Businesses often have strategic visions for the future of a product space; however, identifying and building toward preferable futures is a daunting task, especially when designing for complex systems, e.g., Digital advertising platforms that include multiple complex interfaces and internal organizational structures. Moreover, because businesses need to iterate on products quickly, often in a reactive manner, many businesses, and consequently researchers, struggle to go beyond short-term needs to tackle long-term solutions; that is, they mostly react to immediate needs and changes rather than taking a proactive strategic approach towards building a favorable future. Speculative design as a methodology to support proactive strategic thinking helps set a pathway to explore a variety of future states with participants, in our case business owners. It does so by designing immersive and impactful experiments for participants that draws insight...
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...
Cast Study—This case explores a business strategy development project run by Stripe Partners for a London-based online healthcare company, Dr Ed. The first part lays out the details of the process: an intense four-day ethnographic research programme called the ‘Studio’ involving the Dr Ed senior management team. The second half reflects on the outcomes of the process one year on through a series of management interviews, and evaluates the contribution the Studio made in relation to the new business strategy. The evidence from the case suggests that the concept of strategy can be reappraised. From strategy as a static set of choices made at a specific point in time to strategy as an unfolding network of people, shared experiences and artefacts that is constantly being remade. The primary benefit of the Studio approach is its capacity to initiate, align and catalyse a ‘strategy network’. Studios are effective because they combine ethnographic encounters with collective problem...
EMIL STIGSGAARD FUGLSANG
ReD Associates Download PDF
This tutorial will provide you with a foundational understanding of how businesses operate from financial, organizational, and strategic standpoints. However, rather than providing you with only a list of terminologies or a toolbox of frameworks, the goal of this course is to help participants gain an intuition around how to think like a business – especially when coming from a social science background and practice.
The course is designed for social scientists, designers, academics, corporate innovation teams, and other non-MBA professionals looking to enter the corporate world or make a bigger impact in their organizations. Throughout the course, participants will learn how to feed this knowledge back into their own work and ethnographic approaches, particularly around framing a project and turning insights into credible and impactful recommendations. Using Whole Foods as a case study, this course will cover:...
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.
by ALEX JINICH, Gemic
A person’s wellbeing is in great measure a product of a pleasant environment, and as a society we are placing progressively more value in creating such environments in the form of comfortable offices, welcoming homes, and inspiring shops. It is remarkable, for example, the degree to which the luxurious Dubai airport, where I am now, has been carefully designed to make you feel at ease as you leisurely cruise through it as though through a warmly illuminated exhibit hall. To a large degree, however, the precise features that make such an environment valuable are nuanced intangibles. In other words, environments are always experienced as unified wholes, and the value they create for us is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the airport, the warm and gentle lighting is as much a part of the overall experience as are the carefully curated glossy brands and the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen that sell them. The harmony and general atmosphere creates value above and beyond the sum of the values of the individual...
by MELEA PRESS, Hanken School of Economics
At the recent climate talks in Paris, 195 countries adopted a universal climate deal for the first time ever, key parts of which are legally binding. This is a stunning success and highlights how urgently the world’s nations, backed by their citizens and businesses, are seeking new ways to thrive while also addressing the challenges of climate change. As they strive to reach emissions targets over the next 15 years, organizations will also gradually realize that sustainability is no longer a trendy choice or moral imperative, but a reality in need of focused, persistent attention—and a good roadmap. Organizations must integrate sustainability into every strategic plan and action, yet few know how to turn the global goals of climate change mitigation into the kinds of activities they report to stakeholders.
At first, developing a sustainability plan may seem an easy task. There are numerous books and articles about the business case for sustainability, as well as inspirational memoirs,...
EPIC Profiles Series
by CHARLOTTE HOLLANDS
Simon Roberts, a founder of Stripe Partners, is an expert at using the power of ethnography to drive strategy and innovation by continuously unveiling the 'black magic' of people's worlds. He has crafted a pioneering career, compelled by intense curiosity and key moments of serendipity. His illustrated journey begins with his discovery of anthropology at Edinburgh University... (please click on illustrations to enlarge)
EPIC Papers & Posts by Simon Roberts
Knowing That and Knowing How: Towards Embodied Strategy (free article, sign-in required)
Making the Case for Cases, Part 1: EPIC Case Studies 101 & Part 2: Pathmaking
Bring Back the Bodies
Models of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Models
Putting Mobility on the Map: Researching Journeys and the Research Journey (free article, sign-in required)
Charlotte Hollands is a freelance ethnographer, sketch-noter, and illustrator. She is currently researching the production-of-creativity through...
by Your EPIC Board: MARIA BEZAITIS (Intel), ALEXANDRA MACK (Pitney Bowes) & KEN ANDERSON (Intel)
Every year the EPIC Board opens the published conference proceedings with a Conversation—a reflection on key ideas and passions afire at the meeting and a gateway to continuing those conversations together. 11 years of EPIC Proceedings are free in Intelligences: we invite you to search, read, comment and download. EPIC Members can also access EPIC2015 & EPIC2014 conference video.
