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Bats in the BelPhry'D http://scmresearch.ozlady.com My Perspective Fri, 19 Feb 2016 03:05:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ergonomics http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/ergonomics/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/ergonomics/#respond Fri, 19 Feb 2016 02:54:38 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=268 Sitting is the new smoking

Source: Mirror.co.uk

They say sitting is the new smoking and they may be right. Listen to your body.

I am currently in the write up and editing stage, and in the midst of a tonne of reflection as the result of wandering through the valley of sh!t. To be honest, I’m probably more limping through this valley, as I am feeling the effects of sitting at my computer supposedly writing. ‘Supposedly’ writing – but it’s more like this:

Source: PhD Comics

Source: PhD Comics

I like to sit cross legged on my seat for long periods of time, and this has resulted in hyper extension of ligaments around ankles and knees – leaving me with very sore feet and ankles at the end of the day. I’ve also had a notable increase in knee pain in ascending and descending stairs.

I’ve also noted issues in my hands. Not so much with typing, but with my mouse. I started with a Trackpad, and have moved through a few alternatives with varying results:

  • My Apple trackpad is great for fine control on my computer, however I noted pains shooting down the back of my hands up towards my wrist – probably due to the strength required to click.
  • My Logitech mouse – totally love it, however I have noticed that my thumb can get tired over time due to the heavy reliance on the thumb for scrolling, and I have pain now even when I’m not using it.
  • Now I’m back to a traditional mouse – it’s too early to report any change in symptoms, but I probably have some sort of RSI in my hands by now. I am going to look at some exercises to reduce the impact of these instruments.

From Trackpad, to Logitech ergonomic mouse, to regular Apple mouse

In terms of sitting, I now have adjusted my seat and have a foot rest – it still needs improvement as I am always itching to put my feet up on the seat of my chair. I have sat cross legged most of my life and I am very uncomfortable sitting with both feet on the floor. I probably need to look at exercises like finding my primal posture, as per the video below.

I have tried a standing desk, and that is great for short bursts. However if I stand too long I need to sit as my feet start hurting. I have aquired some rubber thongs (aka flip-flops or jandles for the non-Aussies), as I realise the long standing time on the marble isn’t doing me any good. I had been using a carpet to stand on, however the help of that wears off pretty quickly.

While the experts may not agree, it seems we ultimately need balance and variety of movement, and I think this is more relevant especially as we get older.

“What’s best for your muscle and joints and your mind’s productivity? Sit for no more than 20 minutes at a time, Hedge recommended, and stand in one position for no more than 8 minutes. You should also take a two-minute moving break at least twice an hour to stretch or walk around.” —Boston Globe

Buffer, a company I respect a great deal has a practical work philosophy towards movement, and while it’s not practical and highly disruptive to my already disrupted writing to implement all at once, I’m going to start to slowly implement some of the suggestions. I’m starting this week with work breaks: I am now setting my timer to 25 20 minutes (the Pomodoro technique recommends 25 – I’m changing this to 20) and alternating positions or just taking the time to get up and go look out a window. We’ll see how that goes.

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Wandering through the Valley of Sh!t http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/valley-of-shit/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/valley-of-shit/#comments Thu, 18 Feb 2016 02:19:48 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=263 Recently I was reading a post on The Muse, an online career resource website, and I was drawn to this post because of the title: “How to Work Hard When You Really Just Don’t Care Anymore”. Unfortunately this is where I am at with my PhD.

In doing this PhD I have been very fortunate in that I have had mostly positive experiences in getting through milestones. I did well at proposal acceptance as well as our HDR Conference. I also received positive feedback from case study participants as to the worth of the research that I am doing. Even set backs with regards to access that required I reassess how my research methodology was going to work was not something too daunting, and I was able to reframe my approach to meet the limitations that I had encountered.

However the writing always bugged me. I have been back and forth between people that have said that my writing style is straightforward and easy to read (very positive in some people’s opinions in academia) and others that say my writing lacks the academic weight (they would say gravitas) that is required in writing at PhD level. I’ve been trying to argue for the inclusion of stories, as that is a key part of the cultural/sociological aspect of my research, and have met reactions to this that vary from extremely negative to those that just don’t get it in the academic environment.

