Perspectives

Perspectives publishes leading global expertise about ethnography in business & organizations. Articles show how integrating theory and practice to understand human societies and cultures creates transformative value for people, businesses and the planet. If you’re interested in contributing, get in touch.

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Best Laid Plans…An Ethnographic Approach to Foresight

by STEWART ALLEN, MindSpark With an ethnographic lens on foresight and planning, we can see how futures unfold through people's daily journeys of anticipation and improvisation. What is Foresight? Foresight is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of methodologies and approaches for considering and preparing for possible and probable futures in order to help inform present and future courses of action. Today, it is an important and widely deployed practice that has developed in a variety of fields, from public policy such as state and town planning, to technology and R&D, and more recently strategic and financial approaches in business fields to help ensure the long-term survival and success of companies. Many of the approaches that come under the umbrella of foresight blend into one another. The majority of approaches to foresight typically employ pre-defined categories in their analysis – identifying trends in the social, technological, economic, and political spheres and extrapolating these using various...

Ethnography for Sensemaking in Times of Trauma

Photo from book cover 0f "Dealing in Desire"
a book review by SHARON BAUTISTA, Mozilla Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work Kimberly Kay Hoang 2015, 248pp, University of California Press The Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in the Digital Age Valerie Francisco-Menchavez 2018, 256pp, University of Illinois Press The March 16 shootings in the Atlanta-area of Georgia in the southern United States, when a person shot dead eight people, including six Asian women, sent me into deep grief. I could barely register the text messages from concerned friends recognizing me as an Asian woman and offering support. Trying to muster the focus to work the next day, I felt the urge to mute the Slack streams of sincere acknowledgements and thoughtful compilations of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) resources shared by co-workers. Alongside my grief, I was frustrated by the meager news coverage of the people—and specifically the Asian women—who were murdered. There seemed almost...

How Ethnographic Exhibits Can Shift Business Paradigms

Photo of a neighborhood shop (warung) in Indonesia
by ADRI REKSODIPOETRO (Nation) and ALEXANDRA MCCARTER (Spotify) Through the art of exhibition, curators immerse people in new worlds and new points of view, whether by transporting visitors to 18th century India or through challenging art history’s colonial gaze. The goal of an exhibition is a shift in perspective, to move people to think differently about something than they did before. Researchers do something similar: our first task is to learn something new, but the ultimate goal is to share what we learn in a way that shifts the perspectives of our colleagues, organizations or clients. In this article, we show how we applied curation techniques for a project we worked on together at Spotify. The project focused on understanding people in Indonesia who bought Spotify Premium, and the exhibition served as our main deliverable. The exhibition jump-started a new way of thinking about Spotify users because it enabled our colleagues to experience a different understanding of value and music streaming in the country. Why an Exhibition,...

Move Fast, Break Shit, Burn Out: The Catalyst’s Guide to Working Well

a book review by TABITHA STEAGER, Workday Move Fast, Break Shit, Burn Out: The Catalyst’s Guide to Working Well Tracey Lovejoy and Shannon Lucas 2020, 305 pp, Lioncrest As I write this, we’re just a few months into 2021, and, well, the world hasn’t magically changed. When the clocks ticked over on December 31, it felt as if there was a collective, cautious sigh of relief while we continued to hold space for the grief and turmoil so many of us have experienced in the last year. Instead, we’re still in a sort of stasis globally, waiting for vaccine numbers to reach critical mass and learning how to combat new virus variants, so you’d be excused in feeling like this stasis is the new normal. Yet the days are getting longer and on my walks I see the snowdrops pushing their way up through the ground. It feels a little corny to write this, but spring is coming. It has been a long, upending year that’s left me on the edge of burnout (fully over the edge of burnout some days if I’m completely honest) and even more...

Evaluating Food Delivery in a Pandemic: Usability & Ethnographic Principles to Guide Consumers

By CHARU AHUJA, Consumer Reports For almost 85 years, Consumer Reports has been detecting and anticipating shifts in consumer need for products and services so that we can guide consumer choice with rigorous research and testing. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to peak in March 2020 in the U.S., our ability to access the 63 product testing labs at our site changed. These labs house specialized equipment, such as a pressurized water dunk tank that is used to simulate conditions that electronics like phones and watches must be able to withstand if their manufacturers claim they are waterproof. And CR’s anechoic chamber removes all reflective sound signals, allowing a clean read on noise levels emitted by products. Such specialized equipment allows CR’s product testing experts to conduct repeatable and accurate testing across a large number of competing models in any given product category. Like most other organizations, we had to quickly pivot. To the extent possible, our product testers set up makeshift labs in their homes,...

