Suddenly, Microsoft cares. If you run a small business, this may be just what you’ve been waiting for.

Many companies talk about getting close to the customer, but Microsoft pushed this idea to the extreme when it hired Nelle Steele to show up at 5 in the morning at the Milwaukee home of Tim Tucker. The owner of Air Engineering Inc., a supplier of industrial air compressor parts, is Microsoft’s model customer. Steele’s mission was to observe Tucker at close range, arriving as soon as he stepped out of the shower, then shadowing him until his workday ended at 10:30 p.m. Steele, a cultural anthropology Ph.D. student on leave from the University of Wisconsin, is one of five anthropologist-ethnographers (and the only one focused on entrepreneurs) that Microsoft hired full-time to conduct a field study. Called “Dawn to Dusk,” the study documents the work habits and thought processes of a species the software behemoth had never before tried to understand: owners and employees of small businesses.

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