phenomenology

In Defense of Personal Bias in Ethnographic Research

by ANNA ZAVYALOVA, Stripe Partners Past midnight, I’m shivering outside a pub in Shoreditch, the rain beginning to drizzle ever so viciously. It has been fifteen minutes since I left my friends and ordered an UberPool home. As I watch yet another cab drive by, I think about the millions of factors that make one choose how to get around a city. I think about comfort, cost and convenience, space, speed and safety. Earlier this year I was involved in a study of pooled mobility in the UK, India and Brazil, where we tried to make sense of car sharing ‘grammar’ across these dramatically different cultural landscapes. The project, which came to an end in March, and the subsequent paper I wrote for EPIC a few months later, should feel like a closed chapter. Yet as I traverse cities, home and abroad, during the day and late at night, I never stop noting, observing, collecting data – often without realising I’m doing it. Even after a night out, I am still an ethnographer, fascinated by how people and vehicles, cultural values...

Going with the Gut: The Case for Combining Instinct and Data

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners "The lesson I took away from that was, while we like to speak with data around here, so many times in my career I've ended up making decisions with my gut, and I should have followed my gut," Otellini said. "My gut told me to say yes." So said the ex-CEO of Intel, ruing his decision to pass on the opportunity to put Intel processors in the first iPhone. It was a decision that would cost Intel the opportunity to power the wildly successful iOS range. His gut, it turns out, was right—but the data didn’t support his instinct. The story most businesses tell to themselves is that they make decisions based on the best available information. It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that the entire infrastructure of business strategy is configured around the idea, and needs, of the “rational decision maker.” In the technocratic world the quantitative emphasis on what can be counted (empirical data) obscures what does not count (and cannot be counted), namely subjective emotions, intuition and experience. The...

All That Is Seen and Unseen: The Physical Environment as Informant

LISA REICHENBACH and MAGDA WESOLKOWSKA INTRODUCTION There is an old riddle, “What is everywhere, but invisible?”, to which the answer is “air”. But in ethnography applied within settings such as marketing and product innovation, the answer might as well be “the physical environment.” While social scientists are trained to consider informants and environment as interrelated and crucial information sources in ethnography, it nonetheless appears that all too often the environment may be underutilized in ethnography in many industry settings. This is a troublesome omission as the physical environment can be tremendously valuable to any ethnographer on the hook to find strategically relevant insights about a given target. This paper argues for a practice of industry-oriented ethnography in which the physical environment is viewed as an informant that helps us to find insights related to our end goal of understanding human behavior, such as what is highly motivating or what creates profound tensions for informants. We advance...