Should you hire an anthropologist?

Ethnography stands out in a survey

The principals of the Product Development Group, owners of the Stage-Gate registration, published the lead article in Visions (a PDMA publication) this month. It was a survey of firms about their most used and most effective “ideation methods”. [I will probably return to this article in more detail in a later posting.]

Overall there seems to be serious problems with the survey including an odd definition of VOC techniques and susceptibility to bias. The authors highlighted the quadrant where methods were both most used and most effective. If you believe, as I do, that survey participants desire to:

  1. Make themselves look intelligent
  2. Tell the researcher what he/she wishes to hear, and
  3. Tell some truth,

in roughly that order, then the most used – most effective quadrant may not be that interesting. Who wants to tell a questioner that “I spend all my time and money on focus groups but they aren’t worth a d—.” It quite likely is true but it doesn’t make the subject look particularly smart.

I would find the little used, but effective quadrant to be the most interesting. The authors did not make that available, but the less-common used extensively, highly-effective quadrant MAY point us in that direction.

Ethnography was the clear outlier: less than 15% of respondents used it extensively but it was rated as the single most effective technique. (And it was labeled correctly as a VOC technique.)

Of course there is a bias risk here too: ethnography may be a fad; it may have a cult of followers who have to believe because they are spending their time and money in an unusual way…

But maybe anthropology deserves a look!

This entry was posted in Co-creation or User collaboration, Customer Research Methods, Ideation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Should you hire an anthropologist?

  1. pabanker says:

    We try to have our customer reps be alert, and the new products people here make visits to customers and talk to them while they are working. Do you know of banks that have really done ethnography for corporate clients?

  2. darastrixsthyr says:

    Very interesting! There was a magazine article in the NY Times this week that addressed user anthropology in the cellphone industry.

    In my (admittedly limited!) experience, one of the strengths of anthropology is that it allows researchers to access the mundane –the activities that are so ordinary and routine that people don’t consider them worth mentioning in an interview or survey. When I introduce myself and my research, the most common response is ‘Bargaining? What’s there to study about that?’ When I really watch people, however, it becomes clear that there are whole worlds of techniques, tactics, and taboos that are so ingrained in the normal way of doing business that the participants in the market often don’t think to mention them – or dismiss them as trivial – when I ask directly.

  3. gschirr says:

    Information or knowledge can be “sticky” for a variety of reasons, including:
    1. The other party doesn’t know what is important to you,
    2. Knowledge can’t be communicated without context,
    3. The other party may not be aware of what they “know”.

    Observing a user at work, or formal ethnograhic techniques can help with all of these communication blocks.

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