or Differentiated?

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners Today I turned left out of London Bridge station. I usually turn right and take the Tube but instead I went in the other direction and took the bus. I can’t explain why I did that. Perhaps I was responding to a barely discernible change in crowd density or the fact that it was a bit warm today and I didn’t want to ride the Tube. Either way, I was trusting instincts that I am not able to translate into words. Often when I travel around London I reach for the CityMapper app. I rely on it to tell me how best to get from A to Z but I don’t really know how it makes the recommendations it does. Likely it has access to information about the performance of the Tube today or real time knowledge of snarl-ups on London’s medieval roads. It’s clever and I love it. It knows more than I do about these things and what to do about them. The workings of CityMapper are a mystery to me—but so are the workings of my brain. Even if I had a sophisticated understanding of neuroscience, physiology...

The Virtues of the Visceral

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners The news on BBC Radio this morning: The Syrian crisis enters its seventh year with 400,000 dead and little hope that this complex catastrophe will be untangled any time soon. The scale of suffering is huge, but Syria accounts for just a fraction of an even more staggering number – the UNHCR estimates there are 65 million refugees or internally displaced people worldwide. Like many others I watch the steady stream of grisly news from Syria – it comes to us in facts, figures, infographics, human stories and historical comparisons. I've been shocked. But I am also inoculated. Whatever the quality of the reporting, however harrowing the scenes, our attention moves on. It is difficult to truly grasp the scale of what we have seen, hard to understand what it must be like to be a refugee. In an age when a seemingly limitless amount of information is at our fingertips, when we can know more than ever about events around the world, we still fail to understand. Here’s the challenge of contemporary...

What I Think about when I Think about Running

SIMON ROBERTS Stripe Partners Download PDF PechaKucha—This presentation reflects on the cognitive impacts of running. It is a personal reflection on the desire (and need) I have to run. Running is an activity that has both banal and transcendental aspects. It’s physical, time consuming and sometimes verges on boring, but it also has impacts on conscious and unconscious thought. Multiple authors have explored the experience of running but I suggest that running allows me to think in more unconstrained ways than I can on other occasions. The cognitive affordances of running are, at least for me, creative stimulus. Its physicality is a refreshing break from the mental work of ethnographic analysis. Simon Roberts is former co-organizer of EPIC and partner at Stripe Partners, a global strategy and innovation studio based in London. He has a PhD in anthropology and has formerly worked at Ideas Bazaar, Intel and ReD Associates. 2016 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, p. 545, ISSN 1559-8918, https://www.epicpeople.org...

Going with the Gut: The Case for Combining Instinct and Data

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners "The lesson I took away from that was, while we like to speak with data around here, so many times in my career I've ended up making decisions with my gut, and I should have followed my gut," Otellini said. "My gut told me to say yes." So said the ex-CEO of Intel, ruing his decision to pass on the opportunity to put Intel processors in the first iPhone. It was a decision that would cost Intel the opportunity to power the wildly successful iOS range. His gut, it turns out, was right—but the data didn’t support his instinct. The story most businesses tell to themselves is that they make decisions based on the best available information. It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that the entire infrastructure of business strategy is configured around the idea, and needs, of the “rational decision maker.” In the technocratic world the quantitative emphasis on what can be counted (empirical data) obscures what does not count (and cannot be counted), namely subjective emotions, intuition and experience. The...

Knowing a Country: A Post-Brexit Polemic

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners "There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen." —Lenin My country has changed so dramatically in the last few days that I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if I even know my own country anymore. I am reeling. Shocked. Dismayed. Worried. I am not alone in feeling that the UK now faces not one but many existential crises. The Referendum has delivered a Leave mandate that no political organisation, or individual, is able or willing to enact. The country is in crisis. No one appears to have a plan. And if they did have a plan it would make horrible reading. I’m not a political pundit and there are plenty of good and intelligent analyses of this slow motion car crash elsewhere. I suggest this piece on the sociology of Brexit, and this and this. Instead, I want to use EPIC’s invitation to reflect on a related crisis—the interpretive crisis faced by politicians, political parties and those in power who need to radically rethink how they understand...

Making the Case for Cases, Part 1: EPIC Case Studies 101

by SIMON ROBERTS (Stripe Partners), GARY GEBHARDT (HEC Montréal) & MARK BERGEN (Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota), EPIC2016 Program Committee – Case Studies There’s a new format for EPIC2016: Case Studies. This post (and its companion Part 2) explains what we mean by cases, and what we are launching this format to achieve. Case studies in some form are not new to EPIC. Each year many presentations – be they full Papers or PechaKuchas – have taken the shape of loose case studies. But giving Case Studies a space of their own, with their own submission criteria, will lead to stronger case studies we believe. It will also encourage people to think more deeply about the relationship between ethnography and business impact, how EPIC can best fulfill its role in describing & documenting this impact, and how we can share it with audiences beyond the EPIC community. What We Mean by Case Studies Our vision for case studies is a method for teaching others about how ethnographic methods can be used to...