My writing has been my insecurity throughout this whole process, and now that I reflect on this, it probably overflows from my professional life as well. I have been requested to produce articles, however in writing professionally (in industry magazines) I am hesitant to put my opinion out there as an expert. I have done articles and such, however not with the frequency of some of my male counterparts. In writing for magazines, I am exposing myself to be criticised for my claim of expertise. I feel that I might be criticised for a variety of things – my writing style, my lack of specialisation in my career (although my career has been tremendously rich and fulfilling and I see every job that I have done as something that gives me a rick, holistic view of organisations), my lack of experience in one aspect of the topic that I am writing (although who can really claim to have a full view of every perspective?). These all lead to tremendous insecurities about writing and being criticised for what I am putting out in to the world.

However as the post stated:

As Leandra Medine, the founder of Manrepeller.com, says on her podcast “Monocycle,” “We have to reframe our methods of thinking. Because everything has the potential to be good. Everything has the potential to be seen as a learning experience and a tool of motivation to make us better.”

Ultimately, I think I need to adopt the perspective of writing as a conversation. This is different to my verbal conversation style. I have in the past tended to adopt what I call an absolute tense… where I have phrased questions as statements and invite people to contradict me. Somewhat confrontational, I guess. :-) I think with writing I am perhaps less certain and possibly very tentative, couching statements and limiting what I am willing to say about my perspective as a result, in case I am criticised.

What has resulted is me wandering around in the valley of shit – a phrase that is famous in PhD circles – where my confidence is at an all-time low. This is not helped by the fact that during the end of the write-up period we are generally trying to find a job. I have been told by many to hide my PhD research if I am applying outside of academia, so on top of the rejections, it makes me feel like the work I have done over the last few years has been for naught. Freaking awesome.

I need to work out how to frame this as a learning experience, focus on transferable skills, and just bloody write. I need to get over this paralysis.

This too shall pass, I guess. :-(

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My life… http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/my-life/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/my-life/#respond Fri, 27 Nov 2015 05:19:35 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=256 keep-calm-and-finish-phd

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Language – Working outside the in-group http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/language-working-outside-the-in-group/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/language-working-outside-the-in-group/#respond Fri, 27 Nov 2015 05:06:23 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=251 I was recently in Vietnam and having a late dinner with some colleagues from various universities. We were very fortunate in that we had someone who could speak passable Vietnamese (her words), as we were trying to find a place that would serve us local Vietnamese cuisine after “last-call”. As we were happily munching on a variety of dishes put together by the chef, we started discussing language. Our Vietnamese speaker was telling us she has the vocabulary of a 10 year old – enough to ask for directions and order food – the result of growing up in a Vietnamese family in the US. Just as we were getting in to the conversation, she exclaimed “Hot!!” and starting making waving gestures in front of her face.

“Spicy?” asked a colleague.

“No, temperature,” she replied.

It occurred to me, as it had often before, that English has a single word for both of these concepts. My limited knowledge of Bahasa (Malayu/Indonesia) had made me realise that there are different words for this in some languages – panas for temperature-hot, and pedas for spicy-hot in Bahasa is one such example. I asked her if this was the case in Vietnamese, and she informed me that it was.

One of our colleagues turned to me and asked me if I spoke any other languages. When I replied that I didn’t, she turned away and I felt shut out of any further conversation on language with her.

In an attempt to re-open that conversation, I then shared a story I often tell – where I tried to say “ni hao ma” to some colleagues when I first moved to Singapore. Apparently my pronunciation was excellent, if I had wanted to ask “how is your mother’s horse.” 😐 Everyone had started laughing and at 23 that put an end to further attempts at speaking Putonghua (aka Mandarin). The Vietnamese speaker at the table shared a similar experience she had gone through in attempting to speak Spanish in the US.

