Advancing the Value of Ethnography

The Challenged Role of Ethnographic Consulting in Startup Centric Innovation


Cite this article:

2017 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918,

PechaKucha Presentation

From a position of external consultant on user insights for a German innovation lab, I reflect on a shift in the way corporate innovation is done – from a user centric innovation process towards what could be called startup centric innovation. I have found the outcomes of this turn to be ambivalent – both for the innovation lab and myself. For the lab partnering with existing startups promised greater speed and access to fresh ideas, but has turned out to be rather difficult. For me, the shift has challenged my role and perspective as ethnographic consultant in more than one way. I have worried that a much needed user perspective may drift out of focus when getting prematurely outsourced to startups. But this new process has also been eye-opening; it has forced me to rethink my still linear view of the innovation process towards a more messy and simultaneous one where thinking about users needs to be integrated from day one with thinking about solutions, business models and markets.

Heinrich Schwarz, PhD, is an innovation consultant and business anthropologist. He is founder of Schwarz Innovation, a German consultancy specialised in turning deep user insights into innovative solutions and strategies. He has lectured on innovation, business anthropology, design thinking and communication in Germany and the US.