The wisdom of the ground

Greg Salmela
1 min readDec 9, 2020

In 2009, Finnish cell-phone giant, Nokia, expected to maintain its dominance. Being a company that only deferred to quantitative data and forecasting, it was a bit surprising that Nokia funded a qualitative study to investigate the culture around phone use.

Tricia Wang, a sociologist and ethnographer, led the research. Conducting a lengthy ethnographic study, Wang and her team observed the role of the phone in its everyday cultural context. Ultimately, she pieced together a picture very different from the one celebrated in Nokia’s boardroom.

Although dismissed by Nokia for being contrarian, Wang’s insights were no less prescient. The research identified cultural shifts that Nokia’s product strategies would be ill-suited for. Within a year, fortunes for Nokia plunged. By the time Microsoft acquired the once market leader in 2013, market share was a mere three percent.

This story illustrates what we sometimes call ‘the wisdom of the ground’. While companies may wager large sums on their plans, ultimately culture holds the cards.

I founded Aegis, a relational design firm. We help create emotionally-intelligent brands and organisations.

Greg Salmela

Hanging with human-centred thinkers, researchers and designers.