Making the Case for Cases, Part 2: Pathmaking

by SIMON ROBERTS (Stripe Partners), GARY GEBHARDT (HEC Montréal) & MARK BERGEN (Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota), EPIC2016 Program Committee – Case Studies (This post follows Making the Case for Cases, Part 1) Unlike the research stories shared in the past, making a dedicated space for Case Studies at EPIC signals it’s time for us to evolve cases as a genre. Summarizing last year’s conference, the EPIC Board writes: ...reflecting on the first 10 Years of EPIC, Jeannette Blomberg asked for fewer “just-so stories and more accounts of what is broken and what we can learn from it”—a reminder that while it is nice to celebrate our successes and tell interesting narrative case studies, we only push our practice and knowledge forward by dissecting that which fails and that which we do not understand. (The EPIC2015 Conversation) Indeed, even the best EPIC cases have sometimes come across as straightforward histories of inestimable success. We understand few people come to conferences motivated to...

10 Years of EPIC, Part IV: Simon Roberts

SIMON ROBERTS Stripe Partners Special Session: 10 Years of EPIC Part 1: ken anderson, Intel Part 2: Hiroshi Tamura, Re:public Inc. Part 3: Jeanette Blomberg, IBM Part 4: Simon Roberts, Stripe Partners Part 5: Panel Discussion...

Knowing That and Knowing How: Towards Embodied Strategy

SIMON ROBERTS Stripe Partners TOM HOY Stripe Partners This paper explores two different forms of knowledge. We compare embodied understanding with propositional or abstract knowledge. Ethnographic research, with its commitment to understanding through immersion and engagement in social fields produces dexterous, intuitive and practical cultural knowledge, which is highly suited towards culturally attuned activity. We argue that ethnography can often be reduced to propositional knowledge as a result of the lack of team participation in research and how we communicate insight. Ideas of professional expertise sit behind the division of labour that characterises client-researcher relationships. Accompanying that division of labour is a need for the communication of ethnographic research to bridge the gap between client and external worlds – the world we as researchers explore and that our clients needs to act in. By engaging our clients in shared, immersive experiences we can create the conditions for them to develop ‘know how’ about...

Bring Back the Bodies

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners I want to start with a question. Please be honest in your response. Have you ever had the feeling that the ethnographic interview you just conducted is more interview than ethnography? If your answer was a ‘yes, maybe or sometimes’, isn’t it time to explore why this is the case? A key trope of anthropology is the fieldworker stepping off the boat to start long-term fieldwork. The mode of enquiry such long-term engagement involves is about more than interviewing. At the heart of the discipline is the belief  that ‘being there’ exposes the fieldworker to an embodied experience of the social world . ‘Being there’ is no less important to the EPIC community. It is a unique signifier of our research practice and perspectives. Each year the EPIC conference reminds us that we cannot reduce our activity to a set of methods. Our work is also about how we frame research and think through data. Yet I have the feeling that we are in need of some methodological revitalization....

Models of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Models

by SIMON ROBERTS, Partner, Stripe Partners This is a piece about certain types of objects. Those objects are models. I want to suggest that models are objects that are central to the various practices in which EPIC People are engaged for three reasons. Firstly, they help manage situations of uncertainty. Second, they are tools for communications. Third, they represent technologies of enchantment. Let’s take uncertainty first. Like it or not, life is full of uncertainty. “Given the inherent ambiguity of all reality and the nagging suspicion that we always exist on the edge of existential chaos, objects work to hold meanings more or less still, solid, and accessible to others as well as to one’s self” (Molotch 2003: 11).  The lives of individuals and businesses are plagued by knowledge about what may be and what might become. Both individuals and businesses are always on the look out for anchors in a world of vertigo inducing uncertainty and ambiguity. Models are just such anchors. Providing anchors in an uncertain world...

Accounting for Value Salon at EPIC2014

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners and RITA DENNY, Practica Group What's our worth? What are the rhetorics of value? This question is never far from the minds of individual practitioners and this diverse community. Value takes many forms and is denominated in many currencies. The worth of these currencies changes in time and space as business environments change, and in response to changes our own practices in and with organizations. So how do and should we talk about ourselves now into the future? In putting together this Salon, Rita and I were conscious that we were taking on tensions that sit at the heart of the EPIC world. These are tensions and questions that have arisen at every EPIC over the last 10 years. And likely for the next ten years too. Thirty diverse and brave folks attended the Salon at Fordham. They helped us think about accounting for our value. [With Chatham House rules in effect, people spoke freely!] 1. “Accounting” is retrospective justification! Attendees contested our muse from the outset:...

Putting Mobility on the Map: Researching Journeys and the Research Journey

SIMON ROBERTS This paper, based on a fieldwork conducted with community transport projects in rural Ireland, examines the place of mobility in the lives of older people. It uses the idea of journey to explore what mobility means to older people, what the research made visible to a diverse range of project stakeholders and to reflect on the nature of ethnographic projects in industry settings. For passengers, the journeying is often as important as the destination – travelling creates visibility of countryside, community and communion with others. For project stakeholders, the research encouraged a view of mobility that transcends travel because it highlighted the world beyond the bus. For researchers, the project created challenges to the dominant view of technology for ageing-in-place within their own organization. Finally, reflections are made on industry ethnography as a journey with often unknown destinations....