Cultural Anthropology and Business Intelligence–A Tribute to Dr. Thomas C. Correll

A tribute is an expression of gratitude or praise. Last year I started a series about individuals who have impacted my career. I do this as a tribute to my father-in-law, Ed Jankowski who passed away a few years ago. Check out my original post about him and his impact on me being in software development today.

Cultural Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Studies

Prior to working with data and software, my career choice was to be a missionary. Yes, that is correct. I am trained to work cross-culturally with churches and other Christian organizations. Along the way, I learned how to work with software and my career changed. However, as with many things in life, seemingly unrelated items impact real life. In my case, my final degree work was done in Cultural Anthropology. This tribute post calls out one of my professors who greatly impacted me personally and whose training has helped me with my work in BI solutions.

During my stint at Bethany College of Missions in Bloomington, Minnesota, I took a number of courses from Dr. Thomas Correll in the field of cultural anthropology. He was responsible for providing me with the bulk of my investigative and research skills for use in this field. In particular, I remember three techniques that we studiedimage in particular: Life History Study Method, Participant Observation, and Ethnographic Interviews. Two of these, Participant Observation and Ethnographic Interview are based on James Spradley’s work. Through these classes and supporting projects, I learned much in the way of research and analysis.

Dr. Correll, or Tom as he preferred in class, ingrained in me a great desire to research and do it well. Even now, I am proud of the work I did for those classes as they stretched me to learn and delve into areas I was not entirely comfortable with. I really believe that those research techniques have served me well when I work with customers on BI projects. Here is how I see the impact on my daily work from the training I received.

Life History Study Method. The overall goal of this study methodology is to understand the changes that mean something to individuals in their culture. In BI, this has made me understand or pursue those points when companies or departments are ready for their next growth area such as time to move from reports to dashboards. Each of these types of changes reflect a significant shift in how a company sees its data or how to better to use it in day to day situations.  Sounds a bit like the BI Maturity Model developed by TDWI.


Participant Observation. Can you say business analysis? This is the epitome of the initial step for a good BA. What do you see as the needs. Pay attention, observe, understand what is happening in the company. The skills I learned in this class helps me slow down and observe what is happening at a customer. This includes noticing who really impacts technology decisions in a company.  It is not always what it seems at first.

Ethnographic Interview. This is a particular process where I deep dive into what customers are trying to do. I learned how to drive into business needs using these interview techniques.  This research method uses similar techniques you might learn from Kimball.  The key is to ask questions that get answers you need whether you were looking for them or not.

Overall, I can say much of what I am able to accomplish today is a result of what I learned from Tom. He was truly passionate about doing research, doing it right, and understanding the results. Thanks Tom. What I learned from you has been instrumental in my career and in love for information and getting results.

One thought on “Cultural Anthropology and Business Intelligence–A Tribute to Dr. Thomas C. Correll

  1. Jeanine Hughes

    I really enjoyed this Steve. I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished in your life so far. I love you. Mom

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