innovation

Building an Innovation Strategy from Cultural Insights

by JAY HASBROUCK, Founder, Filament Insight & Innovation “Innovate or die"—this dictum is driving companies to build their innovation capacity, and fast. Most are turning to now-familiar practices such as Design Thinking, Lean, or Agile. But as they grow, many organizations find that they don’t see expected increases in innovation after deploying these practices. Why? Although they’re originally meant to drive creative thinking and strategic risk taking, innovation methods can quickly become rote in large organizations, especially when teams are expected to deploy them without context, or simply to check off a box on their performance reviews. Worse yet, some companies struggle to manage a combination of different innovation practices between teams, leading to a breakdown in collaboration and disjointed project pacing. What these organizations lack is an overall innovation strategy that drives their efforts to build innovation capacity, engages their teams with a purposeful vision, and ensures their efforts can evolve...

The Challenged Role of Ethnographic Consulting in Startup Centric Innovation

HEINRICH SCHWARZ Schwarz Innovation 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,...

When ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’: Performance, Complicity and Constraints on Communication in Corporate Attempts at Innovation

JOSH KAPLAN When ethnographic or market research is employed to help de-risk potential products and services, the focus is typically on understanding markets, cultures and contexts external to the organization that would launch them. This paper shifts the focus to the sorts of organizational practices, beliefs, and dynamics inside large corporations, which can create the conditions in which new products are brought to market despite evidence of their risk of failure....

Ethnographic Tools: From Insight to Intervention

WAFA SAID MOSLEH SDU Design, Department of Entrepreneurship and Relationship Management, University of Southern Denmark As a social researcher rooted in the traditions of participatory innovation, I set out to take a design anthropological approach to study the early unfocused phases of organisational innovation processes, and explore ways of both challenging and supporting these. With an interest in understanding how the tangibility of design coupled with the analytical nature of anthropology can provoke richer insights concerning organisational practices, my research team and I designed an artefact, called ‘the tangible brief’, aiming to elicit real stories about the challenges practitioners experience in dealing with innovation. The artefact resembles the content of a design brief and aims to bring together practitioners around the task of creating briefs prior to evaluating the potential of new ideas.The paper sets out to address the challenge of ethnographic researchers navigating a complex landscape of organisational...

Five Steps Behind: How Ethnography Based Strategy Can Fuel Ingredient Innovation in the Early Stages of the Value Chain

MARTIN N. MILLARD ReD Associates YOSHA GARGEYA ReD Associates Global fast moving consumer goods companies are faced with significant challenges on all fronts as start-ups challenge brands, retailers’ private labels challenge margins and technology giants like Amazon and Alibaba challenge the entire business model. To survive in this environment, FMCGs must, among other things, grow on the basis of meaningful product innovation — innovation that is often outsourced to their ingredient suppliers. Based on four client engagements, this paper outlines how the existing relationship between ingredient suppliers and their customers further down the value chain is currently defined by a deterministic dynamic that results in incremental and marginal innovation and a risk for said suppliers that their products become mere commodities. We argue that by employing ethnography based innovation strategy, ingredient suppliers can establish their own opinion of the market from the vantage point of their technologies and establish a new,...

Radicals in Cubicles

by ANNE MCCLARD, Intel “A radical approach specifically aims to uncover root causes and original sources, as opposed to surface level explanations.” —Thomas Wendt Thomas Wendt is one of many eloquent voices urging designers and ethnographers to take responsibility for the social roots and implications of our work. This might mean using participatory approaches, or expanding the scope of our research to understand the larger social implications of a project more fully. It might even mean refusing to work on certain projects all together. Any choice we make about how we work and what we work on will depend on our own beliefs and political commitments, as well as the constraints or freedoms of our workplaces. Those of us working within corporations may have fewer liberties when it comes to choosing and directing the work that we do day-to-day. These are struggles I have had in trying to make a meaningful difference as an ethnographic researcher from within the confines of the various large technology companies in which I have...