It may have been my own perception, or it may have been an accurate description, however there have been a number of cases where I have experienced this or heard it from others – where those that are new to a language or who don’t speak a local/second language are not included in the “in-group.” However does that necessarily mean we can’t understand some of the mechanics of language from our own native language, or try to understand the cultural aspects of a nation without speaking that language? It is common to criticise researchers who try to understand culture without speaking the language of that culture, however a certain group of professionals must do this, and do it often: business negotiators, travellers and expatriates.

Language is a key aspect of communication, and it has been found to dominate as a challenge in process compliance in business operations (Gray & Massimino 2014) and affect strategy setting and communication (usually originating in the language of the home country) and strategy implementation (the local response to the communication) (Luo and Shenkar 2006), however what can be more subtle and certainly confounding is when we speak the same language but the cultural differences between us change the meaning or the subtext associated with that word. Some researchers have attempted to find out if language or culture have a greater impact on understanding, with Zander, Mockaitis and Harzing  (2011) performing an investigation in to this, resulting in no significant differences between instruments that were half completed in English and half completed in their native language. This then points to a conclusion that differences in understanding results from cultural and gender differences rather than language.

In business, English is generally considered to be the “native language”, particularly in multinational corporations. Expatriates, negotiators and managers of multiple regions are often required to navigate their responsibilities and relationships with colleagues without necessarily having language training. In my own research, all interviewees reported that English was the language of the office. In some countries, this was a matter of pride for the employees. So while this allows communication to be possible between locally engaged employees and foreign colleagues, the foreign colleague needs to negotiate their position within and understanding of the local environment from an etic, or outsider perspective.

Having lived and moved through several cultures and not necessarily speaking languages of those cultures, I find that I have negotiated my own way, and been able to successfully complete a number of projects. Having said that, I know Putonghua (Mandarin) speakers from Singapore who have not been successful in China. So language, while important, is one aspect of success in navigating through cultures. I may be a language outsider, but are there other ways to be part of the in-group?


Gray, J.V. & Massimino, B., 2014, The Effect of Language Differences and National Culture on Operational Process Compliance, Production and Operations Management, pp. 1043-56.

Luo, Y. & Shenkar, O., 2006, The Multinational Corporation as a Multilingual Community: Language and Organization in a Global Context, Journal of International Business Studies, 37(3), pp. 321-39.

Zander, L., Mockaitis, A.I., Harzing, A.-W., Baldueza, J., Barner-Rasmussen, W., Barzantny, C., Canabal, A., Davila, A., Espejo, A. & Ferreira, R.F., 2011, Standardization and contextualization: A study of language and leadership across 17 countries, Journal of World Business, 46(3), pp. 296-304.

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Cultural Dimensions – An overview and some quick links http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/cultural-dimensions-an-overview-and-some-quick-links/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/cultural-dimensions-an-overview-and-some-quick-links/#respond Mon, 14 Sep 2015 08:29:31 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=200 A summary of cultural dimensions identified by some of the greats in national culture research and training. I’ve mostly put this summary here for myself, as occasionally I find it easy to get them mixed up, and it’s nice to have links to Wikipedia or similar references to facilitate understanding of the various cultural dimensions. In some cases I have linked to updated versions of publications. They are for sale in Amazon, among other vendors.

What is a cultural dimension? Wikipedia describes it as a framework for cross-cultural communication based on Hofstede’s work.  “It describes the effects of a society’s culture on the values of its members, and how these values relate to behavior, using a structure derived from factor analysis.”

I will me making updates to this page from time to time, so it may well be worth bookmarking and revisiting. Happy to argue whether this is a complete or accurate list (or not) :-) Please leave any comments below, and provide any links to papers, etc so that I can see the evidence.

