Since When Has Everyone Become an Ethnographic Expert!

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by: Idris Mootee 

There is so much hype around innovation, (including customer inspired innovation) and ethnography these days almost every research firm is telling you that they do ethnography and every design firm is an innovation firm.

It is like every cab driver in LA is a screen writer and every good looking waitress is a model. Nope, you are not. Even if you read the faces on those eggs.

Innovation is innovation and not just design. Ethnography is not market research. Let’s be clear about that here.

What are the differences or connections between innovation and design? Innovation is much much larger than design whether it’s product, space or experience. It is about discovering new ways to uncover insights and connect those insights to concepts that can fulfill customer needs (both articulated and unarticulated, met or unmet). It also includes carefully mapped out development requirements and linking them to business economics and delivery. Plus managing risk along the way. A design firm does not do that. But “design thinking” can be very useful for that.

What are the differences or connections between ethnography and traditional market research? Ethnography is a social science research method that relies heavily on up-close, personal experience and possible participation, not just observation, by researchers trained in the art of ethnography. These ethnographers often work in multidisciplinary teams. The ethnographic focal point may include intensive language and culture learning, intensive study of a single field or domain, and a blend of historical, observational, and interview methods. Typical ethnographic research employs three kinds of data collection: interviews, observation, and documents. This in turn produces three kinds of data: quotations, descriptions, and excerpts of documents, resulting in one product: narrative description. This narrative sometimes includes diagrams and artifacts that help to tell “the story”. Ethnographic methods can give shape to new constructs or paradigms, and new variables for further market research. Most market research firms have no idea of how to do this and often casually throw in some interviews and call them ethnography. I can buy a Mark Jacob outfit and it doesn’t make me a model. Please stop misrepresenting yourself.

Ethnography is closely tied to innovation because ethnography enhances and widens top down views and enriches the inquiry process, taps both bottom-up insights and generates new analytic insights by engaging in interactive, team exploration of often subtle arenas of human difference and similarity. Through such findings ethnographers may inform others of their findings with an attempt to derive instructional innovations from such an analysis. Often traditional qualitative researchers perform near-ethnographic field work, they bring with them market researcher lens and end up getting useless data. My 25 years as a strategist 80% of the time research company failed to interpret the data. So 80% of the time the money was totally wasted. How often you the recommendation you get is 1/ Be innovative 2/be creative or 3/ focus on customer needs?

May be next week I should start an advanced research masterclass here to follow up on my advanced branding masterclass. Or should start a model screening masterclass to help people figure out the real deals?

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