So, what is an anthropologist anyway? Anthropologists study humans from the past and the present and speculate about humans of the future. They research individuals, groups, and the human species. In particular, cultural anthropologists observe humans and consider how these observations match up to what people and societies say about themselves. In academia, this lead to theories of social change and insights into the human condition. In business, these skills can help to uncover silences, disrupt ‘common-sense’ when it is no longer sensible, and provide innovative solutions to intractable problems. Take a look at how this anthropologist approaches change management: Lead like an Anthropologist and lead well. It starts with paying close attention to the taken-for-granted assumptions about how colleagues, clients and organisations operate.
Major change is occurring within the world of work. However, it is not clear whether these changes are for the good, will be viable in the future and what they might mean for different sectors of society. For example, while more people can (and do) work from home, what will this mean for your business? For the population, and bricks and mortar retailers in your town? For the everyday social interactions that build community? For the mental health of workers? There are opinions and answers to these questions in the media, new government policy, and in academic research (Dr John Hopkins has some done some interesting studies). Yet, the challenges and opportunities for the Goldfields Esperance region, and its unique business landscape, may not be addressed or appreciated in these forums.
How could anthropology help you to manage these once-in-a-lifetime changes? An anthropological approach would note that the disruption of the pandemic has prompted all of us to see the strange as familiar and the familiar as strange. For example, although the secessionist movement might not understand WA’s state border rules as strange, closures have certainly led to new and unfamiliar problems (major labour and supply chain issues) and opportunities (increased domestic tourism in our region). The anthropological approach walks a tightrope between the micro (what you are doing right now) and the macro (what has happened in your community, nation, and the world across time). It employs ethnographic research methods to piece together the ideas, actions, unspoken beliefs, history and culture of the people it studies, in order to grasp who they are, what they have experienced, and their desires for the future. Knowledge is power, particularly in uncertain times.
The anthropological approach can be complex and time consuming, but the effort is rewarded by a clearer view of the big picture. Psychology looks at individuals. Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources. Management aims to foster optimal human productivity at work. These disciplines (and many others) are all concerned with specific aspects of being human, whereas Anthropology aims to understand the whole human and the interconnected ecology of humanity. If you would like to know more about anthropology and its value in business I recommend this podcast featuring Gillian Tett: How Anthropology helps us understand the world.
Alternatively, contact the author! I am always up for a chat about the human forces that are shaping our region and our world.