Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gut feel

I loaded a series called, The Ascent of Money to my iPhone. Not sure why I thought it would be interesting but luckily it was a fantastic watch.

The best single interview from all six episodes is with, Ken Griffin of Citadel Investment Group (in episode 4). He is billionaire hedge fund manager who looks younger than me and payed himself $1bn dollars in 2009. More than I paid myself.

His success, he states, is down to mathematics followed by intuition. The most successful managers, he continues, have brilliant intuition which they use fearlessly. The mathematics still has to be done, but is only important in helping to make sure you understand the problem.

There is a fantastic parallel here with ethnographic research or any research for that matter. Using research to help you understand the landscape you are exploring. But then using intuition to generate actions. And good intuition comes, in my view, with practice. Around 10,000 hours according to, Malcolm Gladwell.

When we debrief outputs and workshop them into actions and implications, the research findings form a kind framework or perhaps even a perimeter fence within which to think and be creative. The answers to the objectives never, ever lie in the contents of the films or what people say in them. And we find ourselves constantly having to remind/force clients to think about what isn't happening in the films we have created in order for intuitive thinking to replace rational thinking.

And it really does work. Any thoughts anyone?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Talking the talk

I stumbled across it in one of my folders which had been lost inside another folder for the past year. It's a document I created for one our new colleagues to familiarise herself with how we talk, walk and do ethnographic research. I thought you'd be interested so I am sharing...


1. Ethnography is about watching what people do, then understanding what it means. We record ordinary, everyday events to find out extraordinary new things about people

2. We do participant observation – which means hanging out with people and learning first hand what life looks like, feels like and tastes like for our subjects

3. We record people’s lives and events on camera - video recordings enable us to scrutinise events in detail and to view them again and again

4. Things do not naturally ‘mean anything’ – meanings are created not found. Our ethnographers are never just camera operators. They are researchers, thinkers and interpreters of other people's realities and priorities

5. Interpretation and finding meanings is done best as a collaborative process, so we involve clients every step of the way, we don't work in isolation


6. Most research is based on what people SAY. Our research also captures what people DO.

7. Most research is about things that have happened. Our research also looks at things that nearly happen or things that don't happen.

8. Most research is about what you know that you don't know. Our research always includes what you don’t know that you don't know, which is the source of most insights

9. Most research focuses in on a product or brand or topic. Our research looks at the context in which the product or brand or topic arises. (We never treat an event as a stand-alone, discrete happening. Everything is connected)

10. Most research struggles to identify those split-second, often private moments where decisions are made. Our research is designed to capture and record those key, decision moments.

11. Some research uses CCTV to study shopping behaviour. Our research nearly always includes shopping. But you cannot understand shopping behaviour by only watching people shopping. You have to know what emotional baggage the shopper ‘brings with them’ to the shop and what the arrangements are at home.


12. We study client briefs to ensure that all of the objectives are appropriate to ethnographic explorations – there is no point doing ethnography if an interview-based approach will achieve the same results

13. Before an exploration begins, we agree what are the absolute minimum key events we need to capture in order to provide the necessary raw material for great analysis and interpretation

14. We typically spend 2-3 days in-home, usually with between four and six households.

15. We never tell households what we are there to film/capture during the first in-home phase. This way we don't set up biases. It is vital that we natural occurring natural events which occur spontaneously

16. We edit the raw footage and show the edit to the clients (usually up to 30 minutes per household). We hold a question-generation workshop, to find out what the client team wants to know about the subjects’ behaviour / what they have watched

17. We go back to the subjects and ask them to provide a commentary as a voiceover to the edited film – this is known as the co-discovery process and we incorporate the client questions at this stage. Clients are encourage to attend too.

18. Our deliverables include household narrated films which are carefully edited and dubbed to most effectively convey the key insights and interpretations by theme, market & segment.


21. Our speciality is running multi-country projects. We have developed techniques to ensure consistent quality across different markets, cultures and languages.

22. We only ever use local country ethnographers who know and understand their culture.


The next big idea

What next?

We are looking at finding entire communities in the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Sweden with which to conduct a 12 month long exploration of every day life. We will probably give each household an iPhone to double as an incentive payment (I hope) and we will look to using our App, on said iPhone, as the main data collection method.

