Barely a week goes by without the rediscovery of anthropologists working in the corporate world. You would indeed have to be an undiscovered tribe living thick in a jungle following a way of life “untouched for hundreds of years” [sic] to not now know that anthropology is used in business. I once used to document such references (I’m doing so here again), but others do it much better than me, namely Lorenz and Putting People First.
Here we have a perfect specimen of the genre in, of all places, an in-flight magazine. That perfect location for the harried executive to find a new way of increasing their understanding of their [note the use of the possesive] consumer.
A very typical start to the article alerts us to the fact that this is an article that does indeed break new ground by describing the discipline in a new setting.
The study of human cultures, or ethnography, may sound more suited to academia than to the business world.
You thought it was just about natives? How wrong you are; read on….
Though ethnography is indeed a social science, a number of companies use it to gain a greater understanding of their customers.
Imagine it. A social science being used outside of, er, a social science department. Like an economist working in a bank perhaps.
A growing number of companies are finding that ethnography can provide deeper insight into customers’ needs, preferences, and attitudes than other research approaches. It can help companies identify new directions and markets and design products or services customers really want.
Then we have the claim to exclusivity or uniqueness. The “we wouldn’t have got there without ethnography” claim. In this article backed up by some banal insight into how people measure liquid which allow Oxo to create a best seller.
But no article on ethnography in business would be truly complete without a reference to some new innovation to this the most hybrid of methodologies, typically delivered by someone who is extremely unlikely to have a social science degree, for if they did they would not present their “twist” as something revolutionary for the practice of ethnography:
One variant is known as 360-degree ethnography, says Erica Rutt, a vice president and partner at Insight Research Group. In this method, researchers talk not only to the participant but also to several other members of his or her family or workplace. “You can dig deeper,” says Rutt.
How long before another long lost tribe of corporate ethnographer is discovered plying its trade in the untouched bywaters of some cubefarm? About a week I reckon.