Cultural Dimensions Hofstede (1980) Hofstede et al (2010) Triandis (1995) GLOBE (House et al 2004) Trompenaars (1997) Schwartz (1990)
Power Distance Tick Tick TickCalled Hierarchy
Individualism vs Collectivism Tick Tick See Collectivism I & II TickCalled Individualism and
Uncertainty Avoidance Tick Tick
Masculinity vs Femininity Tick (2) See Achievement vs. ascription
Long-term vs short-term orientation Tick See future orientation
Performance orientation Tick
Assertiveness orientation Tick
Future orientation Tick
Humane orientation Tick
Collectivism I: Institutional collectivism Tick
Collectivism II: In-group collectivism Tick
Gender egalitarianism Tick
Universalism & Particularism Tick
Neutral vs. emotional (affinity vs neutrality?) Tick
Specific vs. diffuse Tick
Achievement vs. ascription Tick
Sequential vs. synchronic (time orientation) Tick
Relation to nature Tick
Conservatism Tick
Intellectual Autonomy Tick
Affective Autonomy Tick
Mastery Tick
Harmony Tick
Egalitarian commitment Tick

(1) Explores individualism-collectivism dimension in greater depth through seven values. See ticked items in Schwartz column.
(2) See Masculine: performance orientation, assertiveness orientation, Feminine: Humane orientation and Gender egalitarianism.

Disclaimer: I make commission from Amazon links above.

Update: There is some interesting information about critiques of Hofstede’s work here in his Wikipedia entry. In my opinion, it is still one of the most cited works on Google Scholar – with analysis both for and against – and provides a starting point for discussion and understanding.

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Respect the Instructor – How NOT to ask questions http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/respect-the-instructor-how-not-to-ask-questions/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/respect-the-instructor-how-not-to-ask-questions/#respond Mon, 07 Sep 2015 11:59:46 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=187 I recently had a discussion with a group of students that started with me stating a rather unusual request. 

“You need to stop asking questions.”

This is counter to almost everything I encourage in a learning environment. The classroom (be it online, in a room or onsite)  is supposed to be a safe place to fail, and a place to ask as many questions as you like – discussion is supposed to be healthy and a key part of learning, isn’t it?

The problem that I had was two-fold: respect and effort. 

The type of questions that were being thrown up were of the “I don’t know anything about X” type. Variations of this include “I’ve never heard of that” and “that’s beyond me” are included in this, and aren’t constructive questions. 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to me

By saying “I don’t know anything…” or something similar, as an instructor I have to start all over on a particular topic as you have given me no frame of reference to provide the information you need that will make the subject matter understandable. This results in me having to restate material that you possibly already have grasped, resulting in frustration on your side AND mine. 
How you ask a question shows that you respect the instructor by giving them something to start with. Frame the question in terms of what you have understood and what is missing. “I understand that …, but I don’t see the connection with …” Is one way to state this. 

This is particularly relevant when there are others in the learning environment as you need to respect the time they have with the instructor as well, and if I’m repeating information you all understand, that frustrates everyone.

Effort: You need to do the heavy lifting

By framing the question, it’s shown me that you’re thinking, and allows me to answer the question in a way that will get you to the knowledge quicker, without having to go through all the materials again. 

Also, there may be some nuances of the materials that are required reading before the class. Some students like to get their instructors to teach the readings, but at Masters level this may not be possible. 

If you haven’t done the reading, then you may need to use those smart phones smartly and Google terms you don’t understand, especially if the majority of the class clearly does. You may need to make up for lack of effort before class… Even if it is through no fault of your own (we all get busy schedules). 

But that heavy lifting requires you to think about the questions you ask and to make sure that you are going to get an answer that helps you, not just a repeat.

This discussion ended up with a heart to heart in the class about imposter syndrome (something that affects me), as well as the difficulties faced by students who are just starting their masters (or undergraduate, for that,after) when some of their classmates may be in their final subjects. The students who have been studying longer have usually picked up a vocabulary that can be intimidating to some who are just starting out. Our discussion finished with some wise words from the other lecturer in the room: “Some times you’ve just got to suck it up and learn.”

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Writing – that impossibly small distance http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/writing-that-impossibly-small-distance/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/writing-that-impossibly-small-distance/#respond Mon, 07 Sep 2015 05:51:04 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/writing-that-impossibly-small-distance/ This is my life at the moment…

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com


There really is only one way to do it, and that’s by going at it, hour after hour, day after day. I’ve never had so much trouble doing this before. 

Today was better… There was a connection and ideas started to transmit. Then fatigue. How did this get so impossibly hard?

