October 22, 2013
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GLOBAL DECODER. Unlocking insights with Seed’s expert people watcher.

This spring, we asked intern candidates to bring an item for show-and-tell. “What one tool is most important for your personal career success?”

We saw drumsticks: learn life’s rhythms. We saw a box of Band-Aids: carry the right tool in an emergency and stay cool.

One tool stood out: a passport. For this candidate, the passport is a reminder that there is always more to learn—just by simply listening. In fact, we learn best when we are most uncomfortable. Her story of being stuck with her English-speaking team at a bus stop in Spain brought these reminders to life.

Show-and-tell illustrates how possessions tell a deeper story. An object with a simple function is given meaning; that tells us a lot about the shower-and-teller!

Objects can be insights. A passport has one function. Its deeper meaning, however, is the perfect perspective for global consumer understanding challenges. When we truly know so little, how will we get the most out of global ethnography, observations or focus groups?

Start simple. Find an object you don’t recognize. Ask, “What’s that?” Learn theobject’s function, but go further. Explore its symbolism, its role as a reminder to someone or as an indicator of a cultural shift… and discover the bigger insight.

Put yourself in a respondent’s shoes. It’s fun to answer the question, “What’s that” when someone from another country asks!

In-home research is a perfect application for this simple question. Of all the rooms in the home, we’ve found the kitchen to be the best place for asking “What’s that”—no matter what country we’re visiting. New appliances and gadgets speak to buying power, emerging perspectives on affordable luxuries and the changing priority of convenience. Kitchens reflect the cultural importance of family, food and tradition. We find a lot of pride in kitchens.

“What’s that?” A simple question about an everyday object leads to a much bigger understanding.

What object in your home would most clearly beg the question, “What’s that?” What would your answer tell others about you? About your family or your culture?

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