Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Research

Thinking about Research – Short Takes (3)

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What is thinking outside the box?

A little gem from Seth’s Blog (marketing guru Seth Godin):

The decision before the decision

That decision is far more important and much more difficult to change than the decision you actually believe you’re about to make.

This is the one that was made before you even showed up. This is the one that sets the agenda, determines the goal and establishes the frame.

The decision before the decision is the box.

When you think outside the box, what you’re actually doing is questioning the decision before the decision.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Thinking about Research — Short Takes (2)

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The paradoxes of choice overload — another installment of Kyle Bylin’s series on the paradoxes of choice overload of cultural products (on Music Think Tank). The article uses the I-Pod as an example and applies choice theory to the analysis and how the I-Pod can make “maximizers” miserable and turn “optimicizers” into maximizers. [A short excerpt below]

Savor Your Music: The Effect of Abundance in Culture

III.     Overloaded With Choice

As you might guess, fans who exhibit the tendency to maximize their music experiences are also those who are the most susceptible to the paradoxes of choice overload.  When a fan is overwhelmed by the number of songs on their iPod; it will be easier for them to regret a choice if the alternatives are plentiful than if they were scarce, especially if the alternatives are so plentiful that not all of them could be investigated.  This makes it easy for them to imagine that they could’ve made a different choice that would’ve been better.  All the imagined alternatives then, induce the fan to regret the decision they made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction they get out of the decision they made, even if it was agood song.  It is, however, not the best song.  To consider the attractiveness of the alternative songs that they rejected causes them to become less satisfied with the one they’ve chosen, leading them to keep scrolling through their iPod.  The more songs they consider, these missed opportunities add up, and collectively diminish the amount of satisfaction they get out of the chosen alternative.

Softwired for Empathy — the human condition (talk by Jeremy Rifkin)

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Hypebot.com just posted a talk (with animation by RSA ANIMATE) by social theorist & economist Jeremy Rifkin from a few months ago on recent neurological research that indicates that humans are softwired for empathy and that the PRIMARY HUMAN DRIVE IS TO BELONG (not to compete, conquer…).  Rifkin uses this research as a jumping off point to discuss the evolution of human empathy and possibilities for saving the world it has created. Rifkin’s omissions raise many questions but there is some meat here and it’s always interesting when heterodox voices come out of mainstream sources (Rivkin has advised numerous CEOs of major corporations as well as European governments). Lots of implications for those of us doing “cultural” research (in any sense).

For an expanded version, go to Rifkin’s 2010 The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness In a World In Crisis. It’s only fair to note that Rifkin is only one of many people exploring empathy — for a primatologist’s perspective see The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal, for a business perspective see Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik and there’s a lot more work out there.

Note: Rifkin doesn’t hold  himself back from some wild rhetorical flourishes (i.e., the Adam & Eve reference in this talk) and he  has been a ligahtening rod for criticism from some well-respected sources. From Wikipedia:

Rifkin’s work has also been controversial, and opponents have attacked the scientific rigor of his claims as well as some of the tactics he uses to promote his views. A 1989 article about Rifkin in Time bore the title, “The Most Hated Man in Science”.[9]Stephen Jay Gould characterised Rifkin’s 1983 book Algeny as “a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda masquerading as scholarship”.[10] Stewart Brand wrote in 2009: “Among scientists who have read his work, Rifkin is regarded as America’s leading nitwit.”[11]

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 4, 2010 at 11:55 am

Thinking about research — Short Takes (1)

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Two reposts of interesting blog posts I’ve read lately on research (from the design sector).

In case you’re curious or have a memory lapse (like I did), here’s a short “definition” of verstehen from Wikipedia (where else):

Verstehen is a German word which does not directly translate into English but is loosely synonymous with “understanding” or “interpretation”. In the social sciences it refers to a kind of non-empirical, empathic, or participatory examination of social phenomena. The term is particularly associated with the German sociologist, Max Weber, whose antipositivism established an alternative to prior sociological positivism and economic determinism, rooted in the analysis of social action. In anthropology, verstehen holds parallels with cultural relativism and has come to mean a systematic interpretive process in which an outside observer of a culture attempts to relate to subcultural group, or indigenous people, on their own terms and from their own point-of-view.


(1) From the online magazine Interactions:

Adding By Leaving Out: The Power of the Pause
Liz Danzico

We tend to think of the pause as awkward. In speech, pregnant pauses connote uncomfortable silence; we veil silence with fillers. As professional communicators, we’re trained to deliver smooth speech, censoring out “um” and “ah.” Public-speaking groups, such as the well-known Toastmasters, fine every member who utters an “uh” or “um” during a speech. This distaste for the pause – and the inverse, seeking an always-on state – is a battle we face at school, at work, and in industry at large.

I propose that we’re too impatient with the pause, and as a result, we’re missing out on a great deal. What would happen if, as communicators and designers, we became more comfortable with the pause? Because it turns out we can add by leaving out. The pause has power. (hit link @ title for the rest)

(2) From Copernicus Consulting (a Toronto design research and strategy firm):

The essence of qualitative research: “verstehen”

by Sam Ladner on October 15, 2009

“But how many people did you talk to?” If you’ve ever done qualitative research, you’ve heard that question at least once. And the first time? You were flummoxed. In 3 short minutes, you can be assured that will never happen again.

Folks, qualitative research does not worry about numbers of people; it worries about deep understanding. Weber called this “verstehen.” (Come to think of it, most German people call it that too. Coincidence?). Geertz called it “thick description.” It’s about knowing — really knowing — the phenomenon you’re researching. You’ve lived, breathed, and slept this thing, this social occurrence, this…this…part of everyday life. You know it inside and out. (hit link @ title for the rest)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 24, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Methodology, Research

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