May 7, 2011
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Tinderbox for Qualitative Analysis

Over at AppStorm, James Kett averred that Tinderbox was “for very left-brained, obsessive-compulsive, micromanaging people who cannot see the big picture.” This provoked a detailed response from “Tyrion”:

For many years, I have walked into large, complex businesses and attempted to identify what was going on and how it could be done better. My job was part Qualitative Research, part Quantitative Research, and part Political Analysis. Qualitative Research has a number of tools for analyzing interviews and playing with the data, teasing meaning out of diverse viewpoints. I used these tools effectively, but I wish I’d had Tinderbox earlier in my career because it would have made this job easier. Tinderbox is a far more useful tool for ‘right-brained’ qualitative analysis than most of the other tools I’ve worked with, but even that sells it short.

You’re right that Tinderbox is a tool to help you see the big picture, but you’re wrong in thinking that analysis of this sort can’t help you. My own experience over many years of consulting with large companies was that the people who thought they had the ‘big picture’ were most often mistaken. The big picture often turns out to be more complex than many people think they see and more fluid than they realize. This is also the problem with many of the reviews I’ve read about Tinderbox.

Tinderbox is often characterized by one or another of its capabilities, classified as a tool to do one thing or another. Very few people I’ve seen truly understand its character as a tool box for manipulating and exploring information. It’s as if someone handed them a toolbox loaded with tools, and they pulled out a hammer and described it as characteristic of the whole toolbox.

I’m sorry to say that you have far more experience than I with Tinderbox. I only found it recently, but it’s displaced other research tools that only did part of what it does and I expect to find more things that I can do with it as time goes on. It’s a hard tool to master, that’s easy enough to see. It’s also a hard tool to characterize. If after several years you don’t find it useful, you probably never will, but don’t think it’s only for left-brained geeks, it’s useful for right-brained creative types as well who can see the ‘big picture’.