Be An Anthropologist

Last week, I introduced the first element of Passion Management – what you see shapes how you change. A lot of feedback I received centered on how do you bring the spirit of the Anthropologist into the workplace? Today we will delve deeper into this topic. The ‘see’ in the Passion Management matrix.

Prior to my tenure at Fosters and in particular working with the i-nova team (global insights & innovation hub); the terminology of the anthropologist would have come across as voodoo. I have fervor of a convert on this one, because back when I joined Fosters there was no Anthropologists roles. Experimenters, yes. Even a few Cross-Pollinators. But no one had yet adopted the persona that was crucial in the development of Pure Blonde – a low carb beer that took the market by storm. Under the leadership of John Murphy, a new team was set up with the main criteria of bringing a ‘fresh’ perspective to the workplace. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who were extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way – informed by their insights from the field – so that the right solution can spark a transformation.

Next time you finish a brainstorm, or put the final touches to your annual plan, step back and pause to look at the ideas you’ve generated. If you were being completely honest, how many of those ideas do you think your competitors could also come up? According to What If, many organisations don’t ask themselves this question because of the awesome implications of their answer. Shocking, isn’t it, when we are relying on these ideas to deliver growth in a competitive environment.

This is the basis of freshness, and it’s why creative people and organisations do not rely on the same data their competitors have access to. They source a wider diet, seeking out new experiences and ways of thinking about their market, products and internal processes. This provides the critical stimulus that allows them to see and think about issues in a different way. The new perspectives they gain provoke them into making creative connections that others wont have made. 

Part of the problem is that most of us are so wrapped up in a busy work schedule we seldom make time to question the quality and uniqueness of our ideas. Sometimes we are just so thankful to have a plan or agreement within our organization, that we don’t want to upset the apple cart by asking difficult questions about whether our competitors have the same plan. The truth is that competitive organisations are not always as competitive as they’d like to think they are. For a start, they often draw on a remarkably similar skill base, employing the same kind of people from the same backgrounds. What’s more, they access and use similar data, and talk to the same consumers in the same way. They get excited when they spot a ‘new’ insight, apparently unaware that nine times out of ten competitors will be looking at the same information and getting excited about the very same insight.

History tells us that routine often blinds us to the truths that have been before us all the time. Until Jane Goodall applied her rare combination of patience and bravery to the study of chimpanzees, no one seemed to notice how much those clever primates share our ability to make tools, kiss, tickle, hold hands, and even, yes, pat one another on the back. The truth was there all along, waiting for us to discover it. We can’t all be Jane Goodall, nor in the corporate world, do we need to be. But approaching field observations with a spirit of curiosity can make all the difference in the world in identifying new opportunities or solutions to existing problems.

Anthropologists aren’t valuable only for helping you understand today, they can also give you a glimpse of the future. For a look at tomorrows mainstream markets, look at teenagers today. A lot that I have learnt about blogging, podcasts and instant messaging has come from my kids. James my youngest son in fact is always at me to join him as a YouTuber. Reverse mentoring at it’s finest.

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