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This posting was motivated by the following quotation I found in my in box this morning:

MultiExposure-webI like not to know for as long as possible because then it tells me the truth instead of me imposing the truth. Michael Moschen

TheAnthroGuys spend a great deal of time trying to use and teach the use and limits of analytic induction.  This is more than just a curricular objective; it is an impassioned crusade, a holy war against the zombies of common sense.  This may sound somewhat over-eager for some but the power of common sense is typically unassailable.  Left unchallenged, “common sense” – supported by humans’ penchant for retrospective sense making – claims the final word in most cases.


A case in point is a colleague’s reference to our use of the term “analytic induction” as oxymoronic.  But analytic induction is not an oxymoron.  Rather, it is an effective methodology of managing many observations made in most research contexts.  Deduction and induction can be thought of in cyclical relationship to each other.  With analytic induction, one is able to think outside of the box systematically.  One can approach problems and expect more than the accidental inspiration of the “ah-ha moment”.


In Ethnography for Marketers (2006), Hy Mariampolski references a term he calls “magic”, to invoke such terminology for the very same reason that we are trying to focus on this problem.  In a section entitled, “creating imaginative interpretations” Mariampolski urges readers to move beyond the initial assumptions about what one sees in the field.


Recently published a fine line (2009) further illustrates the power of systematically thinking outside of the common sense.  Written by Hartmut Esslinger, founder of Frog Design, this sort of advice could not come from a better source.  Esslinger starts the book by pointing out how “out of the box” his approach has been and how very successful it has been due to its rigor.

It is not easy to liberate the truth from the burden of one’s own gut instincts or the sense that seems common to all, but if given enough time, time to “not know for as long as possible”, as Michael Moschen states, then the rich rewards of true creativity become available.


Jason, a clever colleague of mine, found an interesting article that reminded me of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ use of bricolage [French for, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)].

The Fresno Scraper

The Fresno Scraper

Paul Boutin describes a variety of simple solutions to complex problems that typify the sort of ingenuity that launched “The Fresno Scraper” and will pull us out of the challenges currently facing us in the San Joaquin Valley. This sort of “routine applied induction” is occurring around us all the time but is rarely celebrated. In light of the economic troubles filling our minds (e.g., this story of Mendota’s water problems), we need to start hearing more of these stories of applied cleverness to balance things out.

Paul Boutin states this idea better than I ever could in his article:

Today’s shaky economy is likely to produce many more such tricks. “In postwar Japan, the economy wasn’t doing so great, so you couldn’t get everyday-use items like household cleaners,” says Lisa Katayama, author of “Urawaza,” a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. “So people looked for ways to do with what they had.” via Basics – Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems –

Approaches to Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis

We were recently invited to speak to a class of entrepreneurship students about how anthropology can help students of innovation add value to things.  We suggested the following:

OBJECTIVE: To equip you with a set of inductive observation and analysis tools you can use to improve your entrepreneurship skills.

METHOD: Introducing you to “the ethnographic method” through a explanation of what we call, “ethnographic opportunity analysis”.

BACKGROUND: This approach builds upon “the ethnographic method“, “induction“, design generally and “design anthropology”.

More detailed background can be found in the following articles:

Jon Kolko’s sold out book has a great chapter on Interaction Design here

More of Jon Kolko’s can be found here (use the html version to get all the test)

A article from Interactive Design that I’m still tracking down

SELECTIVE ETHNOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS: Qualitative Modeling For Work Place Ethnography by Maarten Sierhuis

ASSIGNMENT : 1) Conduct some sort of “inductive observation”, 2) analyze your notes, then 3) expand those notes into a brief report about what you found.

DESCRIPTION: Rather than looking into a completely innovative idea (service or product), the goal is to observe something that already works; observe it in great detail; then begin to understand it in such detail that you can make concrete suggestions about improving it.  In other words, rather than looking for how consumers COULD use a NEW service/product, the goal is to observe how consumers DO use a EXISTING service/product with the intention of looking for opportunities to improve or “add value” to that experience.


1. Find a routine, taken-for-granted task/service/product,

2. “Hang out” and “thickly describe” it in a notebook,

3. Suggest some sort of innovation that will add value to it.

The best observations will be published on this blogsite.
We will use the following to assess the quality of the submissions.

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