KEN ANDERSON, TONY SALVADOR and BRANDON BARNETT Since the 90’s, one of ethnography’s values has been about the reduction in the risk of developing new products and services by providing contextual information about people’s lives. This model is breaking down. Ethnography can continue to provide value in the new environment by enabling the corporation to be agile. We need to: (1) identify flux in social-technological fabric; (2) engage in the characterization of the business ecosystems to understand order; and (3) be a catalyst with rapid deep dives. Together we call it a FOC approach (flux, order, catalyst)....
Practice, Products and the Future of Ethnographic Work
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MARIA BEZAITIS Ethnographic work in industry has spent two decades contributing to making products that matter in a range of industry contexts. This activity has accounted for important successes within industry. From the standpoint of ethnographic practice, however, the discursive infrastructure that has been developed to do our work within product development is now a limiting factor. For practice to evolve, we must look critically at the ways in which our current successes are indicators of a kind of stasis and that change is a matter of radically redefining the kinds of business problems ethnographic work should address and the values and behaviors associated with how we do our work....
Flexibility and the Curatorial Eye: Why and How Well-Documented Fieldwork Sustains Value Over Time
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ELIZABETH CHURCHILL and AME ELLIOTT This paper discusses two distinguishing features of ethnographic work, program flexibility and data flexibility. These forms of flexibility deliver business benefits at two different timeframes. Within the timeframe of a given project, ethnographic practice is necessarily reflective and reflexive; ethnographic training insists researchers be flexible. This means projects are responsive to emerging results, and can be reframed in situ without significant additional investment. After the project has completed, carefully managed, stored and curated ethnographic materials can answer new questions, perhaps posed years after the project has ended. Thus, ethnographic work can generate business impact by sustaining value over time. Two cases illustrate the value-generating qualities of ethnographic work: one recently conducted investigation of drinking water in India and one conducted ten years ago looking at changes in collaborative practices as a result of the adoption of mobile technologies. Discussion...
Taking the Driver’s Seat: Sustaining Critical Enquiry While Becoming a Legitimate Corporate Decision-Maker
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ROGERIO DE PAULA, SUZANNE L. THOMAS and XUEMING LANG Staying relevant (to the business) is at the heart of career-advancement and (increasingly) job-security, particularly, in a business unit. It embodies a number of different meanings to the different players in corporate—from supporting product definition to creating strategic plans to making the appropriate business decisions. Rather surprisingly, though, we find EPIC talking about it with a certain discomfort, particularly when it comes to affect our identities as social researchers. On the other hand, we, in the industry, have little choice but to “play the game” and find ways whereby we can best utilize our knowledge, experiences, skills, our unique perspective to endow us an edge—creating interesting possibilities to stay relevant. This paper investigates our own trajectories in the past few years in a product group at Intel where we suddenly found ourselves increasingly more involved with decision-making, taking actions that would ultimately affect the course of the...
Guides Not Gurus
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CATHERINE HOWARD and PETER MORTENSEN The past quarter century has seen the deployment of ethnographic methods in business grow from a curiosity to a prerequisite for success. But in the process, the outcomes of ethnographic research—customer empathy, strategic directions, lasting market insights that shape design—have not been adopted at the same rate. The hand-off from ethnographers to designers and business decision-makers is the biggest challenge to success. The time has come for ethnographers to again reframe their role within business. Rather than acting as interpreters between the lives of ordinary people and the companies who serve them, ethnographers have the opportunity to instead help the entire business organization to gather a clear sense of its customers’ lives. Ethnographers need to switch from being gurus of customer experience to being guides who take everyone in the company into the outside world....
Choice-Making with Head and Heart: Finding the Ethnographic Center of Strategy
by DONNA K. FLYNN, PhD, Steelcase Being an anthropologist has been a core part of my personal identity since graduate school – not because of all the years of schooling or the grueling dissertation, but because a holistic, systemic, and people-centered perspective on the world became woven into the fabric of who I am. The power of ethnography is not in its methods, but in the way it shapes our perspective on the world. We frame complex problems in holistic ways, seek out connections between micro-behaviors and macro-dynamics, and are inspired by the rich color of people’s stories. An ethnographic perspective helps us find meaning in everything we look at. Applying that perspective in our work is about translating that meaning into action. These skills are all fundamental to the choice-making enterprise of business strategy. Recently I have had the great fortune to facilitate and inspire strategy development alongside leaders of multi-million dollar businesses, and truly experiment with applying our ethnographic tools to this...