Published on February 23rd, 2016 | by Nancy F. Clark0
How Corporate Anthropology Can Help Women Drive Change
By Andrea Simon—
As a corporate anthropologist, I am a bit of an “a-ha” moment junkie. My days are spent digging into business problems and hunting for previously unimagined opportunities. Often, people want to know how they can use “a little anthropology” to help them better innovate—see things with fresh eyes and make new things happen. I am particularly interested in how anthropological perspectives can help women accelerate their roles as innovative leaders, chief innovation officers or chief marketing officers.
There is no shortage of research and publications about how men and women approach innovation in different ways. Drew Boyd, for example, cites research that suggests that “…people within an organization perceive innovative and creative solutions and ideas to most likely come from a male manager, and they perceive adaptive solutions to most likely come from a female manager. The researchers also found that innovative solutions were most likely be implemented if suggested by a male manager.”
Perhaps the real challenge is not gender but the need for people, women and men, to have the right mind set and tool kit to uncover new ideas and effectively turn them into successful innovations. To this end, “a little anthropology” can indeed help women become the innovation engines they were meant to be—and that their organizations need.
I’d like to add one caveat, however. Once women have become innovators in the business culture of their organization, they risk becoming outsiders—never a comfortable place for anyone because humans live in cultures and share common values and beliefs.
Having said that, here are four essential ways corporate anthropology can help women drive the process of change and innovation while still being part of the culture they are changing.
Diagnosing Company Culture
It’s easy for business people—management and employees alike—to get comfortable with the way things are, i.e., the company culture. In fact, it’s natural. When we live and work in a routine environment, we get used to a certain way of doing things.
The problem is that not being able to look objectively at company culture often makes it hard to see new solutions to old problems, and even harder to see previously unrecognized opportunities to grow and prosper. Will “the way it’s always been done” work in today’s business environment and rapidly changing technological processes?
Bringing in someone from the outside, or using someone on the inside, who can apply the techniques of anthropology does exactly that.
Communicating & Rethinking Corporate Strategy
Strategy is a story, and stories help communicate where a company is going and how it thinks it should get there. But how many times have you or your team stopped, looked around and thought, “What is our strategy here?”
The hard truth is that many companies do not have a clear strategy, and if they do, it may not be shared beyond the boardroom or the C-suite. Part of understanding and changing a company’s culture requires getting its leaders to rethink where the organization needs to be headed in the future and then finding new ways to communicate this throughout the company.
The best way to see where a company’s strategy is working, and where it isn’t, is to step outside and observe what is really happening out in the field (where the rubber meets the road, as they say).
Developing New Concepts, Designing New Products, Instigating New Business Evaluation
Ethnography is defined as “the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.” When a business team is thinking about creating something new, the application of ethnography and other anthropological tools allows them to see how people solve problems, get things done and give meaning to their daily lives.
These are exactly the kinds of methods that are particularly valuable when conducting consumer research for product design and market development. Anthropological methods let you see the gap between what is said and what is done. To truly understand what people are thinking (which they may not be able to verbalize), you have to participate, observe and listen to their stories.
Branding, Marketing and Sales
These three are distinct departments, sure, but they share one important innovation: the advent of inbound marketing. The Internet has brought about a massive shift in the way customers find, evaluate and connect with brands, companies, products and services. That means an entire set of new behaviors are developing right in front of our eyes. And in an exciting twist for anthropologists, the very nature of online marketing means that there are billions of behavioral breadcrumbs strewn across the Internet. Big data can show us a wide array of patterns but to be useful, big data needs “thick” data—the stories that make the data understandable. That’s where anthropology is essential.
As John Seely Brown, the independent co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, said so well, “The way forward is all around you.”
To see with fresh eyes, I invite you to try these four easy corporate anthropology tools and see what new stories arise.
Andrea Simon, Ph.D., principal and founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC). You can reach me @SimonAndi, #CorporateAnthro or [email protected] to share your story. I look forward to hearing from you.
Article photo by Alina Sofia