I am pleased to let people know about a new book by fellow social science innovator, Grant McCracken. Hi book “ Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities” was a major inspiration for me when I started my career in design anthropology and have have been reading his blog ever since. (Grant, please..please go back to the old format!). Below is the press release, and I will follow up after I give it a read. I downloaded it to my Kindle and then realized I have left it at the office!
If you are interested in what anthropology has to offer business thinking and the practice of innovation, do your self a favor and pick up any of Grant’s books
In Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation (Basic Books; December 1, 2009) anthropologist and consultant Grant McCracken argues that products and ads succeed when corporations capitalize on culture. Not corporate culture or “high culture,” but the world outside the company—the body of ideas, emotions and activities that make up the life of the consumer. Major corporations like Apple, Nike, Virgin, and Volkswagen study and cater to their customers’ behaviors and values—they found a way to read their audience’s culture and then speak to it. We can also see the costs of misreading culture: Coca-Cola missed out on the demand for a diverse selection of drinks to the tune of $1.4 billion; Best Buy purchased Musicland just as people began downloading music online; and Levi-Strauss missed out on the hip-hop trend. In each case, executives failed to notice what was happening in world outside the corporation, and they paid dearly for it.
Not only do corporations live or die by their connection to culture, but too often, many are completely dependent on big-name “gurus”—Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Martha Stewart, Silvia Lagnado—for insight and guidance. Or worse, they outsource the task to marketing firms, consultants, branding experts, or the office intern. McCracken has consulted with an array of major companies, including Campbell Soup, Coke, L’Oreal, IBM, and the Children’s Television Workshop, always with an eye on the value companies can derive from culture. In CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER, McCracken argues that the American corporation needs a new officer in the C-Suite—a Chief Culture Officer, or CCO—who will harness the near-uncanny cultural insight exemplified by gurus like Jobs, and make it systematic and professional. A company’s CCO would develop a deep understanding of culture—both its fast-moving trends and its deep, enduring waves—along with a strategy for applying this knowledge in a way that creates value. With CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER, McCracken hopes to reach those inside the company who want to make their company more intelligent, strategic, and responsive, as well as those outside the company who want to turn their knowledge of culture into a career.
In an insightful overview of pop culture, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER takes readers through major cultural movements of the past century—the hippies, the yuppies, the new avant-garde, the networked community—and examines the successful qualities of popular television shows and movies, analyzes the preppy culture of the 1980s, shows how teens today identify with not one but several groups, and describes how “cool” overtook status. McCracken’s witty romps through culture demonstrate how successful brands listened to and interacted with their consumers, while other executives led their companies in the wrong direction, following “hunches” and intuition alone. And with an aim to put culture in the C-Suite, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER profiles a number of figures—from gurus like Jobs and Stewart to real-life “stealth CCOs” who are already acting the part—and reverse-engineers their skills and strategies. Through these insightful character sketches, McCracken demonstrates that cultural knowledge involves not just keeping up with trends, but active participation, as well. Only then can the CCO discover what their consumers truly value—and what makes them tick.
To those inside the corporation, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER provides a bonus appendix with ten real-life candidates for the new CCO position—from a 17-year-old named Justin who loves military history, to Eric, who, while getting his physics degree at Stanford, also ran the alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer FAQ and played volleyball. And for the aspiring first generation of CCOs, the second bonus appendix provides a toolkit for understanding both slow culture and fast culture—from what to read, watch, and attend, to who to lunch, what to outsource, and how to transform others in the company into active, thoughtful observers of culture. With authority, wit, and keen insight, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER provides the description—now it’s time for companies to post the job.