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Anthropologists Go Native in the Corporate Village

Article about the activity of anthropologists today
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  Anthropologists Go Native in the Corporate Village Get me Margaret Mead! The biggest names in business -- GM, Intel, Nynex -- enlist anthropologiststo decode the rituals of corporate life.By ate . ane nthropologist li#abeth Briody earned her $h% studying communities of Mexican-merican farm&or'ers and (atholic nuns. )or the past ** years, though, she+s been studying a different community -- the men and &omen of General Motors. s GM+s industrial anthropologist, Briody explores the intricacies of life at the company. It+s not all that different from her preious &or'. nthropologists help elicit the cultural patterns of an organi#ation, she says. hat rules do  people hae about appropriate and inappropriate behaior/ 0o& do they learn those rules and pass them on to others/Briody is a pioneer in a gro&ing and influential field -- corporate anthropology. hat began as an experiment in a handful of companies such as GM has become an explosion. In recent years, some of the biggest names in business hae recruited highly trained anthropologists to understand their &or'ers and customers better, and to help design products that better reflect emerging cultural trends. These companies are coninced that the tools of ethnographic research -- minute obseration, subtle interie&ing, systematic documentation -- can ans&er 1uestions about organi#ations and mar'ets that traditional research tools can+t.2ue 21uires did her field&or' analy#ing fishing communities in Ne&foundland. Today she is a $h%anthropologist at ndersen orld&ide+s (enter for $rofessional ducation in 2t. (harles, Illinois. 21uires uses ethnographic techni1ues and in-depth obseration to ealuate training programs. 2he instructs accountants from rthur ndersen in different &ays of doing business around the &orld -- from ma'ing effectie presentations in 2ingapore to interacting &ith clients in India.In some &ays this is ne& territory for anthropologists, 21uires says. But ethnography is still my  basic techni1ue. 2tudying the corporate &orld is a lot li'e studying a community in Ne&foundland. The concepts are transferable.nthropologist $atricia 2achs couldn+t agree more. 2he earned her $h% in economic anthropology studying small mining communities in est 3irginia. )or the last seeral years, ho&eer, she+s applied her s'ills at Nynex, the telecommunications giant. (orporate settings are a complex &orld, she says. e hae +naties+ of many stripes. e hae naties &ho hae different opinions, &ho fight &ith each other, &ho &or' &ith each other. Ne& technologies can ma'e these settings een more complex. 2achs &as called into Nynex &hen &or'ers did not respond as expected to an expert system deeloped to help manage the company+smaintenance operations. 2achs says the engineers turned to her after they admitted to themseles4 Maybe the problem isn+t &ith the computer system. Maybe there are social systems &e should understand. Based on that initial pro5ect, 2achs helped create a &or' systems design group inside Nynex that uses anthropology to change ho& the company organi#es &or' and deliers serices.6ast 7anuary, Tony 2alador became Intel+s first engineering ethnographer. 0e studies customers rather than &or'ers. 2alador is not a trained anthropologist 8his $h% is in experimental  psychology9, but he applies the same tools and techni1ues. 0e &or's closely &ith Intel+s engineers at the early stages of product deelopment to describe entire enironments in &hich ne& technologies might fit. My 5ob is to figure out &hat it+s li'e to be someone else, he says.These days, 2alador spends much of his time figuring out &hat it+s li'e to be a teenager -- po&er users in the fast-gro&ing mar'et for home computers. Teenagers are part of their o&n holistic  community, 2alador argues. They &or', play, and spend time &ith the same people all day long. They+re li'e a small illage in a uropean country, or &hat a to&n in merica &as li'e a hundred years ago.hat explains the popularity of anthropology in tough-minded companies such as GM and Intel/ (athleen (rain of 6TG ssociates, a ashington, %.(.-based consulting firm, beliees the field+s holistic approach -- one that dra&s on eolutionary, cultural, linguistic, and biological  perspecties -- matches the gro&ing complexity of business itself. 0er firm+s consultants 8roughly half of &hom hold anthropology degrees9 use these aried perspecties on a &ide range of pro5ects -- from analy#ing the behaior of multicultural cre&s of astronauts for Mc%onnell %ouglas to adising health clinics on patterns of use by different ethnic communities.dding an anthropologist to a research team is li'e moing from blac'-and-&hite T3 to color, says (rain. e+re able to obsere shades of color that others can+t see. nthropologists understand complexity and can help deise ans&ers that reflect that complexity.:nderstanding the organi#ation in technicolor has been li#abeth Briody+s mission from her first days at GM. In one of her earliest pro5ects, she spent three months liing &ith the naties in an assembly plant. 0er 5ob &as to study &hy a ne& 1uality program &asn+t &or'ing out as &ell as expected.The plant, Briody 1uic'ly discoered, had strong cultural rules that the program simply didn+t recogni#e. The most important rule inoled the blame game. Briody+s research documented that &or'ers and superisors &ere seen times more li'ely to assign blame for problems than to offer  praise for good &or'. 2he also analy#ed &ho blamed &hom for &hat, ho& blame &as expressed, and ho& blaming patterns follo&ed the flo& of &or' inside the plant.0er conclusion4 blame &as perasie but not random. or'ers &ere eager to do a good 5ob, but the structure of &or' at the plant left them feeling po&erless. No 1uality initiatie &ould succeed, she concluded, until it addressed these cultural realities.hat I do is ma'e explicit &hat has been implicit, Briody says. 2ometimes that ma'es people uncomfortable. But that+s the anthropologist+s 5ob. e help people see patterns more clearly.s a senior ice president &ith 0ouston-based Texas (ommerce Ban' 8T(B9, anthropologist nita ard has moed from obserer to leader. 2he &as a 'ey player in a &idely recogni#ed reengineering initiatie that cut costs by more than ;<= million, increased reenues by more than ;*= million, and improed morale. ard says three insights deried from anthropology shaped the  program.The first &as a respect for cultural differences &ithin and bet&een organi#ations.  ery culture is different, she explains. hat &or's in $apua Ne& Guinea is not li'ely to &or' in Thailand. The second inoled the ability to 1uic'ly identify the core culture of the organi#ation. In the case of T(B, that meant recogni#ing that teams -- not indiiduals -- &ere the basic cultural building bloc', and that any change effort &ould hae to reole around teams. The third &as an ability to recogni#e natural leaders. The anthropologist can identify the true social leaders &ithin an organi#ation, ard says, and enlist them as the most effectie champions of change.ard beliees the anthropological approach to change -- at T(B and else&here -- reflects a general moement to democrati#e business. hen the anthropologist enters the picture, change becomes a grassroots moement, she says. nthropologists understand that &or' is not 5ust about process, it+s about people. If you lose sight of that, you lose.
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