3 Ways Anthropologist’s Toolkit Can Revitalize Your Company

What?!? Anthropology in my business?

I heard that more than once over the past few weeks of “Change Matters” workshops. I started talking about how powerful corporate anthropology or business anthropology can be for driving business growth. It’s true. The link between social science and business growth is deep and powerful, and growing. As business model innovation has become essential as company’s adapt to today’s fast changing environment.

Understanding human behavior and how to change a company’s cultures is at the heart of building business success. I know it sounds obvious, but often it is ignored. At their core, all businesses are inextricably linked to the humans who work together and whose customers they serve — even if it’s sometimes hard to see the connection of business to culture.

Corporate anthropologists are finding that people know all too well the challenges of building and sustaining a business, especially in these fast-changing times. They often need a new toolkit, an anthropologist’s toolkit. What worked in the past isn’t doing so well today. But change is quite literally pain, and they fight it.

Anthropology can revitalize companies and help them keep growing

To get your wheels turning about the ways anthropology can help your business, here are three important things you can do. I encourage you to get out a pen and paper and write down what comes to mind as you read. Opening our eyes to the possibilities that are all around us is at the heart of how anthropology can help revitalize a business. 

1. Visit Your Call Center: One of the most eye-opening and instructive things a CEO or key leader can do is sit on the phone lines in their call centers. Listen closely to what people who call in are asking for, and especially listen to what your service folks are saying no to. Anytime the call center staff says, “We don’t do that,” what you’re really hearing is an opportunity. That is someone on the phone searching for a solution to their problem. Pay attention to what they are really asking for and you might find a huge market waiting for you. 

2. Hang Out With Customers: Ask a customer if you can observe them using your great product, such as your showerheads or your house wrap. Maybe you can watch them install your innovative new foam insulation system into their buildings or interacting with your software. Don’t ask them much of anything. Watch, listen and learn. What you will soon see are their recurring pain points where you and your organization could add real value in very innovative waysmaybe even come up with a new way to help those customers solve their problems better. You may just be sitting on the skillset that can solve a common problem and revitalize your business. 

3. Ask for Stories: Listening to a customer or employee tell you a story will yield a much richer kind of insight than just asking them what they need. You’ll get details and context, plus you can trace the way they think, not just the end result. When you listen to stories, you can build a tapestry of what people need and how the solution would look, giving you a vital viewpoint of what could be a Blue Ocean® opportunity. As Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people how to make their transportation better, they would have told me to make their horses go faster.” (Ford knew that we all have a hard time seeing outside of our personal experiences.) One of the strengths of anthropology methods for business is to step away from the numbers and look objectively at the stories of people are telling you, listening for opportunities. 

You can take a look at others here:

A Quick Story to Share

One of the attendees at a workshop I was conducting was head of sales for a patented insulation company. He had recently been out with his sales team observing their sales process. While very impressed with how the client they were working with was being “sold” he realized that he had missed everythingSales_Presentation_iStock_000050675020_Medium.jpg else that was going on.

Indeed, the client had kept asking them about things that they needed that they couldn’t find solutions for easily. In fact he kept saying “Whay If?” And, this sales manager, to his chagrin, had ignored all of those “What If’s” as if they were irritating and incidental to the sales. 

From his “aha” moment he realized that the real sales opportunities were all around him — they were those unmet needs the client was asking about. He was so well programmed into closing the sale, as were his salesmen, that they discounted the possiblities. And there they were.

The opportunities are all around you! All you need to do is take the time to look at what is happening with fresh eyes. Add a little anthropology to your toolkit.

Try hanging out and then contact me to let me know how it went. I look forward to hearing from you! 

Pre-order my new book, “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business To New Heights.”