Perspectives

Perspectives publishes leading global expertise about ethnography in business & organizations. Weekly 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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Maria Bezaitis / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by AMINA BENHIMA, Swinburne University A PhD in French Literature and Cultural Studies from Duke University (1988-1994), Maria Bezaitis may appear to have a surprising career as a scientist inside Intel’s Interaction and Experience Lab. But as she says, her vast literary studies exploring modernist literary movements in the context of new technological developments, ultimately led her into such a field of work. Bezaitis felt she had learned about “the changing nature of everyday life” and it was this focus that forged her interesting career. Of immigrant parents to the USA, Bezaitis mentions that her background possibly contributed to a core tension that created a sense of “always being on the outside or at the margins”. This fluent speaker in French and Greek as well as English drew her academic attention to language and “writing, writing and writing”. Bezaitis came to see language as crucially important to all endeavours. Language for her was the preferred methodology “to work out problems,...

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...

Scurvy and the Practice of Insights Research

by PETER LEVIN, Intel Corporation I. Intel recently ran an internal marketing conference, where a research firm shared with us a dozen or so technology trends, each with potential to “disrupt” our business. To narrow down discussion about these trends, we were asked to “vote” on which of these trends we thought were most important. And then we could focus our attention on those. While the conference ended up being interesting (maybe more for the networking than the content), I left wondering things like why voting would matter for determining the consequences of future shifts on our markets. And I left wondering about the kinds of insights work we need to produce in corporate environments and the deep challenges we face in producing those insights. In my previous life as an academic sociologist, insight really means a search for foundational causation and theory. For academics, foundational theory matters so much more than discovering the “next big thing.” Moreover, one can be a successful academic by doing all root-cause...

Surfing a Wave, Passing it Forward: Marketing & Management at SDU / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series By ERIC ARNOULD, Southern Danish University Culturally inspired and often ethnographically informed research has constituted a consistent thread of output from faculty in business school marketing departments for over thirty years (Arnould and Thompson 2005, 2007; Sherry 1991, 2014; Thompson, Arnould and Giesler 2013). This long wave of research has produced an impressive froth of ideas concerned with consumption (identity, community, ideology, ritual, etc) and many other marketplace phenomena such as branding, servicescapes, and market formation processes. This long wave accounts for a disproportionate share of top cited papers in the major marketing and consumer research journals, and has been spearheaded by a handful of terminally qualified anthropologists, sociologists and fellow travelers (Holt and Cameron 2012; McCracken 1988; Sherry 1995, 1998, 2014; Sherry and Fischer 2009; Costa and Bamossy 1995). While not lacking a critical edge, this work sometimes has included private or public sector consulting...

Researchers @ hackathon

by JEFF DAVISON, Microsoft I spent 44 hours with hackers to learn that everything I thought I knew about hacking was wrong. In the process, I learned that events like hackathons represent a similar social hub to those Jan Chipchase identifies in his book Hidden in Plain Sight. These hubs help researchers find their feet quickly in new cultures. As a research community, we can help one another by sharing details of these hubs and some of the reasons we have for choosing them. Hackathons attract lead users, which makes them useful to people tasked with delivering formative research. If you work in the tech field, they should be on a list of essential events to attend together with Maker Faires and the various gatherings of the ever growing Meet Up culture. They represent a strategic starting point for field inquiry. My own journey went something like this… Misconceptions Hacking culture has a special place in the hearts of the West’s techno-literati, and carries with it all the cultural relevance and formative...

Friday in Tokyo: Co-creation – Ethnographer to Change Agents

by STUART HENSHALL & DINA MEHTA – Convo How can we move from observation to co-creation? Or, from observer to co-conspirator and change agent? This post shares part of a project design that took that journey. It was Friday in Tokyo. We had been there just six days and this was the second country in thirteen. It was Friday, almost 1:00pm and the Co-creation Workshop with 18 young mums, our clients (8 attending) translators (4) and ourselves (3) was about to begin. We were in a large room. A part had been screened off earlier for “baby care”. The majority of the room was filled with three large stations (large round tables and rolling whiteboards and a large U for 18 people with whiteboard and instructions up the front. Planning: We’d planned the Co-creation Workshop to follow a series of days immersed in-home. We ran a prototype workshop that morning with the local moderation team and translators. After four hours they remained skeptical and not 100% confident about the instructions. We apparently were about to break...

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:...

A Right to Ephemerality

by TONY SALVADOR, Intel Corporation Seems that everyone’s recording everything all the time – so much so, that people and some governments are asserting a “right to forget”. But the act of recording at all in any instance also is, significantly, an act of control: the more recording, the more control such that “recording everything” would, arguably, lead to the total control. And total control would lead to a de facto, if not actual global authoritarian regime. And despite the dystopian nature of this account, this is precisely the direction we are heading. Therefore, a “right to forget”, while a delightful, human-emotional analogue – and therefore readily relatable and marketable – is merely an insidious illusion, a misdirection, a sleight of thinking. This is because there are no controls sufficient to protect the individual in society if a recording occurs. A right to forget requires the recording entity to take positive action against their own interest. This is untenable in the long run and frankly just...

You Can’t Be Serious?! – LEGO® Serious Play® – Serious Solution Crafting for Kids aged 3 to 103.

by DORTE TOLLNER and CORI MOORE EPIC2014 Workshop: You Can’t Be Serious?! – LEGO® Serious Play® - Serious Solution Crafting for Kids aged 3 to 103. Well the excitement of last week has taken its toll – or perhaps that’s just the jet lag. Now back in Berlin, I’m reminiscing our epic week, uploading pictures and re-reading scribbled notes – it’ll no doubt take me a lot longer to absorb it all. I’d like to thank all of those who made it to my LEGO® Serious Play® Workshop on Sunday. I had the pleasure of welcoming ethnographers, anthropologists, designers and researchers from India to Adelaide to exchange ideas in the form of those little colorful bricks we all loved so much as kids. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) is one of our favorite hands-on methodologies, designed to stimulate and empower participants to use haptic thinking for inspirational problem solving. Developed as an in-house strategy tool in the nineties, LSP builds upon an inclusive and participatory...

