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Ethnography

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The Lowly and Mighty #Anecdote


Once Upon A TimeThere is a mantra that I’ve been hearing:  “No data without stories, and no stories without data.”  At first blush, this sounds awesome.  It honors the art of storytelling; elevating it to the powerful level of data.  And it also helps the storyteller fully grasp the power of data; their stories now pack a powerful data-driven punch.

However those of us who live in the world of innovation, this mantra can be crippling. There often is little to no data to pair with the stories we discover. And many stories in the early phases of innovation work are just anecdotes. As the innovator accumulates knowledge and more anecdotes, opportunity areas start to emerge; and from opportunity, innovation springs.

And that is the conundrum.  In a data driven world, the simple anecdote is looked down upon, but often is where the richest untapped insight exists.

“No stories without data, and no data without stories” is a great rule of thumb. But it is not a law. For the vast majority of what business does, this rule of thumb will keep us safe. But for the innovator, the company rule breaker, the anecdote is a mightly lens to view the system cracks and failings.

So this blog is dedicated to the lowly and often maligned innovator tool: the anecdote.

Use it well.

Use it wisely.

Oh Behave!


No, this is a not about Austin Powers. This is about the tiny little things that cause us to move through our days seamlessly.  They are our little patterns and rituals that make our complex lives seem almost mindless.  Here is how I get to the gym each morning:   I wake up at 4:45am.  I brush my teeth.  I put my gym clothes on. I drink protein.  If I do these four “things”, it is almost assured that I will get to the gym and have a great workout.  Forget one, and chances are I won’t make it to the gum. For me the final commitment that I am really doing this is the chugging of my protein drink.  One time I forgot, and halfway to the gym I turned the car around and went home back to go back to sleep.  What a powerful little sequence!

These little “things” I do are behaviors, and I spent the last 48 hours studying them with Behavior Design guru, BJ Fogg. (If you don’t know who he is, you should. ).  In his behavior bootcamp he gave me and my team a new lexicon to more precisely define, analyze and design.  For several years we used product design methods to solve our complex challenges, and it was a bit like trying to throw a baseball with big fat mittens on. The past two years, we incorporated service design techniques, and that moved us from mittens to gloves. My guess is that adding behavior design will allow the gloves to come off, and we’ll be able to throw the damn baseball with speed and efficiency.

Please don’t mistake this posting as a complaint with methods.  We learned the right things at the right time. Each layering of method, prepared us for the next deeper level.  But how exciting when you feel the clicks and sparks of connection. More to come on our behavior design journey….

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Dr. Evil: Are those sharks with laser beams attached to their heads?
Scott Evil: [nods]
Dr. Evil: Cool! You mean that I actually have frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their frickin’ heads?

Don’t Forget the Humans


Last fall, my partner in crime, Christi Zuber and I had the opportunity to present on why we think human-centered design is so important…and so huge for healthcare. In an amazing event designed by Adaptive Path, UX Week took many of us on a journey of exploration, from comics to starships and behavior to dancing. I loved that the organizers made the week theme-less; instead they focused on bringing together cool, inspiring stuff.

Since the conference I’ve received several emails sharing that the video was an excellent “intro to HCD” for their organization. Although it was certainly not designed for that purpose I am thrilled it is finding a second life.

In any case, here is the video in its entirety…thanks to the folks at Adaptive Path (and you can get the Transcripts here).

Hello Soup!


“Hello!” we called out in Vietnamese biking through the countryside. Over and over again….shop owners would wave, children would giggle and shout back. And many would have a good belly laugh at the foreigners peddling through their town. As least that is what we thought. Turns out that we weren’t cheerfully greeting folks with “hello!”, we were screaming out “soup!”. Typed out in English the difference is so clear; now take a look in Vietnamese:

Chào = hello
Cháo = soup

A simple nuance in the stress of the word completely changes its meaning. And nuance is what makes ethnography so compelling and rich. Ethnography is where good designers and design thinkers kick off innovation projects. It is intensive and often takes several weeks to complete a cycle. As the ethnographer begins his/her work, often the observations and interviews seem more similar than different; however over time nuance become more and more pronounced. And a more complete understanding of the system emerges….as do innovation opportunities.

Putting together an innovation project plan, sponsor and project managers will often consider streamlining the ethnography/observation phase. “It seem so long! Do we really need 6 weeks for that? Can’t we do it 2 weeks?” It is certainly tempting, but my experience is that thoughtful ethnography yields the clearest design paths, and thoughtful ethnography takes time. So plan your time well…thoughtfully…and enjoy teasing out the nuance puzzles. It’s the difference between hello and soup.

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