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Hidden in Plain Sight

San Francisco: Hidden in Plain Sight

My book Hidden in Plain Sight is now out.

You can buy it from Amazon, Apple, Books a Million, IndieBound or Barnes & Noble. Bulk orders, as if you’re really going to buy copies for all of your friends, can be placed here.

To be frank, there were times over the last year when I didn’t think it was possible to pull this off: enough work-travel to make a foreign correspondent blush; the nature of cross-continent collaboration; and all those things that make life a little more complex, and a little more interesting. But at the last it all came together into something that that’s ready to publish.

This is of course a collaborative effort with writer Simon Steinhardt, my literary agent Jim Levine, editor Hollis Heimbouch & Colleen Lawrie at HarperCollins.

A zen master of watching, listening and uncovering the truths of human behavior.

TIM BROWN CEO & President of IDEO

(kind words from a competitor)

Of course the reading process is far more interactive these days – you can read what people are sharing and highlighting in their Kindle editions here.

The book shows you how to see the world differently, search for opportunities – gaps, anomalies, and contradictions – that give my clients, some of the world’s largest and successful companies, a distinct competitive advantage, whether they’re delivering the most low-tech bar of soap or the most high-tech wireless network. By examining the routines of daily life, I show you how you can better understand clients’ customers and the needs of those customers.

I look at ordinary human activities in a whole new light, so that you too can crack the social code for the sake of insight, inspiration, and quite possibly a career (it can also help you pick-up someone in a bar, if that’s your thing – understanding human motivation is a useful skill to have).


We’ll start our journey with a look at how to make sense of any behavior by exploring what I like to call thresholds—those transitions points between doing and “don’t-ing.” We’ll also examine how the objects we buy and carry shape and represent who we are in the world, how we show up and show off, and how, when, and why we choose to adopt them. We’ll examine commonalities and anomalies: the link between a $20,000 mobile phone and a $1 bit of wire made to imitate orthodontic braces, and what the use of hybrid corn seed in Iowa can teach us about the (still current) popularity of BlackBerry in Nigeria.

Our focus will span from personal space and technologies into the public space: how we navigate the social sphere, and what objects and technologies light our paths. For instance, I’ll show you how reading signs (“don’t drink this water” or “no dogs allowed”), posters, and billboards can tell you more about a local culture—why people do certain things but not others—than any travel guide. We’ll explore how trust is signaled between businesses and consumers, why every context has its own “trust ecosystem,” and how it affects the products and services sold within those ecosystems. We’ll examine what the things people carry (mobile phones, keys, money, and other survival instruments) tell us about life on the go, what happens when those things become digital and intangible, and how can you decode “carrying behaviors” today in order to create the mobile products and services of the future.

Finally, we’ll examine the ways people with limited resources devise ingenious solutions to often-complex problems, and what the designers and developers of even the most high-tech products can learn from the world’s poorest consumers. I’ll show you how a bottle of gasoline, a brick, and a hose on a dusty backstreet in Ho Chi Minh City comprise the purest essence of a service delivered elsewhere by some of the world’s wealthiest corporations. We’ll see what happens when messy problems lead to even messier solutions. Consider, for instance, why illiterate people would rather fumble with a standard mobile phone than use one that was especially designed for them. We’ll work through the tradeoffs and pitfalls of solving other people’s dilemmas, and ask what it means to do good in a world where ignorance fuels the fight against exploitation as much as it buttresses the perpetration of injustice.

While the chapters herein will at times stand on each other’s shoulders, the path we’ll take is more of a crisscross than a straight line. The lessons and techniques I’ll describe can be taken piecemeal, and in whatever order you may choose to read them, but they’re best absorbed as a complete prism rather than separate and distinct lenses onto the world. By the end, I hope you’ll see the chaos and flux of humanity with a sharper focus. In the process you may catch a glimpse of the future, or of possible futures, but most importantly, you’ll gain a new set of tools to prepare your business for the future.

What Other’s Have Been Saying About Hidden in Plain Sight

I actually found the asking-for-blurb process pretty horrifying and/but am genuinely grateful to the following for contributing a few words, some of which made it to the cover.

Essential to understanding the future

It reads like a great novel, but it’s fact, not fiction.

“Maybe it’s really a guide to the cultures of the world or perhaps a textbook on design research. Whatever it is, it combines being fun and easy to read with being deep and insightful. To create great, successful products you have to understand prospective customers — which means to live like they do, eat their food, use their toilets, commute with them, and get shaved by them (even if you are a woman). So what is this book? Novel or travel guide, textbook or treasure trove of ideas for products, marketing, and living? Yes, it’s all of the above.”

DON NORMAN, Nielsen Norman group Author of Living with Complexity and The Design of Everyday Things.

if we don’t go, we don’t know

“Jan Chipchase’s method is a prime example of the idea that if we don’t go, we don’t know. “Hidden in Plain Sight” convincingly shows that new insights are gathered and real understanding happens when we put feet on the ground, relentlessly observing, listening and running projects with people in likely and unlikely places.”


The focus of innovation is making a remarkable shift away from how we create technology to toward the new experiences

“The focus of innovation is making a remarkable shift away from how we create technology to toward the new experiences we must create. Jan’s approach to ethnographic research is pioneering just the kind of insights that will drive these new experiences, creating the innovations of tomorrow. Hidden in Plain Sight takes you inside the innovation process by which he gains these insights”


And Tim Brown’s full quote:

“Jan Chipchase is a zen master of watching, listening and uncovering the truths of human behavior. I would encourage you to apply the wisdom found within Hidden in Plain Sight whether you are in search of insights that might lead to the next ground breaking innovation or simply looking to gain a richer understanding of the world around you.”

TIM BROWN CEO & President of IDEO and author of Change by Design.


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