Just venting. Back to it… **sigh**

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Three reasons you need PDF OCR Text Recognition http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/three-reasons-you-need-ocr-text-recognition-in-your-pdfs/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/three-reasons-you-need-ocr-text-recognition-in-your-pdfs/#respond Wed, 19 Aug 2015 04:31:09 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=122 OCR scanned PDF files – a must in the researcher’s toolkit!!

Sometimes when downloading sources from databases, particularly older articles and documents, I have found that they have been scanned and uploaded. The ability to highlight or search through the document is reduced or removed due to the fact that the PDF file has been created from a series of images of documents.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software can concert these ‘pictures’ of documents in to PDF files that can then allow the highlighting of the text.

Adobe Acrobat Pro has been awesome, but it’s expensive. There are other tools such as ABBYY Finereader, and a number of free upload-and-convert-to-text-or-Word-doc style sites. Evernote and Onenote have the capability to read PDFs so that if you need to search for terms it can locate those terms within the PDF – however, they do not perform OCR on the document and your ability to highlight text is still limited. Essentially for me, Acrobat Pro has been my go-to text recognition software for PDFs, largely because it leaves the PDF in-tact and I can then import the PDF in to Sente. It’s a key step in my process.

Why is this so important?

Personally, I have three main reasons:

  1. Search-ability
    Yes, Evernote or similar have the capability to read the text in PDF documents, however when I want to search for a particular phrase in a document I often use the in-built CMD + <space> shortcut on my Mac. Ensuring that text has been scanned and OCR’d (is that a term? it is now! :-) ) is key to ensuring that it can be found on my computer and highlighted in Preview or Acrobat Reader.
  2. Quotability
    A key feature of being able to read documents in Goodreader, Endnote, Mendeley, Sente or a suitable equivalent is being able to highlight and quote text, either taking quotes direct from the source, or being able to make notes and interpret what I’m reading in the context of my topic/research. Having accurate OCR is a key way to speed up this process, rather than having to flip back and forth typing in quotes or refer to the original document when making notes. This is especially key when reading in a tablet environment, especially when a limitation is often screen space and you end up flipping back and forth a lot.
  3. Portability, productivity and procrastination
    Without the previous two points portability of reading and note-taking is restricted, especially when talking about a workflow on a tablet. On my iPad in Sente I can highlight and quote text – to make comments on this I am taken in to a separate screen. If I don’t have the ability to take the quote directly from the text, then I am continually flipping back and forth… this is not impossible, however it does hinder the flow of thoughts and ideas and make me, a procrastinator, put off the reading. There is one thing that I’ve learnt during this process and that is remove barriers to procrastination – OCR in PDF files is key to this.

As I mentioned above, Adobe Acrobat Pro has been awesome – I was lucky and got it at a discount – however it IS expensive (last time I checked approximately SG$615/US$449). It has now been migrated to a cloud-based platform, called Adobe DC (for Document Cloud), which goes for about SG$20 per month – much more manageable (but still a touch pricey).

Again, because portability is a key aspect for me, particularly working from a library where I might need to import a few pages from a textbook, I decided to check out tablet options – and for me this means iPad. I’ve tested a few, and PDFpen Scan+ with OCR (iTunes or website) seems to have come up a winner. It was US$6.99 when I purchased it, and it allows me to both import and take photos for OCR recognition.

It doesn’t matter which tools you use, and I’m just providing details on ones that have worked for me. I do not receive income from any of the tools I’ve linked to in this post. I do recommend that you find suitable OCR scanning software that allows you to convert text in your PDF documents, especially if you are a researcher that is looking to go through large volumes of documents and need to be able to scan, quote or use the information effectively in your flow.

Update: 5.Sep.2015: I’ve been using both a fair bit recently, and I have to say that the OCR recognition with Adobe Acrobat Pro is superior to that of the PDFpen Scan+ product. I still use both, however I go through any text I quote from the PDFpen documents more thoroughly as there are some errors with some poor quality scans. Hopefully this will improve over time.

