Sam Lucente: The Ethnographer

Sam Lucente: The Ethnographer is an article in the BusinessWeek IN magazine, a new thing they’ve launched – with a bit of hype and controversy – to focus specifically on innovation. They’ve got the usual set of folks no doubt, Claudia Kotchka, IDEO, Marissa Mayer (and if this sounds bitter, it’s not since I seem to be – on a much more mortal scale – included in the broader population of regular BW folks).

The story about Lucente is pretty good. I have liked and admired Sam since I had the opportunity to work for him on a project my old firm did for IBM many years ago. He’s done amazing things and is having an impact.

But he’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, an ethnographer. I would be enormously surprised if he claimed that identity for himself, and I would suggest he sees himself still and forever as a designer (just my impression of the guy).

I’m not going to get fussy and try to define what the heck an ethnographer is or isn’t, but I’d say that it’s like innovation, art, or p0rnography – we know it when we see it.

I’m not being territorial here. I’m not at all comfortable when people label me as an ethnographer, either. I think that BW’s ongoing enthusiasm for design and now ethnography and of course innovation is making them a bit careless with their terms, and that’s frankly going to simply devalue and commoditize the special things they are talking about. I don’t know how we in the community can help BusinessWeek – I want us to encourage them to keep writing about these great examples of people doing good work, but to keep their enthusiasm in check long enough to look more deeply (what do these words mean), broadly (who are some more usual suspects), and judiciously (maybe some of what we’re hearing has been hopelessly idealized for PR purposes).


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