EPIC2015 was notable for so many excellent reasons. First, the conference took place in an extraordinary city with a vibrant and growing population of EPIC people. Holding the conference in São Paulo enabled an influx of new participants and presenters from Latin America, expanding the community and conversation with new colleagues and stakeholders as well as new ways of thinking about people that develop out of different cultural perspectives.
Second, we celebrated our first double-digit birthday—10 years! Our birthday gave us the opportunity...
JONATHAN LEROY BIDERMAN
Recent developments in the scholarship of ethnography, combined with growing recognition of the value of collaboration in business, present industrial ethnography with the opportunity to exercise greater agency and leadership. This paper considers updates to theory and practice of ethnographic strategy, positionality, foresight, and design, observing that the combination of these developments is ideal preparation for such leadership and collaboration in a context of increasing complexity. Discussion of business orthodoxy and related critiques contextualizes the conversation. Atul Gawande's development of the surgical safety checklist provides a case study for showing how a deep ethnographic approach can apply the specific capabilities highlighted in this paper to foster collaboration and to understand and solve complex problems in a way that bridges “anthropological” and “design” ethnography. The paper ends with practical suggestions for advancing ethnographic leadership and agency. Additional key words:...
A Piece of Pie ROBERT ANDREW BELL
A Piece of Pie
This paper examines the sales force in a retail setting, considering how Business Anthropology can enlighten managerial practices as a means to defining organisational strategy. Specifically, we look at sales force engagement, motivation and reward – considering how to build bridges in the management-employee relationship and shed light on the sales force culture. We will look at anthropology’s position in relation to key business activities using the service-dominant logic to understand how individual sensemaking and perception of power can influence internal and external relationships in the value creation and realisation process, examining engrained paradigms and using Corporate Ethnography to offer new insights and perceptions on organisational culture, power and hierarchies....
ReD AssociatesMADS HOLME
This paper reflects on the evolving nature of ethnographic praxis in industry and argues that we must move beyond research and towards strategy in order to elevate our praxis, and to deliver real impact and value for our clients. Although this conversation is not new for the EPIC community, there has been a lack of models and examples – even in its tenth year – for how to do so. Taking a project with a medical device company that manufacturers voice prostheses for laryngectomees as a case study, we show how a team of social scientists used “Sensemaking” to determine a new commercial direction for innovation and to design a five-year portfolio strategy for our client. In doing so, we illustrate how our praxis can do more than deliver research insights or design, but also act as the core foundation that defines business processes and strategy....
Stripe Partners TOM HOY
This paper explores two different forms of knowledge. We compare embodied understanding with propositional or abstract knowledge. Ethnographic research, with its commitment to understanding through immersion and engagement in social fields produces dexterous, intuitive and practical cultural knowledge, which is highly suited towards culturally attuned activity. We argue that ethnography can often be reduced to propositional knowledge as a result of the lack of team participation in research and how we communicate insight. Ideas of professional expertise sit behind the division of labour that characterises client-researcher relationships. Accompanying that division of labour is a need for the communication of ethnographic research to bridge the gap between client and external worlds – the world we as researchers explore and that our clients needs to act in. By engaging our clients in shared, immersive experiences we can create the conditions for them to develop ‘know how’ about...
by ZACH HYMAN, Continuum
Thomas Hobbes famously warned that the worst instincts of “mankind” need strict management, control, and regulation. But what about the harm that results when we try to manage spontaneous systems too closely?
I have been thinking with Robert Chia and Robin Holt lately; their book Strategy without Design is on my desk, and I’m nearly finished with their detailed accounts of how inflexible and myopic our planning and strategy can be. We’ve developed rigid and inflexible fields and disciplines, which have lead to similarly inelastic outputs. History is rife with examples of failed attempts to plan, manage, and control. The news these days is rife with them too—the misplaced ambitions of those who hope to design on a massive scale for a complex group of users.
Take, for example, high priests of modernity such as Le Corbusier, whose Plan Voisin imagined the transformation Paris into “a chequerboard latticework of well-spaced towers and open, orthogonal roads” (Chia & Holt 36). His success...
by JOHANNES SUIKKANEN, Gemic & TOM HOY, Stripe Partners
A wonderful, diverse group actively participated in the Ethnography & Strategy Salon at EPIC2015 in São Paulo, and we’d like to share some of that experience with you. The Brazil group took the discussion into unexpected territories (just as we hoped) and now we call on you, the extended EPIC community, to take it further.
Although diverse, we are all confronting many of the same tensions regarding how we use ethnography to drive strategy. In this sense, listening to parallel stories was useful for learning, but also reassuring (on a personal level) to hear how such challenges are widely shared. There is great value in addressing them together. By offering a summary of main themes and provoking questions from this salon, we invite you to extend our thinking.
Many of Us Are Becoming Empathetic ‘Experience Stagers’
We started the salon with Tom’s story about a project in which he took the client to the field to experience firsthand what “real people” experience....