Have I mentioned how much I like Anthony Bourdain and his show “No Reservations”?

bourdain-distilled_175.jpgYes I have indeed mentioned it before. I like it so much because he starts at a place that anthropologists are trained to not go: the sheer love of the unexpected. We are trained to avoid being Indiana Jones, we are not just globe-trotting dilettantes, we are scientists! Well, that really takes the fun out of it doesn’t it? Boursain makes no claim to be anything more than a chef and writer that really digs food, people and instructional misadventures. There is no other phrase for it, his show is simply open-hearted. He does not start from a scientific mind set, he starts by asking “where can I share food with people, drink, laugh and sometimes be truly horrified”? The respect he shows for other cultures, his willingness to stumble his way through cultural faux pas without worrying about his ego is an example to any social scientist.

Don’t look for insight out of the program, look for joy and the reason you got into this game to start with.

Have you ever seen a product category in the throes of Bundle Death?

Making recommendations to clients about what to do next is an important part of the job of the team the anthropologist is working in. In addition to understanding people, anthropologists need to understand markets. What’s up, what’s down, it’s hard to really take part in ideation if you don’t know what is already in the market.

Retail audits or retail surveys are a great way to quickly learn about market place trends. I have had friends joke that I spend weekends wondering around Best Buy to see if there happens to be a billion dollars lying on the floor.

One thing, certainly not the only thing, to look for is what I like to call Bundle Death. This is what happens when product B is given away as a deal sweetener for product A. Like getting a free monitor with a new PC or a free DVD player with a new TV. It’s important to keep an eye on bundle death because it says in a very clear way that the former products has hit complete commodity status.

But not every kind of bundle is equal to being a death bundle. For example, a BMW dealer that gives away an iPod with every car gets a boost from both brands. Bundling premium products is also not the same as bundle death. For example, Adobe has several software suites that include many of their most popular applications, but none of the individual apps are damaged by the association.

That’s all for this Sunday.

Ways to make order of the chaos of ethnographic data

Jono is a former colleague of mine at Jump Associates. In a recent e-mail to me I noticed a blog link I had not seen before. The first thing I saw was a nice little post called “Recording ethnographic observations: Five useful frameworks”. It compares different ways people use to chunk out the things they learned in the field, such as activities, environments, artifacts, etc . They are ways to start organizing the chaos of data. All pretty useful, and I do the same as well.

The important thing to remember when looking at these ways to chunk out data is that they are not roads to insight or analysis. Take a look at them, they are all tried and true methods to start, just remember they are not the end! He writes a lot of interesting stuff, so check him out!

How to prepare yourself for a job in anthropology outside of academia when you get out of school

Will-Work-for-Food.jpg1. Purge any elitist tendencies from your soul. It blinds you to the opportunities and people around you. Remember that, statistically speaking, scoring in the 95th percentile on the SAT or GRE proves without doubt there are a few million people out there that are still smarter than you are. No one cares if you can quote Foucault or Goffman, the measure outside of the academic world is what you can actually do, how you contribute and how well you can communicate your insights to everyone. Everyone has something to offer you.

2. Try to take jobs in school that will have some value when you get out. A lot of people work as bartenders and wait staff through school, and for good reasons: the hours and the pay. But the old adage it true, no one wants to give you experience if you don’t have experience. Get jobs on research projects, even if they are outside of anthropology. In fact, if you can get a job here and there that is not in anthropology, but still some form of team research (business, engineering, public health), even better. It shows how you can use your skills widely.

3. An undergraduate degree is not really enough if you have no other experience. Sorry… it’s true. Here is an exception: A guy in my office spent a couple of years traveling from country to country volunteering at one kind of aid organization after another. He has experience ranging from health issues to agriculture to education in developing countries all over the world. That’s something worth a second look.

4. Do internships! Interestingly, many non-academic internships at corporations and consultancies are paid, lead to jobs and critical experience.

5. Plan your undergrad and grad with the goal of getting a job. I am not saying to follow something you are not interested in. But you should always ask, is this experience going to help me later? Don’t be narrow in that definition. I worked my way through school as a computer jock with a masters in anthropology. Both are topics I still have a passion for. That technical expertise was critical in beating out other anthropologists for my first job.

6. For god’s sake get some humility. Even if you have a Masters or Ph.D. all you have shown is you are ready to learn. You are now ready to start your apprenticeship, not complete it. That new job has just opened your opportunities for new teachers. In my first job as a design anthropologist I spent a LOT of time hanging around with the designers, engineers and model makers asking dumb questions. Hell, all you are trained in is anthropology… remember that.

7. This is a harder one: Learn to do team analysis. Cultural anthropologists are supposed to be lone wolf research types, and for some reason we get taught that collaboration is almost cheating. But most of us mortals arrive at much more clever answers when we work with others that share our passions. Showing how you contribute to teams is as important as showing you can achieve a unique insight.

8. Make your thesis or dissertation as focused on actionable outcomes as it is theoretical insight. Make specific recommendations, show how you tried to get those recommendations into some kind of practical application. Theory and jargon-laden graduate tomes are a dime a dozen as a rule.

Why isn’t ethnography.com more focused on ethnography? Um, ‘cause I don’t feel like it.

A friend asked me how many people regularly read this blog. Well, not a lot. There is a good reason for this. I have owned the domain ethnography.com for about a decade, as well as several other anthropology related domains. On the other hand, while I am an ethnographer, my professional life is focused on the strategy and innovation, of which ethnography is just one of the tools in my toolbox. This blog is not unlike having a big sign outside your store that says “Motorcycle Repair” and wondering why no one is popping in to order a pizza

If you are looking for information about Kula rings, Margaret Mead, Structuralism and the Yanamamo, let me please point you to Wikipedia.com. For basic social science information, its pretty good. If you want to learn how to make a living an anthropologist, then this is the blog for you!

See, all of these entries are about culture in some way. What draws companies to bring anthropologists into the fold is the belief anthropologists take a broader and more holistic approach to understanding both customers and themselves.

So this bog is about strategy, innovation and people that say interesting things about those topics from an anthropologists point of view.