Anthropology & Business

It has been an interesting experience becoming involved with entrepreneurship, business, and learning the do’s and don’ts of this type of environment in contrast to the skills and information I have learned in the social sciences. It seems as if there really are two vastly different types of thinking in these two worlds. I’ve come to realize that it is possible to learn the traits valued within each discipline and to ‘wear’ them when the situation calls for it.

With the study of anthropology, we learn to be trained observers. We also learn to be careful about knee-jerk judgments in order to be sure that we’re seeing the entire picture (or as much of it as possible) and not simply placing our own opinions or values onto the others. The research process focuses on the importance of analyzing the data carefully and being sure not to draw conclusions that are unfounded. In business and entrepreneurship, on the other hand, quick decisions and risk taking are necessary. This field calls for constant innovation and a trial-and-error type approach in order to move the venture along as quickly as possible. More than one entrepreneurship teacher has used the slogan “If you are going to fail, fail fast”, and then move on to the next idea.

Although these two different disciplines seem so very different, and in many ways are, common ground can still be found in some aspects. Anthropologists and business people must both step outside their comfort zones often and must be able to gain strangers’ trust. The anthropologist must gain the trust of his or her informants or research subjects, the business person must gain the trust of his or her customers. The anthropologist steps outside their comfort zone in order to submerse themselves within a completely new environment and culture, and are often confronted with beliefs, practices, or actions that conflict with their own values. The business person steps outside their comfort zone by doing what it takes to make the networking connections necessary for the success of their venture.

Personally I have found it a valuable learning experience becoming so actively involved in another discipline. When I first began last September, I was only able to see the differences between the two disciplines. A much deeper understanding has evolved since I am now able to see the commonalities.

2 thoughts on “Anthropology & Business

  1. What is Business Anthropology?

    Currently “business anthropology” is recognized as a subfield of the discipline in applied anthropology. To encourage an exchange of ideas and more about business anthropology, a blog has been set up, to sign up click on the button at the end of the first commentary

    The International Journal of Business Anthropology (IJBA) has published its first issue, announcing a call for additional contributions. Please send your manuscripts, news notes and correspondence to Dr. Robert Guang Tian, Co-Editor, IJBA, via e-mail at, or To learn more about IJBA, see the SFAA interview,

    Contact: Dr. Robert Guang Tian
    Editor, International Journal of Business Anthropology or, or or

Comments are closed.