Manoj Alipuria

Senior Qualitative Researcher

I'm a good crier, eater, and dreamer. I don't do sleepovers or concerts. One of my life dreams is to do a photo journal of old men eating ice cream cones. Because it's the essence of joy. My first date with my future wife may or may not have been to the Spice Girls movie with ten of my frat brothers and some unmentionables snuck in. I like to listen. In fact, I do it for a living.

Why are you working in research?

I believe that research is my expression of art. Specifically in that it allows me the challenge and the privilege to get people to open up—to share how they think, how they act, how they love. Research into how people think and act is mentally introspective, so by doing what we do, we get a glimpse into people's identities. And it's not just at a superficial level, but how each decision is really driven by a set of values. Those values can be so inspirational, and telling their story can be so humbling. So, at the end of the day, being able to tell the story of how someone shopping for a product on a shelf actually conveys who they are—that's my art.

What's your favorite part of the research process?

The process of self-discovery. As a qualitative researcher, I will ask someone a zillion questions about a topic that they probably don't think super deeply about or tend to be habitual about. That process of asking deeper and deeper questions, or using activities to get them to think differently about what they do or need, can lead people to self-discovery.

One of my end goals as a qualitative researcher is not just for me to discover what's happening on the inside, but for them to have that "a ha" moment when they discover what's really happening inside them. After being asked about the same idea in so many different ways, sometimes they get to the heart of why they value doing things in certain ways or make certain decisions. And that realization can be so powerful. It doesn't happen every time, but when it does, there's a connection between us. There's this moment of, "I get you, and you get me." And that allows me to break some moderating rules and share a little bit about myself to show them that I empathize with what they've just discovered about themselves. That process of self-discovery—and then using that as a springboard for connection—is so good. It's so rare, but it's so good.

If you weren't working in research, what else would you be doing?

I play this game like once a week. This week, I'd be off saving the world and telling other people's stories of redemption. Whether that's through journalism or photography or video, I want to be off in the world, visiting different places, and telling peoples stories of how they went from the pits and the suckiness of life to amazing places of love and hope and peace.

I've always been captivated by the immense need out in the world. Whether it's physical or relational, we all have our own poverty. And it's that story of overcoming the poverty that really captures me. Seeing people rise up through the ashes, either through their own personal strength or the strength of their faith or family or community—that just wrecks me and inspires me. To me, people's rawest and most vulnerable states are a display of courage, and hearing stories of other people's courage gives me courage. That's part of why I have three adopted kids from Africa; they have their own redemption stories.

Why is being people-first important to you?

Because people freaking matter. And we don't care about others enough on our own. We are all valuable, weird, and broken. And all that messiness makes up our story, and that story needs to be told.

Behind each shopping decision, each life decision, there's a person. And real empathy means breaking out into a cold sweat, doing anything we can to feel what others feel—whether it's ecstasy, powerlessness, or relief. Let's be the single mom, the nerd with no friends, the average Joe, so that we can design solutions that really matter and don't just sell.

What's one of the best pieces of advice you've ever gotten?

I'm a giant Brene Brown fan. She is a shame researcher, so she talks about people's stories about shame and overcoming shame and what shame looks like in various contexts. She has a best-selling book called Daring Greatly, and it's greatly influenced me over the last couple years. On the very first page of the book, there is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts—not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doers of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes up short again and again. Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. But who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms and great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

It's a story of courage, of blood, sweat, and tears, and of life's ups and downs. The courage to try hard and to try new. Like teaching my kids, when I've never been modeled; that takes a great deal of courage. It's about just being in the arena with them and being an advocate and a fighter for them so that they know that we're in this together. I've been focusing on having the courage to be in it with people—in life—and not letting every day go by as just a normal day.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by exploring new things. Food and nature are the one that really get to me. I like to just pick a city and find out what it's all about through food and culture and shops and whatever else that city has to offer. I'm inspired by other communities and how they do things differently from my own. Finding a new mountain to climb, sometimes literally, and seeing what's on the other side of it brings me great joy. Those types of experiences make me feel connected to other people and to God.

What question do you have about the world that you wish you could research?

I believe that there is too much "us versus them" in the world. We all want to be part of a tribe, and that turns into us being inside the tribe and other people being outside of it. Whether you look at race, gender, nationalism, whatever—we're an us-versus-them society. I would research things that would get rid of that mentality. I want to find out why people have those labels of us and them, and how it would change their worldview if they didn't.

For example, what if we lost the idea of countries, and we all just went back to be humans? What if we expanded the definition of family; could my school and my church and my friends also be my family? Even in the workplace—what if it was less about competition, but more about how can we all work together to better serve culture and people? So, I would explore ways to be more inclusive in different contexts; I would tinker with how to make things more equal in the world.

What's one quality you admire in someone else and wish you had more of?

If you were to score empathy on a scale of 1 to 100, my youngest daughter, Kali, would be a 100. And she is nine years old. She's adopted, and she's been in our family since she was six, so it isn't anything I've taught her. She came with it. I'm a big believer in the power of empathy; you can't ever have too much. But even as an adult who values it, I have to be intentional about it. To her, it comes naturally. She's the first to run to the sick kid on the playground. She's the first to sense when someone in our home is down. And she's the first to try to make them feel better. When you're down, she's down; when you're up, she's filled with joy. I wish I had more of that authentically because with her, it's so authentic.

Tell me about one of your colleagues.

Alexandria and I are very close; I feel like she's the sister I never had. She handles herself with class and dignity and grace and humility in pretty much everything she does. But her and her husband went through the hardest of trials very recently. Their daughter was born at 22 weeks, and they lost her. And when Al brought that same class and dignity and grace and humility to that situation, I couldn't believe it. I was the one who was upset and childish and immature about the situation. I was the one asking God, "Why did you let this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?" I was unleashed in my own personal journey of anger and confusion.

But she just handled it with such beauty. Like I would expect her to in any other situation—but this one was different. This one hit home for me, so I can't even imagine what it was like for her. I've always admired those characteristics in her, but this trial displayed them in a way I had never seen before. It taught me a lesson in hope—that good can come out of ugly, and that hope is never to be lost. That is a gift I will never forget.

What's your idea of the perfect Saturday?

Go somewhere weird. The divey food shack. The tunnel full of street art. The skeezy local bar or dinge-y 90's coffeehouse. The library! And then go somewhere where the creatures live. The untraversed mountain. The beach during the rain. The dark cave full of creepy-crawlies. And top it off with a heart-to-heart about hopes and dreams and hugs and kisses.

In the Industry: Since 2001

At Bovitz: Since 2009

Education: BA in Psychology from UCLA

His best quality: Experimental