Meaningful Innovation: Ethnographic Potential in the Startup and Venture Capital Spheres

JULIA KATHERINE HAINES University of California, Irvine The aim of this paper is to explore the potential for ethnographic approaches in technology startups and the venture capital firms that support and control them. The current practices and model of innovation aim for “disruptive innovation,” but most efforts fall short, prioritizing mass diffusion and not focusing on where true disruptive innovation lies—creating a change in meaning. I argue that an ethnographic approach can lead to innovation of meanings, bridging the gap between radical innovation and diffusion, and creating disruptive innovation. I discuss some ways ethnography can help product innovation in the startup sphere. But, more importantly, I discuss how ethnography holds great potential for reshaping the VC field, by driving meaning into the VC I then highlight alternative viewpoints that move beyond the “realist” perspective. Keywords: Innovation, Technology, New Product Development, Finance...

The Rise of the User and the Fall of People: Ethnographic Cooptation and a New Language of Globalization

SHAHEEN AMIREBRAHIMI University of California Davis This paper examines how ethnographic praxis as a means for driving social change via industry, went from a peripheral, experimental field, to a normalized part of innovation and product development – only to be coopted from within by a new language of power. Since the 1980s anthropologists have used their work to “make the world a better place,” by leveraging their tools of thick description and rich contextual knowledge to drive diversity and change within corporations and through their productions. As ethnography-as-method became separated from the field of Anthropology, it was opened to new collaborations with adjacent fields (from design, to HCI, to psychology, media studies, and so on). This “opening up” had a twofold effect, on the one hand it enabled greater “impact” (or influence) within institutions, but simultaneously subjected the field to cooptation. Recently, the practice of ethnography came to embrace the terminology of User Experience (UX) – though...

How Autoethnography Enables Sensemaking across Organizations

FREDERIK GOTTLIEB SDU Design, University of Southern Denmark WAFA SAID MOSLEH SDU Design, University of Southern Denmark Building on participatory innovation, and taking a personal and analytical autoethnographic approach we set out to investigate how innovative initiatives emerge in the interaction of multiple stakeholders across different organizations. As researchers, we are interested in understanding the lived experience of the lead author, as an inquiry into how new initiatives across organizations are shaped in the interaction between different stakeholders across field sites and organizational levels. The project evolved as a cross-institutional initiative; bridging health-care and engineering education, and while the lead author was initially involved as design consultant, his engagement later resulted in the initiation of cross-disciplinary collaboration between two different local institutions. This paper is thus an attempt to investigate how emerging organizational initiatives and multi-stakeholder innovation become...

Tutorial: Structuring Analysis for Innovation

Tutorial Instructors: MARCELO FAGUNDES INSITUM MURILO GOMES INSITUMDownload PDF TUTORIAL DESCRIPTION It’s no news that human-centered innovation has become a common internalized practice of many organizations around the world. In the last decade, companies have begun developing their own innovation departments in addition to building teams to tackle new, complex business challenges—often employing the Double Diamond design process in these endeavors.1 The Double Diamond design process was mapped by the UK Design Council in 2007 through an in-depth study of the design processes used in eleven global brands. Divided into four distinct phases, it maps the divergent and convergent stages of the design process to illustrate the different modes of design thinking.2 The Discover phase serves to gather inspiration to develop new solutions through ethnography and several research methods. Throughout INSITUM’s many years of helping hundreds of companies develop their human-centered innovation culture, we have come to the realization...

Tutorial: Decoding Organizational Change

Tutorial Instructors: KATE SIECK RAND STEVEN GARCIA Team One Businesses are infamous for their rich lexicon of words to describe change: growth, revitalization, reinvention, innovation, revolution, evolution, and every manner of “do something different.” But what does all of this mean? How do these different terms work? What do they imply about the process of change? And under what conditions might they succeed? That was the question driving this tutorial. Starting with some introductory concepts from cognitive and linguistic anthropology, we took a pass at the conceptual models underlying some of the more popular terms in this vocabulary. We presented three – Growth, Disruption, and Innovation – while the tutorial participants completed four additional ideas: Pivot, Lean, North Star, and Unify....

