A version of this article appeared in the spring 2022 issue Strategy + Business.
Anthro-Vision: A new way of looking at business and life
By Gillian Tett, Avid Reader Press, 2021
The next time you hear someone arguing that a liberal art education for business is wasting, point them to Gillian Tate. Anthro-Vision. In this new book, the award-winning journalist, Chairperson Dr. Financial timesOf the U.S. Editorial Board, and Cambridge Ph.D. Makes a compelling, readable argument for the business value of his academic discipline in social anthropology. Tate sees that this value is distributed in three ways: anthropology makes strangers familiar, it makes acquaintances strange, and it inspires awareness when listening to social silence.
The “introduction to the strange” – the quest to understand other peoples and cultures – goes back to the anthropological sciences in the 19th century (although in the early days its main purpose was to justify the “civilized” Western colonialists who stole the labor and resources of the “primitive” people). In 1990, this quest to understand, not plunder, led Tate to a remote village in Soviet Tajikistan, where she studied marriage rituals to pursue her PhD.
Strange acquaintances have led marketers in a global economy to embrace anthropology to find out how to sell their products to consumers in far-flung markets. The results can be really valuable insights. Sales of Kit Cat bars from Switzerland-based Nestle were warm in Japan until 2001, when marketing executives noticed that candy bar sales on Kyushu Island increased in December, January and February. Curious, they discovered that the students had added the name Kit Kat With kitto katsu, Which means “you must pass” in the local dialect. Students were buying bars for luck when they took their exams for high school and university. Based on this insight, Nestl তৈরি developed its Japanese marketing strategy, and by 2014, Kit Kat was the best-selling confectionery in the country.
Searching to get to know strangers creates a valuable byproduct: it provides a platform where one can see one’s own culture with the naked eye – a task that Tate calls “creating strange strangers”. Just after reading Tett’s description of Tajik marriage, I got a first lesson while attending a wedding. Suddenly, the choreography of an American wedding seemed as strange as the Tajik practice of taking the whole wedding party to the statue of Lenin for a photo session.
“Almost all business leaders and policy makers can benefit from asking the basic question of dog anthropology: if a Martian suddenly lands here and can look around, what will they see?” Tate wrote. In 1997, when GM was fighting to get a team of engineers from its small car group, its Saturn subsidiary and a new vehicle from Opel in Germany, the company called anthropologist Elizabeth Brody to find out what was wrong. Brody discovered the source of unemployment among the different cultural assumptions about meetings. The Opel team expected the meetings to be agenda-driven, decision-making sessions; The small car group is expected to have a working session where ideas will be shared and discussed; And the Saturn parties expected a consensus-building session. As a result, the meetings were chaotic and frustrating for everyone. Unfortunately, Brody’s insights came too late, and GM’s senior product development leaders shut down the project.
Lastly and most interestingly, what anthropology calls Tate social silence can help the surface. Listening to social silence, he writes, “It’s like using an X-ray machine to look at society, to look at half-hidden patterns that we are only faintly aware of.” Anthropologists listen to social silence and look for and try to understand the unspoken biases, assumptions, and emotional maps that people inherit and form as a group.
Social anthropology is as effective as an Amazon jungle in understanding an Amazon warehouse. “
In 2005, while leading the capital market team Financial times, Tett discovered a social silence around the explosion of parallel debt obligations (CDOs) and swaps (CDSs). Including financiers did not understand the parameters and risks of this huge market. “Different desks of different banks could not see how the whole CDO or CDS market was evolving, as their perspective was limited to what was sitting under their noses,” he wrote. “The world was strangely opaque to the insiders – and even more opaque to the outsiders.” Of course, this becomes even clearer to all of us when CDOs begin the subprime mortgage crisis. Tate also called for the recent social silence regarding data exchange (customers leaving personal information in exchange for free internet services) and ESG (environmental, social and governance), both of which he is sure are ready to be triggered. For far-reaching changes in the business world.
With Silo effectTate’s 2015 book on the dangers of closing business units and functionality, Anthro-VisionIts insights are not news to most business leaders. He noted that big companies like Apple, IBM, Intel and Google have been using anthropology and ethnography tools for decades. Microsoft has become “the world’s largest employer of anthropologists,” Tate wrote. The tech giant employs anthropologists in areas such as user experience and product design, and at Microsoft Research, where, for example, MacArthur Fellowship-winning anthropologist and senior lead researcher Mary L. Gray has studied the invisible “ghost work” on which many technology companies rely, such as labeling, moderation, and sorting of data or content.
Is not Anthro-Vision A how-to book. Anthropological tools, Tate argues, provide insights (yes, indeed) for business executives, investors, policymakers, economists, technologists, financiers, doctors, lawyers and accountants. These concepts are as effective as an Amazon jungle. But without naming some tools, such as unorganized observation, and practice (“Look around, watch, listen, ask open-ended questions, be curious like a child, and try to walk in someone else’s shoes, to quote the proverb”), The instructions are brief.
Rather, Anthro-Vision As an anthropologist, it is a drink for Tate’s application of education and business discipline. If this leaves you wanting more, then you need to do what former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan did as he sought a clearer understanding of the dynamics of the 2011 Eurozone debt crisis: Ask Tate to recommend a good book on anthropology.