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....
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)....
WILLIAM SCHINDHELM GEORG
PETER HAYWARD JONES
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...
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...
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...
Intel CorporationPETER LEVIN
Intel CorporationBRANDON BARNETT
Intel CorporationMARIA BEZAITIS
While ethnography has been integrated into the design research, new product development and corporate strategy, it has been less well integrated into path-finding for new business opportunities. We’ve developed a model for path-finding research that has three core parts: creating a business opportunity hypothesis from social flux, testing and validating the hypothesis, and catalyzing opportunities for the corporation. We provide a case study of how we used the approach around The Data Economy. We highlight three important aspects of the approach: shift of research focus from context to ecosystem; robust action, rather than funnel development for concepts, and present a tool we created called the Business Opportunity Canvas to convey research findings into action. We then highlight the direct implications of this shift for ethnographic projects, from a focus on how knowledge is produced and description of...
Re:public Inc. FUMIKO ICHIKAWA
Re:public Inc. YUKI UCHIDA
Human-Centered Innovation has come to be known as the central discipline in the entrepreneurial arena. Through three-years of directorship at Innovation Studio Fukuoka, a “citizen-led” innovation incubation platform in Japan, multiple approaches have been investigated and thus learned a successful to-be-entrepreneur him/herself has to co-own a concern with potential customers that evokes him/her a mission to pursue, that is beyond simply understanding customers with empathy. We witnessed ethnographic approach well facilitates the to-be-entrepreneur to meet an unaware yet intrinsic personal concern and nourish to co-own it with the customers. We also discuss what and how ethnographic praxis in industry can contribute to the entrepreneurial arena and propose a new role that we experienced ethnographers to take....
by MARTHA COTTON, GARY GEBHARDT, TRACEY LOVEJOY, ABBAS JAFFER — and you!
How have professional skills & requirements for ethnographers and other human-centered researchers changed over the last 10 years—and where are they headed? How can you evaluate the confusing terrain of position titles and descriptions, as well as assess the organizations offering them? Post your questions, insights & ideas!
EPIC people gathered for an online discussion with Martha, Tracey, Gary & Abbas. Here are the introductions.
Martha Cotton, Partner, gravitytank
Back in the mid-90s when I was at eLab, researchers went through a brief period where our business cards said “Understander.” As a word, it fit to describe what I did for a living. But as a job title to communicate my role to others outside of my small ethnographer community, it was very hard to, well, understand. I have a memory of handing my business card to the store manager of a Boston area sporting goods store where I was to spend the day observing people...
EPIC Profiles Series
by HEATHER S. ROTH-LOBO, University of North Texas
John W. Sherry, Director the Experience Innovation Lab at Intel Corporation, is a Keynote Speaker at EPIC2016—join us!
“Anthropology is really undersold.”
Dr. John Sherry’s words carry weight—he is Director of the Experience Innovation Lab at Intel Corporation. In addition to discovering ways to power innovation in this major multinational technology company, he works in Portland leading Oregon Smart Labs, an external business accelerator.
I recently talked with John about innovation, big data, and lean startup. He has made it part of his life´s work to interpret the way markets move and ideas shift around, and his intimate understanding of these dynamics has been driven by his passion for solving social problems with a creative imagination. The mixture of these elements paved John’s successful career as an established anthropologist in a company known for and reinventing computing around the world.
Anthropology is not only undersold,...
by CHRIS MASSOT, Partner, Claro Partners
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I was enjoying a salad with a technology executive, in your typical CES “let’s grab a quick lunch in between two meetings that are only one hotel but somehow one hour apart from each other”.
The executive was describing all the research that his company has conducted over the past year or two, when in between hurried bites he said flatly: “We are awash in data”. He then took a bite, gave a little shrug and a look that was either an ask for help or an indication that all this eating on the run was giving him indigestion.
If there is one thing I hear out in the world of driving innovation and new product, service and experience development, it’s this: companies are good at generating research. They don’t need more data. It’s easy for companies to commission research and receive piles of reports and insights that end up on the “what now?” pile.
