Useful ethnography is more than observing or conducting a good interview. It is more than asking questions about the obvious. It is much more than that, and it has to be grounded in some knowledge of what to look at, what to observe, and what to record. Just coming home with a stack of videotape is not ethnography.
Good ethnography lies in the analysis and the ability to work collaboratively with other researchers (qualitative and quantitative), marketers and business development teams to create new ways of solving problems and understanding your business. That means being willing to explore and take risks. We often assume when “hanging out” with people that we can’t challenge what they say or do. We often assume we shouldn’t conduct experiments to try and understand things like the symbolic relationships between color, shape, taste, etc.
Next time you’re in the field, ask people to make dinner, ask them to wash the car, ask them to go for a drive. If it feels strange, all the better – it gives people license to play, learn and teach. And that is ultimately the goal of goal ethnography.