PDFpen Scan+ with OCR

PDFpen Scan+ with OCR

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From a Western Mindset http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/from-a-western-mindset/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/from-a-western-mindset/#respond Mon, 17 Aug 2015 03:02:23 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=158 I’m borrowing the title from a book I randomly pulled off the shelf yesterday – Working Across Cultures, by John Hooker (2003) – as it certainly describes the attitude that I carried to Singapore as a young adult migrating from Australia. On temporary assignment, I was being posted for nine months to complete a project to deliver an effective quality system in a distribution environment across two countries and three locations. The multiple locations I had done before, however looking back I can see that I was unprepared for the multiple countries and the multiple cultures I needed to work with to achieve my aggressive target.

FreeImages.com/Andy Naylor

FreeImages.com/Andy Naylor

At the time I was briefed and prepared by the management at home and expatriate management in the host country – I was going to teach these people… These people who called mobile phones “hand phones” and who added -lah as a suffix to words at odd places… I was going to teach them how business was done.

Such was my attitude when I called my first meeting of management stakeholders. Scheduled at ten in the morning, a time I deemed suitable in case anyone was late or needed a few minutes to tackle those urgent requests. I was waiting in the conference room for 15 minutes before I realised that it appeared no one was coming. Being a small office I quickly stuck my head around corners and checked if we were still on. “Coming, coming,” was the general reply. I went back to the conference room and waited. We started at 10:45am.

This was my first introduction to a small difference as to ‘how things were’ and my perception of ‘how things should be’. I spent the first two months of my posting trying to hold meetings on time before finally discussing this with other expatriated westerners who basically agreed that this was “just the way things were.” The Singaporeans didn’t seem to think this was a problem, and it seemed that I was the only one bothered by it. What was wrong with these people?

I was to discover that this perspective is a universalists’ one – where people believe that what is true or correct can ultimately be applied everywhere (Hoecklin, 1995 in Metters, 2008, p. 730) and is one that is generally held by Westerners (Hooker, 2003). The opposite is known as particularism, where the understanding of what is good and right changes depending on circumstances and the relationships involved (Metters, 2008). What started as a small matter – being on time – raised its head in a number of circumstances over the ensuing months, and it was to take 2-3 months for a cultural adjustment to be effected (on me, not ‘them’), and the project proper to be truly underway.

As a product of a ‘western’ education in Australia, was I applying my universalist perspective to my new position? I was 23. Was this style of thinking attributable solely to my culture? Certainly not. I’m sure the ego and invincibility of my youth had something to do with it, but I’m also sure it was partly my upbringing and cultural programming (Hofstede, 2010) that lead me to the perspective that it was only a matter of time before ‘these people’ picked up on the truth of what I had to teach, and learn that my western way was the only logical conclusion.

This was almost 20 years ago, and nowadays businesses in general appear to make relevant noises about making the appropriate concessions to their host cultures. My motivation for conducting research in this area is that I still receive anecdotal ‘complaints’ that culture still matters, that it gets in the way, and that managers bang their noses against cultural patterns when implementing decisions across multiple locations in multiple countries.

My cultural journey started twenty years ago with a universalist’s mindset, and I started this research journey with Hofstede’s cultural dimensions as a starting reference point from which to address this ‘banging of noses.’ I am trying to investigate an approach that might shy away from stereotypes and the idea that cultural misunderstanding is a ‘problem.’ Cultural generalisations do not necessarily hold true at individual level due to the ‘noise’ that exists from other influences (eg. personality), and I’m currently trying to navigate through the myriad of literature that makes this claim, however it is at individual level that we experience and articulate our difficulties. This is why I chose qualitative methods for my investigation technique. In doing business we deal with individuals, and it is individuals that often complain about cultural difficulties.

Hopefully I can contribute to this ongoing discussion in a meaningful way.

I am struggling with writing and finding my voice. My notes above are for reflection and comment, but I ask that you be constructive in your feedback.

Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J. & Minkov, M., 2010, Cultures and Organizations : Software for the Mind (3rd Edition), McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing, New York, NY, USA.

Hooker, J., 2003, Working across cultures, Stanford Business Books, Stanford, Calif..