加速用户研究:在Spotify我们如何从速度出发管理用研洞察

What's slowing down user research? 4 speech bubbles with text: I have this amazing idea! Can we go validate it? / How's the user experience of this screen? / We are shipping next week but need to get this in from of users first! / Let's all work in lockstep like the good partners we are!
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH: Accelerating User Research: How We Structure Insights for Speed At Spotify 作者:SARA BELT, Spotify 不同于以往考虑我们如何能加快用户研究的速度,现在的问题变成我们该如何更好地将用户研究整合到产品开发流程中,以及加快组织学习和迭代的速度。 一直以来,由于人们认为用户研究的有效性较低,用户研究所得的洞察都在产品开发中被边缘化。我在职业生涯的第一阶段致力于提倡组织为什么该积极地听取用户的意见和想法,为什么每一个人应该相信定性见解可用于指导他们的决策,以及为什么用户研究是需要专业技能的实践领域。 随着用户研究逐渐证明贡献价值的能力,对于其效度的质疑和争论也在日趋减少。从数据、证据和同理心的角度来考虑产品的设计已经成为一种既定的方式。 在像在Spotify这样的公司中,用户研究的需求在快速增长,我们不得不开始考虑如何将用户研究的实践规模化。新的、更实质性的问题开始出现,要求我们以更快速度来创造价值的能力能够与快速将产品推向市场的财务和竞争优势相匹配。用户研究,或者是更广义上的洞察,一直因为产出速度慢而备受诟病...

The Power of Not Thinking

book cover, "The Power of Not Thinking"
a book review by GERALD LOMBARDI The Power of Not Thinking: How Our Bodies Learn and Why We Should Trust Them Simon Roberts 2020, 336 pp, Blink Publishing/Bonnier In The Power of Not Thinking: How Our Bodies Learn and Why We Should Trust Them, Simon Roberts aims to resuscitate the human body from the sepulchre of Western thought, where Descartes and his successors presumably buried it, and to correct popular misconceptions about how we generate knowledge. In the author's words: "Our intelligence does not just arise from our brains... nor can it be programmed as a set of rules or propositions that enables us to think in particular ways or perform particular actions. Instead, our understanding of the world arises from our bodies’ interactions with and perceptions of the world – and it is through these interactions that our bodies acquire knowledge." (p. 6) This proposition will be taken for granted by some readers of this review, and by anyone who follows its intellectual touchpoints: embodied cognition, situated learning,...

不仅仅只是一个“工具箱”:民族志思维能为动态变化市场提供什么价值?

"abstract wallpaper" by Paul Cross
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH: Beyond the Toolbox: What Ethnographic Thinking Can Offer 作者: JAY HASBROUCK (Hasbrouck Research Group) 译者: YULIN WANG and KAIXIN LI 写于从西雅图飞往法兰克福的汉莎航空490航班上 飞机上的晚餐时间刚过,每个乘客都开始安顿下来,为长途飞行做各自的准备。笔记本电脑、眼罩、充电线、耳机、耳塞、拖鞋、护手霜……大家都显得很忙。我身边的女乘客服了一粒助眠药,盖好了身上的毯子。我也开始查看机上娱乐频道,排上自己想看的电影。当我翻阅纪录片时,我意外地发现了一个名为“ 30分钟设计思维”的教育专题。是的,30分钟! 这个短片是对大众开放的专题片。我越想越觉得它具有一种指标性的意义。表面看来,这标志着大众对设计思维有兴趣,以至于这个30分钟的短片已经被收录到机上精选的娱乐播放列表中。但是,它是否也表明了我们可以将许多人为之贡献了整个职业生涯的实践提炼为容易理解消化的信息短片?它是否印证着“任何人都可以做到”的观点? 当然,你可能会说‘设计思维’在商业世里已经是一个陈词滥调...

Why does Nuance Matter when Translating and Transcribing Multilingual Content?

white letters
by JILL KUSHNER BISHOP, Multilingual Connections Languages are alive—vibrant and eloquent expressions of who we are. During my doctoral fieldwork I looked at how people used language to enact and express their identity, how connections and community were created through speech and how forms of talk, particular phrases or words, could transport people across time and space. Words matter. So when contemplating translation, how can you ensure a focus on each word while not losing sight of the broader cultural considerations? When research brings you to multilingual communities—whether globally or in your own backyard—it’s essential to consider the linguistic and cultural practices of your target audience. Assuming you’re doing work in their language of choice, you’ll likely have content that needs to be translated or audio that needs to be transcribed to analyze the data you’ve collected. In either case, nuance matters. Choices of words, phrases or metaphors—yours or theirs—signify by conveying meaning about ideas,...

Personal Reflections on Scale from the Business World

photo of building with sky and jet stream in the background
by ADAM SINGER, Gemic Hi everyone, my name is Adam Singer. I’m a Strategist at Gemic and I’m new to the world of ethnography. Gemic is a strategy consulting firm founded by anthropologists that embeds anthropological and social science theory and methods into the core of its work. It uses these tools among others to identify growth opportunities and assess the future of culture, technology, and business for its clients. In contrast, I have little formal training or background experience in anthropology or ethnography. I come from a background in nonprofits and business (real estate development, commodity trading, traditional management consulting). Entering such an exciting field that is so different from my past experience has been quite the learning journey. In discussing the meaning of scale as the theme of this EPIC conference, I think it can be thought-provoking to compare and contrast how scale is considered and manifests between the world of business and the world of ethnography. Hopefully my perspective as someone...