What they need is to understand what the information means, and what...
by WILLIAM O. BEEMAN, Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota
In today’s rapidly changing, highly competitive world, product design requires swift translation of human needs and desires into technical specifications for the development of devices and services that meet those needs (Salvador et al. 2013). This calls for a complex integration of qualitative and quantitative data. But despite some notable successes, product design failures are today both extensive and expensive (Anonymous 2015), consuming enormous amounts of time and human labor. Any improvement to the process of product design would be of great public benefit.
Many “smart systems” approaches to the product design process address the problems inherent in this process with limited success. In fact, existing “smart systems” are not very smart. There is an extensive literature available to product designers and engineers addressing lapses in strategies for the successful integration of qualitative and quantitative factors in the design process. It...
by JAY HASBROUCK, Hasbrouck Research Group
(This article is also available in Chinese)
Lufthansa flight 490, Seattle to Frankfurt
Dinner just served, everyone was settling in, each in various stages of preparing their coping mechanisms for the painfully long flight. Laptops, eye masks, charge cords, earphones, earplugs, slippers, hand cream…they were very busy. The woman next to me popped a sleeping pill and was situating her blankets. I began my own ritual of scanning the entertainment channels to plan my movie lineup. As I was flipping through documentaries, I unexpectedly ran across an educational featurette titled “Design Thinking in 30 Minutes.” Yes, 30 minutes!
The more I thought about this featurette as an offering aimed at a mass audience, the more it seemed like an indicator of sorts to me. At face value, it’s a sign that interest in design thinking has become so widespread that a 30-minute short on the subject warranted inclusion in a carefully curated inflight entertainment lineup. But did it also suggest...
JOHANNE MOSE ENTWISTLE and MIA KRUSE RASMUSSEN
Developing sustainable solutions within the energy sector requires a holistic, interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinary partnerships need common frameworks that enable dialogue and knowledge exchange between different perspectives. In this paper we present ‘The Model of Change’ as a framework for designing and evaluating different efforts in innovation projects. By insisting that effects of solutions have to be understood as a complex interplay of context, preconditions, perception, and interaction, The Model of Change becomes a tool to help us bring nuance to the simplistic cause-effect view that often dominates energy research. This type of contextual knowledge is essential to reproduce successes, improve failures and develop sustainable solutions that work....
JULIA KATHERINE HAINES
Startup accelerators have expanded worldwide in recent years, fostering the development of technology startups and spreading Lean practices and Silicon Valley values to all corners of the globe. These accelerators clearly create value—for the teams whose development they foster, the products they create, and the larger ecosystems they build. But there are also a number of challenges arising from the model and how it is implemented in different contexts globally. Through fieldwork at accelerators in Singapore and Buenos Aires, I investigate the global expansion of this innovation model. In this paper, I discuss the most salient challenges and discuss potential opportunities emerging from these challenges, and how other methods and practices such as design thinking, intensive user research and flexible, bottom up-approaches can add value to the accelerator process. I also highlight mutually beneficial ways the EPIC community can become more involved in startups ecosystems....
ALICE PEINADO, MAGDALENA JARVIN and CORINNE JOUANNY
This essay analyses how consensus was reached in a co-opetitive setting by looking at two, consecutive but related projects spanning from 14 to 18 months in length. The projects took place in Paris, France, between 2009 and 2013, and involved key players from the banking and insurance industry. FiDJi, short for Finance, Design et Joie d’Innover, was meant to test a new innovation method based on a design thinking approach. FAIR, short for Finance, Assurance & Innovation Responsable, was conceived as a sequel to FiDJi but had the more ambitious goal to develop a new methodology that, while using a design thinking approach as a starting mode, would provide an independent set of guidelines with respect to sustainable, responsible innovation. Consequently, the dynamic of each project varied, as did the end goals. Both projects took design thinking as a starting point but while FiDJi produced a new innovation methodology based on a user-centred design approach, FAIR had the more ambitious...