Douglas Belton is a guest contributor to

“Big Data,” the story of Cain and Abel, a big green button, and an insurgent fighting force have something in common: they show us how and why ethnography[1] is helping businesses compete better.

The biblical account of Cain and Abel portrays human beings competing against one another, specifically for God’s approval and by extension for status in society as one favored by God. Other forces of Good and Evil fight in spiritual realms in one of the most classic cultural con­structs of competition. These exemplars teach and infuse the moral core of the human experi­ence. People from presidential-campaign strategists to savvy public-relations and advertising agencies commonly use the good/evil construct to create competitive advantage through emo­tion. We (or our product) are benevolent and wholesome. They (or their product) are malevo­lent and shady.

Read More →

An important part of the skill of competing is the art of betting on future trends before they are obvious to everyone. Every company attempts to do so. Startups in particular are all about “seeing” things around the corner, and anticipating changing preferences. I call it an art because trying to apply the principles behind exact sciences like physics to predicting social behavior and the diffusion of new trends is shamanism. I have nothing against shamans as a profession, though. Some of my best friends are shamans. Some of the brightest scientists can be shamans. A case in point is Didier Sornette, a physicist who claims to have discovered a method to predict the exact time market bubbles will pop  based on the physical principles behind a spiraling coin. Unfortunately, he failed to predict the 2008 crash. Here is my prediction: he will fail in predicting the next one as well. And I did not even have to apply any fractal or quantum or other theories.

While trends cannot be verified by science before they are obvious, for me they are felt subcutaneously, as in goose bumps when something is not right. That’s what I felt when reading about Walmart going small. Walmart?

Read More →