Metters, R., 2008, A case study of national culture and offshoring services, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 28(8), pp. 727 – 747.

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Surviving Interviews – Saving my (academic) life http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/surviving-interviews-tools-that-have-saved-my-life/ http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/surviving-interviews-tools-that-have-saved-my-life/#respond Wed, 10 Jun 2015 10:22:49 +0000 http://scmresearch.ozlady.com/?p=126 I’ve been conducting interviews of late in a variety of situations – face to face interviews, phone interviews and Skype interviews. As part of university ethics clearance I am permitted to record the interviews in both an audio and video format, pending sign-off from the interviewee.

Aside from the huge effort that goes into ethics applications for university research, some of the more practical aspects of interviewing almost tripped me over early in the data gathering process. How do I record interviews? Can I rely on a single source for audio recording? What notes do I take? What about recording phone calls or Skype?

The following has gotten me through interviews thus far, and I hope that it serves as a useful resource for those starting out on their interviewing journey.

It should be noted that I use iPhones, iPads and Macs. This is mostly to highlight what has worked for me. I’m sure there are alternatives on Samsung’s, ASUS, Windows, etc. But this may give you an idea what to search for in trying to emulate this setup. Good luck!

Please note that I have paid for any apps or equipment myself. I consider my PhD an investment and I’ve been willing to buy equipment if necessary. None of the information below is sponsored, nor have I received any money for these links. This is totally my own opinion and I simply hope it assists people with the process, whether you use the same equipment or not.

1. Decide how you will be recording audio

I decided pretty early on it was going to be my smartphone. In my case it is an iPhone, and I started on a 5, and am continuing on a 6. Whatever you use, two things became evident for me: Familiarity and Space (as in disk space).

Familiarity with my iPhone was one key factor – I know the Voice Memos software on it quite well. Using the basic voice recorder was a no brainer in terms of operation, as well as knowing whether it was recording or not. Being able to quickly look at the device and know whether it was recording is important in making sure the device is on. Don’t believe this is important? There are loads of horror stories about people thinking they started recording, only to find out that the recorder didn’t start and they have to reconstruct an hour’s worth of interview responses from memory. I so didn’t want to be that person. There are a bunch of apps that do audio recording as well (see here for a bunch), and I used one for my backup, but in terms of my setup the default Voice Memos app suited my purpose on the iPhone just fine.


The other key factor was disk space. I’ve never scrimped on disk space and always bought the largest I could afford. This may not be an option for some, and I thought if it came to that for me, then I would have to get religious about backing up files from my iPhone immediately after interviews in order to make space. Again there are horror stories about those where the interview recording cuts off after XX minutes because the disk on their device was full. Using the iPhone voice memo app I budget about 100Mb per hour of recording. It’s probably more room than I need, but I’d rather be safe that panicked or humiliated.

Regardless of whether you use your phone, a dedicated recording device or some other method of recording, be familiar with your equipment and be sure you have room for any recordings.

2. Invest in a microphone

I’ve heard lots of good things about people using their mobile phone microphones quite adequately in recording interviews. However “adequate” sound vs sound you can listen to while transcribing and/or coding files is two different things.

I did a number of tests with meeting conversations (with permission) and realised that there are limitations to the microphones on a number of devices. Background noise such as the rustling of papers or dropping of bags, multiple people talking at once, any of these can highlight the limitations of your device’s microphone.

After investigating a number of items online I bit the bullet and decided on the iQ5 by Zoom. I tried the recommended app to go with it, however because I was satisfied with the standard Voice Memo app on my iPhone, I just just stuck with that.

How did I decide? I read a lot of reviews. There were some that liked it, some that didn’t, but I made sure that I looked for reviews that were related to what I was doing. Some didn’t appear to like this mic for music recording, however I didn’t need it for that. I ended up buying it locally in Singapore, however it can be purchased online. It was reasonable, highly portable (another of my criteria) and easy to install. At the end of the day it was a risk… I’m not an experienced recording expert so I knew that there was always going to be a chance that it wouldn’t work for me. I got lucky, I guess. My advice is to read a lot of reviews and contact people on their blogs if you’re still not getting the information you need. A week of investigation can save you a bunch in terms of wasted time and money.

