The lead story in this week’s New York Times Sunday Business section caught my eye. It’s a fascinating profile of Dr. Genevieve Bell, Intel’s director of user experience research—essentially, their resident futurist responsible for discovering innovation opportunities in subtle moments of human behavior.
This approach to participatory observation—known as ethnography—is certainly nothing new. For ages, marketers have known that the truth is often found between the lines, in the dark corners and shades of gray revealed by what people do, not necessarily what they say.
Often, it’s found precisely in the dissonance between what consumers report as fact and what’s observed as truth.
Today, ethnographers play an increasingly important role in tuning into the voice of the customer. Surveys and focus groups, it turns out, often suffer from groupthink and false reporting. And big data, while a powerful source of insight, can hide the truths only found in human observation and inspiration.
Stay tuned for more on this particular research in a future post.
In the meantime, consider what happens when you bring this now somewhat ancient idea of participatory observation to the digital domain. Here, sensors, quantified self and the Internet of Things become a source for new insights revealed through close observation of reflexive, utterly human patterns of behavior.
As the digital and analog universe becomes wholly instrumented for measurement, this approach to digital ethnography will go mainstream and it will shine light on the truth like never before.