Why Venture Capital Needs Ethnographers: Making Meaningful Innovation in the Startup Sphere

The DEMO Conference
by JULIA KATHERINE HAINES, Google Innovation in the startup world is broken. Startups say their aim is “disruption”—a riff on Christensen’s definition, but much less precise. “Disruption” has been appropriated by startups to mean doing something that has widespread, radical impact. They are about “changing the world.” They’re obsessed with the concept…but are failing on their own terms. Unless you believe “changing the world” means doing “the things your mom no longer goes for you” (Arieff 2016). There are services that deliver beer to your door. Services that deliver X to your mailbox every Y months (razors, underwear, dinner kits). Apps to locate a rentable...anything. Not exactly revolutionary stuff. Are we running out of good ideas for innovation? No, not really. There are plenty of startups with good ideas, but they face a huge number of barriers, and we seldom hear about them. The ones we do end up hearing about—well, those are the ones that got funding from venture capital firms (VCs)....

What is a Sustainable Innovation? Cultural and Contextual Discoveries in the Social Ecology of Cooking in an African Slum

WILLIAM SCHINDHELM GEORG Bridgeable PETER HAYWARD JONES OCAD University This paper investigates how a close understanding of human activity can inform the design of culturally and contextually sustainable innovations for subsistence markets. Building on existing literature related to poverty alleviation initiatives and an ethnographic field study, this project attempted to understand the cultural and contextual challenges to the substitution of unhealthy and unsustainable biomass as cooking fuels by cleaner and competitive cooking alternatives in Kitintale, an urban slum in Kampala, Uganda. We share new research findings and experience from a recent ethnographic study that reveals the incompatibility of modern innovation theory with the realities of the deeply knitted everyday practices in the social ecology of slum life. As the findings of this project suggest, broad claims that disruptive innovation can shift existing practices, change demand and displace market leaders through the creation of new value networks might not fully...

Applied Semiotics: Embracing Strategic Thinking and Fostering Innovation

by LUCIA LAURENT-NEVA, Visual Signo I am an anthropologist and a semiotician. “A semio-what?” I have a set of answers to that question, ranging from ‘I explore meanings in culture’ to ‘I discover the subconscious cultural patterns we all use to find meaning around us, to understand how something makes sense to someone’. Sometimes the conversation turns to the lovely weather we’re having. But most people are interested and want to know more, because semiotics is one of the most powerful research methodologies to engage with strategic thinking and innovation. Why is semiotics, once an esoteric methodology, becoming an essential approach to innovation challenges? The insights that semiotics delivers spark radical thinking, push boundaries and provide shifting perspectives. The method is known for embracing strategic dilemmas by making sense of complex cultural data and delivering practical insights around cultural transformations. Semiotics fosters innovation by getting involved in the detection of emergent changes...

Innovation Teams, Mundane Innovation, and the Public Good

Andrew Schrock
by ANDREW RICHARD SCHROCK Article 2 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives The windows were dirty when I arrived on the fifteenth floor of City Hall. I had been hired as the Los Angeles’ Innovation Team’s in-house social communication researcher. My official title was “Design and Data Research Fellow,” although my badge read “intern,” which after 6 years in a PhD program was an unusual change. After a few weeks I got tired of looking through the grime, and trudged upstairs to the shared kitchen to locate a bottle of spray and a few paper towels. The only way to reach each side of the windows was to lean out, because they opened outward. I’m afraid of heights, so dangling halfway out the windows fifteen floors was enough to give me butterflies. Still, the cleaning plan was up to me. My work considers how people use technologies to improve civic life. I’m especially interested in how individuals become involved in institutional change through and around data. You hear this argument a...