Apart from logistics, cost and timing, we have a substantial quality control issue: How do we obtain consistent quality data(photo, film, audio and text) which is rich and usable? Short of recruiting a community of film makers, we need to follow the same process we follow with existing multi-country projects. That is, to create a series of template films. A template film - usually for our own ethnographers rather than households - is designed to set a benchmark for quality, style and content. It may even be necessary to send a new template film with each task. Since we expect to set a new task every 6 weeks, that will mean quite a lot of short films to send everyone.

The next big issue is finding our communities. In fact, how large should a community be and who should populate it? The answer is around 30 people and ideally all from the same street so they vaguely know each other. And the socio-demographics? As broad a mix as possible. This won't be a segmentation study. It will be a resource for those who want to observe and understand the precise points at which decisions are made, discoveries are made and opportunities are lost. It will also, therefore, explore things people nearly do or don't do.

Watch this space!


I need your help - no really...

The App is rolling along, selling nicely and collecting advocates as it snowballs. But there has, all along, been a gaping omission. Something we knew about but I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to ignore and leave 'til last.

Any ethno-app worth it's salt, a user told me (and I knew this already) must have a web based service to receive and allow manipulation of the captured events. So you can get back to your desk, log in to your secure project area in the edlAPP site and begin analysis, interpretation, editing, sharing, etc. The App, all by itself, she continued, is like an ice-cream without a cone. It will wither and die. It will never become widely adopted as the ethnographic App of choice. Point taken.

In a couple of weeks we will have this resource, repository, whatever you want to call it (what do we call it?) ready for BETA testing. It will be a basic layout with basic functionality. The idea being that users suggest functionality we might not have considered before we launch the all bells and whistles version.

But here is what I need help with. Pricing - how do we charge? And we will have to charge something to cover the bandwidth charges. I have been looking at various online services to see what their fee structures look like. This is a good potential model. Different levels of functionality with a monthly fee. Or do I, perhaps, go down the route of a fee per respondent used? But what if I have an academic using the tool to explore an entire community? It's a tough one. So I am appealing to you, the reader to help me, the terrible business person that I am, figure out a charging structure.

If you have thoughts about how much I should charge that would be helpful too.

I so look forward to your advice.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Twenty five days ago our Ethno-App hit the iTunes store. And since that day we have sold around 300. We continue to sell between 10 to 15 a day to mostly the US, UK and Australia.

You only have to look at the support site and the iTunes store reviews to see that expectations were/are very high and users very demanding. In some ways it has been back to the drawing board and re-thinking how we thought researchers would use the App. I have already had a few emails complaining that users are observing communities and not households. Or that they want to input tags and not themes. Well, fine! We're on it. Below I am listing the just some of the enhancements in the first of three updates:

1 Saving clips to Camera Roll from within the App will now be possible

2 From within the App to select an existing clip from within Camera Roll to attach to an event

3 Location of event pin pointed on map

4 Scrollable description box - at the moment long descriptions are unreadable

5 Only show 'Quick Start' once a project has been created to avoid confusion.

6 Allow configurable headings - 'Themes' and 'Households' become unhelpful when adding tags observing a community

7 Allow followers, etc. to be selected from contacts from within the App.

It is worth mentioning that we have pushed the button on a web based project management dashboard for outputs from the App.

A consumer version of the App is being worked on for video diary and short/long term panel studies.

Blackberry versions of the professional and consumer App are in progress.

I have so much more to share which I can't yet. Perhaps next week and once I have returned from a key meeting in one of the Southern US states.



Some lessons from life, my business and my App as I reach my 45th year:

1 Making a fortune is extremely hard. And making a fortune out of a new idea is even harder. So never let money, wealth or retiring early to Barbados be a motivating factor. If it is, forget the idea. Else prepare to be bitterly disappointed.

2 Never let research findings dictate what happens to your idea or innovation. What people say (and do) needs to be tempered with interpretation and meaning. Obviously. But it still amazes me how often qualitative and quantitative research kills a great idea because the bigger picture/context was missed or ignored.

