Friday, July 2, 2010

The discipline of fieldwork

Chris Bailey has a great post about the importance of listening to really determine what a customer wants. Drawing on his Business Anthropology studies, Chris offers five simple ways to listen like an anthropologist:
  1. Shut up.
  2. Be naive.
  3. Get curious.
  4. Show me.
  5. Record it.

Chris does a great job expounding on each of these, and I encourage you to read his full post.

In addition to what Chris has outlined, I'd also add two additional observational strategies that are best used in tandem.

First, it is important to review what Bronislaw Malinowski referred to as the corpus inscriptum - the writings about a topic, especially the formal rules or instructions. In our modern world, this might include what people say about an organization, program, product or service in social or traditional media, or in their correspondence to your organization. But corpus inscriptum can be misleading because the reality is that people don't always accurately report what they actually do.

So, Malinowski adds that you must observe the imponderabilia of everyday life. In short, watch what people actually do. Whether this takes the form of being a "participant observer" among your customers, or crunching the numbers to see their activities, the fact is that what people actually do is a far more accurate reflection than what they say they do.

Thanks Chris for a great post -- and for making me think about how my own graduate studies in social anthropology relate to today.