Personal Information

Orbits Bio

Dr. Tricia Wang is a global tech ethnographer living at the intersection of data, design, and digital. She is the co-founder of Sudden Compass, a consulting firm that helps enterprises move at the speed of their customers by unlocking new growth opportunities in their big data with human insights in their digital transformation. Organizations she’s worked with include P&G, Kickstarter, Spotify, and GE. She also co-founded Magpie Kingdom, a consultancy that helps globally minded companies gain actionable insights about the Chinese consumer. Tricia's work with Fortune 500 companies and her fieldwork research have been featured in Techcrunch, The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, Slate, Wired, The Guardian and Fast Company. She has taught global organizations how to identify new customers and markets hidden behind their data, and amplified IDEO's design thinking practice as an expert-in-residence. She is a pioneer in popularizing the need for companies to integrate Big Data and what she calls, Thick Data, which she describes in her talk on TED, that received over 1 million views in just under six months. 

Known for her passion to help organizations uncover our bias towards the quantifiable comes at the expense of profits, people, and purpose, her lively presentations are grounded in her research and observations about human behavior and data, Wang has spoken at Procter & Gamble, Nike, TED, Wrigley, 21st Century Fox, and Tumblr. Her most recent talk at Enterprise UX delved into why corporate innovation is broken and how to fix it. She delivered the opening keynote at The Conference, delving into the wild history of linear perspective and its influence on how we think and form organizations.

She has spent 20 plus years researching the social evolution of the Chinese internet, and written about the "elastic self," an emergent form of interaction in a virtual world. Her writings on China cover her time living with migrants to spending nights in internet cafe and working with internet policy-makers. She was the first Western scholar to work at  China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), China’s equivalent to the USA’s FCC (Federal Communications Commision). 

When not working with organizations, she spends the other half of her life researching the intersection of technology and culture--the investigation of how social media and the internet affect identity-making, trust formation, and collective action. Particular topics of interest include social media, China, anonymity, and the bias towards the quantifiable. Through extensive fieldwork in China and Latin America from living in internet cafes with migrants to working undercover alongside street vendors, her style of hyper-immersive ethnography gives her a unique perspective on what is actually happening on the ground, an outcome that she believes is critical for organizations to understand if they want to form a lifelong relationship with their consumers as people. During her projects she has pioneered ethnographic techniques such as live fieldnoting, which uses social media tools to share real-time fieldwork data.

Wang has s a BA in Communications and Ph.D. in Sociology. She holds affiliate positions at  Data & Society, Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet Studies and New York University's Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP). She is a Fulbright Scholar and National Science Foundation fellow. She co-founded Ethnography Matters, a site that publishes articles about applied ethnography and technology. She co-started a Slack community for people who use ethnographic methods in industry.

Wang began her career as a documentary filmmaker at NASA’s Earthkam, a program started by Sally Ride to give students opportunities to interface with the International Space Station. She transitioned into social justice work in NYC by running the world’s first television station for youth-produce media. She went on to design after school tech and arts programs for first time college attendees in underserved communities and develop cultural programs for youth around hip-hop. She is also proud to have co-founded, H2Ed,  the first national hip-hop education initiative in collaboration with Bronx Museum of Arts, Queens Museum of Arts, and The Schomburg Center; eventually turning into the Hip Hop Education Center at New York University. Having worked across four continents; her life philosophy is that you have to go to the edge to discover what’s really happening.  Recently, she realized she prefers the misery of uncertainty over the certainty of misery. She's the proud companion of her internet famous dog #ellethedog.

Key Coverage Areas

How to get the most out of Big Data

Why do so many companies make bad decisions, even with access to unprecedented amounts of data? With stories from Nokia to Netflix to the oracles of ancient Greece, Tricia Wang demystifies big data and identifies its pitfalls, suggesting that we focus instead on "thick data" — precious, unquantifiable insights from actual people — to make the right business decisions and thrive in the unknown. To effectively leverage big data, we need insights that come from both quantitative and qualitative data.

Why do we mis-prize quantitative over qualitative data?

Where does our drive for privileging the quantifiable come from? In this talk, Tricia integrates the histories of electricity, computers, and algorithms to help companies understand why there is a bias towards the quantifiable, and how to undo the unprofitable status of the majority of big data projects. She offers specific steps from her consulting work that enable teams to extract actionable insights from their data.

Data-Driven Culture — operationalize data science

Finally we are able to operationalize data science. To avoid moving a company farther away from its customers, however, we need to pair our technical systems with human understanding. To facilitate this, Tricia Wang offers a framework for conceptualizing how the data revolution has evolved in three phases: Data 1.0: Tools, in which we developed the tools to process, house, store, and present the data. This is the era of traditional databases and old-school businesses. Data 2.0: Skills, in which we found, nurtured, and trained talent to gain the skills to use the tools, creating technical experts. This is the era of the data science “unicorn.” Data 3.0: Communication, in which we scaled data across the organization so that non-technical people can interact and execute with the tools and technical experts. This is the current era, in which we realize that tools alone don’t guarantee success and that unicorns aren’t real.

Customer-centric Digital Transformation — Business Growth is Customer Growth

Every corporation wants to avoid missing something that could put them out of business. But why are some companies able to spot that “something” and some not? The most successful companies of the 21st Century are obsessed with their customers. Customer obsession is easier said than done. Tricia provides real world examples of how companies can become customer-centric and how they must understand the most important shift in marketing: the emergence of the Networked Customer — those who learn, grow, and make purchasing decisions along networks, the people, platforms, and communities that influence their day-to-day behaviors and decisions. It is impossible to reach the Networked Consumer using only mass-market advertising and traditional marketing communication tactics. Tricia outlines how companies must re-envision their digital marketing practices to meet the needs of the fast moving Networked Customer.

Decision Making — How organizations need to adapt and change to be successful in a digital era

So many enterprise innovation efforts fall short, not because innovation is bad, but because companies can be bad at making decisions and because the gap between insights and decision-makers in the enterprise can be very wide. Tricia explains why enterprises need a “Dept. of the Unknown” to bridge the gap and make sure insights from the ground can travel all the way up to decision-makers at the highest level. She outlines the central role that data, marketing, and design play in this work as the champions of the “unknown,” Tricia offers a new framework, Integrated Data Thinking©, that allows enterprises to create a shared language that aligns designers, data scientists, marketers, and researchers, and that enabling leaders to make the right decisions for the future of their business.

China — How businesses can respond to innovation in China and understand the power of the Chinese consumer

Having spent 20+ years living, working, and researching in China, Tricia offered unprecedented insights into how companies can understand the Chinese consumer. Tricia goes beyond trend analysis to offer real access to understanding real people, since she lived with a wide swath of society and observed how they use the internet in their lives. She lived with migrant workers, spent years with Chinese university students, and was the first Western scholar to research at CNNIC, the equivalent of the USA’s Federal Communications Commission. She helps companies connect to the emotional lives of consumers and create products and business strategies to reach them.