3 After getting excited about an idea or concept, sleep on it. In fact ignore it and see how it resets itself in your mind. Then sleep on it and ignore it some more. It will gradually harden into something unrecogniseably different. Then you know it beginning to cook into something. My App, for example, started life out as an experiment on Twitter

4 Never begin working on a new innovation while still excited about it - you lose all sense of reality.

5 It's not about how original an idea is, it's about how obvious it is and why no one has thought of it before

6 There is no such thing as a new idea - someone else, right now, is working on the same innovation as you - guaranteed

7 Confidentiality around a new idea/innovation is total and complete nonsense and a waste of time and energy. Share as soon as it comes to your head. Allow those around you, including future customers and even competitors, to a) build it with you and b) see that you have a core loyalty base of early adopters who will become mavens/advocates for your product or service

8 People who succeed with an idea will have failed at the same or very similar ideas (sometimes without even realising) countless times before. It is impossible to succeed without failing.

Finally, let me end by saying that the process of invention and innovation, like any other skill, needs practice to make perfect. Honest to goodness. Practice, practice, practice.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Let's turn everything into an App

I promise not to make this blog into an App blog. It's meant to be an ethnographic research blog. So here is one last piece which anyone at all who has a blog should know about. Motherapp will turn you blog into an App for most platforms for free (with advertising) or a $99 p.a. fee (without advertising).

I'll be doing it. Too good to be true.

Ethnosnacker group hits 500 members on Linkedin

Not bad for something I started up for fun. OK, it was in the hope of generating business in conjunction with this blog.

So here are some lessons learnt:

1) Having a group will not generate new enquiries and is not a new business tool
2) Group members do not like being sent mass emails asking for credentials meetings 'when next I visit the US'
3) Group members do actually read the Ethnosnacker blog and leave nice long comments.
3) The very people you hope will be the first to join, never join - i.e. your own colleagues
4) Membership numbers do not slowly reach a critical mass and then grow exponentially. Unless we have yet to reach a critical mass.
5) It is not cool to ask strangers in Belgian bars to join your group just because they are drunk and vulnerable. It is also not cool to suggest they join there and then using your iPhone...


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Taking our process and condensing it into an App

We are proud of our methodology. We love our process very much. I have to keep repeating these sentiments to remind myself why we went through the pain, angst and tears of taking what we do and turning it into an App... which was inherently risky. Why would anyone, especially a competing research consultancy, want to buy our process, bottled (if you like) in an iPhone? And we didn't even disguise its name.

So, above, is our process turned into a short film. It was a real project for a real client. And the people are real clients too. When you finish watching, watch it again and this time work out what the App cannot possibly replicate/allow. Then challenge me by asking me how.

Enjoy the clip.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

App competition

Readers of this blog (you and my mum) will know that we have been talking about our ethnographic toolkit for quite some time. I am all for the public/open innovation approach of telling everyone everything I'm doing (unless a client is involved) and using the feedback to create something even better, as I'm building it.

When I had just started mentioning my idea for an App, an anthropologist emailed me to say that she liked the way I was thinking very much and was looking forward to buying the final product. However, in the meantime, she was happily using Evernote, a kind of sophisticated TODO list which allows pictures and notes to be captured and saved to a cloud. This wasn't really competition. It was more like inspiration. And it didn't use video.

What really took me by surprise, however, was a story telling App called Storyrobe. I hadn't come across it at all until someone who was reviewing my App for Core77 mentioned it. It wasn't an ethnographic tool. It was a story telling tool. Designed to allow users to take pictures and to narrate them with voice recordings. A kind of still photo co-discovery rather than our video based co-discovery. Again, not designed for ethno-fieldwork but nonetheless used by some social scientists.

So I wait to see what other Apps will pop up that have eluded my radar. The trick, I think, is to keep innovating openly and thus keep one step ahead. We already have updates coming online in Q1 2010 which will allow users to sync captured events to a cloud. I am also exploring functionality such as a bar code reading function to allow consumers to record all of their purchases effortlessly (for video diaries) and live video streaming. Among other things.

What I feel certain about is that 12 month from now we will not be the sole operator in this very exciting field. I also feel certain that we will be the furthest ahead.

I will keep you updated on how my competitive set increases in size.