Studying In and Studying Out

by ELIZABETH BROIDY and KEN ERICKSON An EPIC 2014 Workshop: Studying In and Studying Out: Linking Organizational and Consumer Ethnography The big idea here is this. Most anthropologists are working either in the organizational space or in the consumer space and no one is looking at the interface between these two cultural domains. Sharing what we have learned after years of practice in organizations and for consumer product and services companies, Erickson and Briody engaged workshop participants in sharing tips for bringing an understanding of organizations into so-called consumer research, and vice-versa. We told some stories, some tales of the field that pointed to difficulties within organizations that inhibited their ability to respond to consumer needs or to bridge the internal silos that limit the effectiveness of organizations in doing their work. The fun part was finding how much the participants shared. We found a range of tips and tricks for learning about the organization--internal clients if you work “inside”...

You too can collect big data!

by KATHY BAXTER, Google EPIC2014 Workshop by Anna Avrekh, Kathy Baxter, & Bob Evans At the EPIC 2013 Keynote, Tricia Wang observed that, if you are not working with “Big Data,” the implication is that your data are “small.” Although the number of data points or participants may not be in the millions or ever thousands, the data we gather is actually far richer. As our community knows, web analytics or logs can tell us WHAT people are doing but never WHY. We may attempt to infer it based on what we see but unless we ask our users why they are doing something that we have recorded (with or without their knowledge), we can never know for sure. Later in the conference, I hosted a Salon on “Big Data” with discussants Jens Riegelsberger (Google) and Todd Cherkasky (SapientNitro). The interest in the salon far exceeded the space available. One key theme that emerged was a desire to learn how to incorporate “Big Data” into their work. Few of the participants had the means to pull logs and do deep statistical analysis...

And now a word from the EPIC2014 co-organizers . . .

by TIMOTHY DE WAAL MALEFYT, Fordham University and ROGERIO DE PAULA, IBM The practice of ethnography can be described, among other ways, has having the emergent qualities of relationality, fluidity and creating a sense of place. These qualities also inform who we are at EPIC, our growing community and our location in NYC for 2014. Moreover, ethnographic practice necessitates these qualities to foster and develop ‘value and values,’ the theme of this year’s EPIC conference. Relationally, ethnographers are ‘outside others’ who relate to and with other local subjects, learning from them and often informing third parties of acquired knowledge. This knowledge is constructed of pre-existing agendas, the ethnographer’s experience, and multiple other known and unknown agents. Our relationality to others brings enlightenment and adds value to the various projects we work on. Simmel noted one hundred years ago, that ‘value’ motivates and sustains exchanges between two or more distinct parties, of which all business professions...

Voices, not data points: building connections between clients and informants to create impact

by MARIA CURY, ReD Associates Camila sat down on her faded pink sofa, unwrapped the bandage around her calf, and showed me a violet wound, some of the skin crusty and some of it wet. Her daughter Cecilia sat on the edge of a chair in the corner, filling gaps in the story – “remember we tried a gel that inflamed your skin,” “the pharmacy down the street never gives us enough gauze.” At ReD Associates, we often work with big healthcare companies who seek more patient-centric approaches to product design, and our insights have implications on product, packaging, and patient-compliance. This project aimed to make wound care products relevant to more people by understanding how patients care for chronic wounds in emerging markets. Camila, a sixty-four year-old Brazilian patient with a venous leg ulcer, was doing everything wrong. She risked infection by putting olive oil over her calf (“I know I’m not supposed to, but it’s the only thing that takes away my pain pain pain”); she used dry gauze with wisps that stuck...

Facebook Advertising Research Around the World

by STEVEN WENGROVITZ, Facebook As Facebook approached its tenth birthday earlier this year, we took the opportunity to assess our progress thus far—and to gear up for all the work we still have to do—when it comes to pursuing our company’s mission to make the world more open and connected. Facebook is used in nearly every country in the world. Over 80% of the people who use Facebook daily live outside of the U.S., which is also where our growth is coming from, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While our Internet.Org efforts are focused on bringing Internet access to more people all over the world, as a company we’re also aggressively focused on improving the experience of the 1.3 billion people around the world who enjoy Facebook already. Facebook does research to improve its services. Many parts of the world experience Facebook through smartphones but as we continue to grow globally, increasingly we are also seeing a rise in low-end devices with a spotty Internet connection—a far more typical scenario...

From Experience Models to Immersion Tools: Transferring Ethnographic Knowledge In An Agile World

by JOHN PAYNE, Moment Introduction Like many design consultancies, Moment uses a variety of research methods to help us develop a contextual understanding of our clients’ customers. We do this to discover and adapt new business opportunities to prospects’ wants, needs and desires. The value to the business is that their products and services better fit their audience, increasing adoption and use. Tangible results from this work range from incremental product enhancements to disruptive innovations that provide significant competitive advantage. Design ethnography is how we approach “fuzzy front end” projects—those that require us to define the problem before formulating a solution. Through ethnography, our field team achieves a robust understanding of the situation, but then faces the challenge of transferring the richness of these learnings into the narrow frame of new product development methodology. This make-or-break moment of transfer is when design ethnography truly delivers—or doesn’t. Speaking for the design...