2a. Invest in something to protect your equipment.

DH and I are somewhat anal about screen protectors, sleeves, etc. We often give our old tech to the kids or other family members, or even sell it when we upgrade so we like to make sure it’s protected. In the case of this microphone I didn’t want it damaged during transportation so that I couldn’t use it. It came in a little velvet pouch, however as anyone who has ever owned a handbag (or tech-bag) knows, gadgets can get eaten alive in there.

I got a little hard case that protects the mic so that I can just whip it out, attach it to my phone and record. Then when done I can zip it back in and throw it in my handbag. I was expecting to have to do interviews in cafes so portability was a big consideration, and with portability came the risk of damage.

Ultimately, this is my current setup, including storage and how it fits together:


3. Have a backup for recording

I’m not so naive as to thinking this set up is bulletproof – anything could happen where the recording doesn’t work the way I intended.

Additionally, while I have the option of asking for video as part of my ethics clearance, few people thus far have given me permission to record video. The intention of asking for video was to note body language or any other non-verbal clues that might give me some indication as to their feelings on certain questions. How does this relate to a backup for recording? My backup allows me to associate my notes with the audio, while at the same time creating a backup audio recording in case something happens with the main recording.

My backup is an app called Notability, which I use on my iPad. One of the key features of Notability is the ability to record audio while taking notes. Then, when I play back the audio, I can tap on a note and it will skip to the audio that is related to the note, without having to rewind or fast forward or wonder about when the interviewee was nervous and why did I take that note then?

Another key consideration is information security. Notability allows me to set a password on folders within the app, which can be very useful due to privacy and confidentiality reasons. I learned the hard way that this password cannot be reset – I forgot it on a folder and tried contacting the developers. Their response was a justified “sorry, but there is nothing we can do.” About a month later I found a scribbled note in a notebook and it was luckily my password (I never do that – it’s changed and secure now, but 😥 – I was super stressed for a while there). Fortunately this was a test interview, and it is my backup method, but still… handy feature if you don’t lose your password.

It’s not a free app, but I’ve personally found worth the investment in a number of cases. It works on both the iPhone and the ipad, which can come in handy when listening back over interviews during commutes.


4. Not all interviews were in person – what now?

Some interviews have been via phone call or Skype. Originally I thought I was going to have to resort to putting them on speaker phone and dealing with dodgy recording quality, however there are options for recording Skype calls, which I then applied to recording phone calls as well.

I use Call Recorder for Skype, by eCamm. Basically it does what it says on the box – it records calls on Skype. I originally used this for video interviews with industry partners for classes when teaching, and it worked a peach. If I am given permission to video record – awesome – as it records both audio and video. If I don’t have permission to video, I do the interview with the video off in Skype. This avoids any “accidental” recording of video, which would violate my ethics clearance.

I also invested in some Skype credit and make all phone call interviews through Skype as well. I use a headset and use the dialler to make the call, and the call logs are very handy in terms of recording date, time and duration of calls (see below).


I budget the calls accordingly – Skype has clear rate tables – and again, make sure that I have enough call credit. Obviously Skype-to-Skype (aka free) calls are preferred, however as I am asking for people’s time, if they prefer to use the phone, then I’ll spend the $1-2 on the call.

Check your credit as like the situation where you run out of disk space, running out of call credit could potentially be embarrassing and make you look unprofessional. Not cool.

5. Converting Files

The call recorder tends to output media in a mov format. It may accommodate other formats for audio only, however I haven’t experimented with the settings as I rely on it. It works. I ain’t messing with it. Period. I have found that Quicktime (the default OS X move player) does a nice job of exporting audio only.

Simply open the .mov file in Quicktime and select File –> Export –> Audio Only. This can then be loaded in to nvivo or dedoose (or your qualitative analysis software of choice) and off you go into to transcription gaga land (which is a whole other story 😝).

Convert-mov to audio using quicktime

I’m sure there are other considerations with regards to interviewing, however I think I’ve covered the main points here. I hope that someone gets some use out of this.

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