Article 13. Taking an E
View of Customers’ Needs: Qualitative Research for Aiding Innovation
Narratives enable articulative interviewers to raisequestions about the parts of the story that were left outand tend to bring out expressions of conflict. The past-present-future structure of a narrative allows the re-searcher to identify which values are changing. By askingthe participants about the context of a story, the inter-viewer brings the participants to describe how the differ-ent roles they hold are in conflict and produce seeminglyinsoluble dilemmas.Most conflicts among orienting values can be identifiedby exercising four basic listening and analytical tech-niques for identifying orienting values and four other tech-niques for articulating conflicts among orienting values.As a practical matter, identification of orienting valuestakes place best in one-to-one interviews. In practice, it isbest to begin such interviewing by finding an informantlike the kind anthropologists use. An informant knows theproduct category well, has a wide range of friends in thesegment to whom he or she gives advice, likes talkingfrankly about the product category, and is sensitive to thedifferences in understanding between him or herself andthe researcher. Once one-to-one interviews have uncov-ered orienting values, group interviewing is best for get-ting at shared social conflicts in orienting values. Groupsassembled by the informant work best. The informantserves as the investigator’s connection to the group of cus-tomers being interviewed and draws together acquaintan-ces who already share similar orienting values. With sucha group, trust is quickly built, and, consequently, authen-tic life narratives are revealed. Ideally, the group shouldbe small (three-five people); the interview should last oneand a half to two hours; and the researcher should takesteps to ensure that [the] group shares a trust-buildinglevel of similarity.By understanding these techniques, strategists, manag-ers, and market researchers can take lead roles to producemarket-changing innovations in products and services. Ul-timately, listening to value conflicts is a visionary skill thatshould be developed in the strategic and marketing areas of an organization.
Question the obvious and listen for difference.Standard market research is meant to be objective, investi-gators are supposed to keep any preconceived assumptionsthey may have regarding their interviewees from interferingwith the interview process. However, researchers cannotidentify their interviewees’ orienting values in a value-freeor value-neutral way. So they learn rather to identify whichof their own values they will use to identify their inter-viewees’ values. The interviewer’s recognition of his or herown cultural or subculturally distinctive values makes thediffering values of others intelligible in the first place. Forinstance, in interviewing parents from different cultures andeconomic classes, we have learned that all parents willclaim something seemingly universal: “I want what is bestfor my children. And that is that they do well in life.” Whatthis means, however, varies greatly. By listening for differ-ence from our own orienting values and thereby question-ing the obvious, we were able to learn that, in middle-classMexican culture, “doing well” means visibly achieving thenext economic class status without regard to calling. Inlow-income Mexican culture, “doing well” means that thechildren will have their own home without regard towhether it came by good fortune or hard work.We have been able to identify the significantly differentshadings of “doing well” among different economic groupsin Mexico by simply questioning the obvious Americanmeaning of “doing well,” that is, achieving one’s dreams orbeing fully independent. An interviewer who assumed thatindividualism was part of human constitution would missthe point of what “doing well” meant to Mexicans. Anotherexample from newly arrived Mexicans is their responsewhen asked what they miss most about Mexico: “One feelsfree in Mexico.” Taken as a straight response, a U.S. inter-viewer might understand freedom to mean spontaneous in-dependence or the desire to do what one wishes. However,upon listening for difference, a listener would understandthat dedication to family and friends, not independence, isprecisely the Mexican way of experiencing freedom. Theymight say, “There is a lot of time left over in Mexico. Thereis no routine. One finishes work, and walks over to afriend’s house in the evening.”By acknowledging peoples’ tendency to listen according totheir own dominant values (such as a love of individualism),researchers can learn to listen to people from other culturesand subcultures. To uncover a key orienting value (e.g., free-dom means dedication to family), an articulative interviewerhas to attend to his or her own weaker or marginal values suchas family dependence. Listening with these orienting values inmind directs a line of questioning that elicits what is meant by“doing well in life” or by “being free.” Thus, a listener can be-gin to explore how seemingly obvious statements can havemeanings that are quite different from the ones the interviewerassumes. Whenever something sounds obvious and right, the