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.

A quick guide to business case studies for social scientists

projectX.jpg“Project X Challengers” is a series from Digital Manga Publishing that shows the history of the development of different breakthrough products in the distinctive manga style from Japan. Currently, there are three books in the series: “Nissin Cup Noodle”, “7-11 bring the convenience market to Japan” and “Datsun Fairlady Z (Project X 240Z Challengers)”.

You have to get used to the back to front, right to left reading convention but after that they are a wealth of information. Each book introduces you to the major players involved in the development, and focuses on them overcoming obstacles. It includes the usual comic conventions. Characters exclaim problems and new discoveries with the same bold graphic style usually reserved for when the Justice League is announcing the discovery of a new comet about to hit earth.cooked.jpg

At the end of each book, they have pictures of the actual people and process, a timeline of the development, examples of technological developments and more. They are about USD$12, and well worth it.

CEO’s Arent Anthropologists!

I read a lot of blogs, but I usually find myself responding to the Business Week Blogs more than others. Today is no exception. Bruce Nussbaum recently gave a speech at the Royal College of Art stating that CEOs Must Be Designers, Not Just Hire Them. Think Steve Jobs And iPhone.

My Response:

So Bruce, I have to disagree: CEO’s should be CEO’s, but a good CEO knows how to spot talent. But I do agree with the sprit of the statement, today MBAs and designers, need more than a solid background in a single discipline, its part of the rebellion against the specialists. There are already programs trying to address this, such as the exchange between the Art Center College of Design and INSEAD. When you say CEOs must be designers (and I might say they need to be anthropologists) I think you are wishing for the extreme end of the pendulum swing that started when we all realized that teams often worked better than individuals. In the dusty past I wrote on the importance of the multi-disciplinary team: gett the designer, engineer, researcher and marketer in one room and you can avoid the silo effect. It was an interesting idea at the time that many companies tried to make work, but it was also wrong. People still could not speak each others language. The result was often no result at all or something pretty mediocre (a classic design by committee problem) or worse, it turned into a cage match and a struggle for power. It was those early attempts that made a few of us realize that you needed multi-disciplinary people. That rare bird that not only had an eclectic background of business, design, research, and strategy among others, but could synthesize information across those disciplines’s to get a new insight. But I think even this is old news for most of us at the center of the work today. It is just these multi-talented folks that we are looking for in my office. When my friends that are recruiters call me to see if I know of anyone for a particular position, this is what they are looking for as well. But its not that these people are in-depth experts in all those areas that matters. What matters is they have enough aptitude for a variety of fields and enough common language and empathy to work in teams with people that have various and complementary strengths

To suggest that CEO’s should be designers, designers should be MBAs and MBA’s need to sketch would be, in most cases, a tragic mistake if taken literally. A friend that chairs a small anthropology department and I were discussing your blog the other day, part of my on-going conspiracy to get academics interested and enthusiastic about business. I argued that what the CEO needs to know about design is the difference between Great, Good and Crap and how design drives and is the customer facing expression of corporate strategy. This is not news, people have been talking about the strategic value of design for years, even if not acting on it with great effect. Her take is that the CEO needs to know enough about design to get the hell out of the way and let the pros that hopefully are smarter than they are to get on with it. It’s the whole “Get the right people on the bus, and let them do their jobs” strategy. The idea that people should be able to do it all is an over-enthusiastic reaction to what we have learned over the years about the dangers of hyper-specialization. To quote myself (I am not a journalist or an academic, so I can do that, right?) from a comment in another BW blog: Steve Jobs didn’t show up in Cupertino one day with a pair of stone tables that had the iTunes business model on one tablet and a CAD drawing of the iPod on the other. The iTunes explosion was the result of a lot of people at Apple working hard, not to mention the MP3 players that came before, and a visionary leader in Steve Jobs that understood the significance of putting it all together. That’s the key: its not a CEO that can design, but a CEO that can weave together diverse threads of understanding to figure out what’s next.

We have all heard the story of the amazing product by that a lone smart person in the bowels of some corporation who stuck by and fought for it tooth and nail for despite everyone telling them it was a bad idea. The way the story usually goes is: The product is a hit and that CEO or some other muckity-muck praises the tenacious engineer, project manager, etc for bucking the system, pressing on in the face of adversity, etc. How come no one turns around to the CEO and others and says “Ummm, why are you proud of the fact that you can’t tell the difference between a good idea and a bad one?”

CEO’s don’t need to be designers, they need to be critical thinkers that can weigh the merits of strategy, markets, risk and know how to find people that can help them place design strategy in that context. Job has been a huge and positive influence on design both aesthetically and how it can drive bottom line revenue growth. But not just because he has a deep intuitive understanding of design, but because he understands how to use all the resources available to him to tap into deep needs and meet those needs in clever and compelling ways.

By the way, your word processor made a wee mistake. You say “You, as designers, can’t just do ethnology anymore.” I know you mean “ethnography.” But for your readers: An ethnology is a study and analysis done by comparing across cultures to answer big questions like “How common is the incest taboo?” Ethnography is the study of a culture of particular group of people, for example a tribe in the Amazon or in the case of Design Ethnography, young video game players. An ethnology is done by comparing multiple ethnographies.