Ethnography Taught Me to Fight Climate Change. But to Have Impact at Scale, Ethnography too Must Change   

photo of a piece of public art made of green computer components
by MELISSA GREGG, Intel In the spring of 2019 I met Klara, a fashion blogger based in Malmö with a growing reputation in sustainable design. Klara was a classic millennial of the type I had been studying for years: ambitious, anxious, confident and concerned about her future job security. In the course of a long interview about her laptop routines, she worried about depending so much on devices. She was one of several participants in different parts of the world who were cynical about tech companies’ constant push to sell new products. She had high standards for quality, but didn’t think there were enough products available that focused on sustainability. Rather than feel guilty about buying something that compromised her brand, Klara was considering making her next computer purchase second-hand. Several months later, the research complete and the presentations over, I am listening to another young woman from Sweden, Greta Thunberg. “This is all wrong,” she was saying on stage at the United Nations Climate Summit: “I shouldn’t...

“Stability”: Dissecting Banking’s Next Big Bet

by MARTIN GRONEMANN, CENGIZ CEMALOGLU & LARA CASCIOLA, ReD Associates Samantha – One of Us, and All of Us On a rainy spring afternoon, Samantha was absentmindedly reading the news as a procrastination tool between her two zoom calls, and finding the headlines even bleaker than usual. Unemployment numbers around the world had just hit historic highs, the mortality rate of COVID was unclear, her LinkedIn was flooded with people who had just been laid off, and economists were sounding the alarm bell. Some heralded COVID as the moment to rethink everything, others evangelized the myriad benefits of remote work. Per usual, in the background, the climate continued its collapse. Samantha had no dinner parties, no weekend getaways, no weddings. Feeling destabilized and confused, she found herself questioning everything – her job, her relationships, her furniture, and even her purpose in life. Samantha’s story was and still is familiar to many, and accessing embodied experiences like hers lay at the core of our decision at ReD...

Ethnographic Research in Remote Spaces: Overcoming Practical Obstacles and Embracing Change

photo of yellow blinds
by CHLOE EVANS, Spotify As an ethnographer and user researcher in industry a lot of my work depends on speaking to people face to face, understanding how they live their lives on their own terms and in their own spaces. Since the onset of Covid-19 both academic and industry researchers alike have been recalibrating how they conduct research in non-physical spaces by relying on remote tools and technology. Conducting research in a non-physical space has unexpected benefits as well as some challenges. The Importance of "Being There" The time corporate ethnographers have in the field is incredibly valuable; compared to academic ethnographers, we are able to spend far less time with people. Being in the same space is vital for us to understand how people use products and services for the companies we work for. For example, in a past role, I would have not understood the intricacies of how people experience pet store spaces in the US if I had not physically traveled there, spoken with dog owners, and followed them around the stores. Likewise,...

Recalibrating UX Labs in the Covid-19 Era

by STUART HENSHALL, Convo Early in 2020 as a result of Covid-19, Convo—along with companies around the world—moved all research in India to remote solutions. This was quite a change and presented new challenges to the research team. While our preference is almost always to go in-home, particularly for foundational and ethnographic research, for UX research a temporary though centralized “lab” is typically more time and cost efficient. This post focuses on the impact of remote methods on UX Labs where, paradoxically, remote methods can render the lab situation more ethnographic. India, pre-Covid-19 We are in a tier two city, sitting in a viewing room, looking in on the UX lab setup as a session was about to start. It was typical for India in many regards, with multiple cameras, various wires, and recording equipment set up in a temporary location (typically a hotel). Usually you can’t help noticing the wallpaper (it’s so not me) and the lights may be dim and fluorescent. In a few moments, our research participant will arrive....

Where Were You During Covid-19? An Ethnographic Lens on Local Life in a Global Pandemic

hand washing station
by PATRICIA L. SUNDERLAND, CRAstudio.com Where were you during Covid-19? The question seems destined to become a standard conversation piece at future get-togethers. For professional anthropologists and ethnographers, we can also add in questions about what was looked at, listened to, thought about, done and imagined for the future. Gillian Tett, anthropologist and US editorial board chair at the Financial Times, for instance, wrote about the Covid-19 culture shock she experienced in London. The relative lack of mask wearing there was in stark contrast to the strict masking she had become accustomed to as an “embedded—and embodied—part of life” in her New York City neighborhood. In Paris, Dominique Desjeux, professional anthropologist, professor, and coordinator of the French applied anthropology network Antropik, created an auto-ethnographic video of what he and family members were doing and attending to in their apartment during the early confinement phase in March 2020. In my case, I spent most of 2020 in Addis Ababa,...