Do Businesses Need Anthropologists?

Who are Anthropologists and what do they do?

Anthropology is a social science discipline where professionals employ participant observation as a research tool in their study of people and how they live. Anthropologists conduct ethnographic studies, an intensive and prolonged observation of their subjects in their natural habitat. The discipline is relatively new and is not more than 300 years old. Anthropology was initially used in the study of the “exotic other” by colonial empires so as to ensure colonies were quickly conquered and easily governed.  

From the colonial era to the modern world

Anthropology played a significant role during the colonial era. It is both a good thing and a bad thing. Before setting up colonies, colonial administrators with a background in Anthropology were dispatched to study different communities across the world, establish and manage colonies.

The first colonies of the colonial era were established in Northern America. A lack of understanding of the Native Indian way of life lead to the massacre of 1800 Bisons, a revered spiritual animal and a source of food for the Native Indians. The massacre of wild beings valued by the Native American tribes and the ill treatment the natives of North America led to resistance by  tribal leaders such as Sitting Bull. The resistance  which was met with brutal force almost led to the alienation of the Native Indian people.

Learning from North America experience, the then super power nations of Europe must have learnt they needed a different approach to conquering tribal nations.  In the colonies that came later, Anthropologists such as Everest Pritchard, Franz Boas, Branislow Malinoski, and P H Gulliver among others were dispatched to study the native's way of life. Their feedback was used in planning and enacting of colonial government policies.

With the end of the colonial era, Anthropologists began infiltrating different sectors. In the business world they often study market environment so that companies can gain a better understanding of their client base; in the academic world they conduct research studies on an array of subject matters from music, medicine to politics. Anthropologists can work in any environment as long as it involves the study of people and their socio-cultural practices.

Why do we need Anthropologists?

Anthropologists study a people’s way of life which includes the study of what people do, what they say, how they do they things they say they do and what they do that they don't talk about. What people do, what they say they do and what they actually do are three different things. Therefore, it is important for private companies, public institutions and governments to be able to gain a comprehensive understanding of people before building products or policies for people. To successfully launch a product or enact a policy a study of a people’s belief system, norms, rituals, language and essentially their entire culture is paramount and it is for this reason I believe that the world needs Anthropologist.

We can all make observations why do we need Anthropologists?

One of the most common questions I get is; why do we need Anthropologists yet we can all make observations. First, why do we need lawyers yet we can all read law books? Why do we need doctors yet we can walk into pharmacies and pick out drugs for different ailments? Like all these professionals Anthropologists have dedicated their time and resources in objectively studying human societies, language, history, biology and culture.  Yes we can all make observations, but Anthropologists employ different social research tools in their studies.

Does my company need Anthropologists?

No and Yes

Yes your company can do without Anthropologists, but would it be nice to have an in-depth understanding of your clientele, what can draw them to your company and what can make them stay? Yes you can do without Anthropologists but great innovative companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Unilever, and Delmonte among others have a department dedicated to the study of culture. Different cultures perceive issues and things from different perspectives. Depending on the vision you have of your company and what you want to accomplish you can do without Anthropologists. Remember, we might not need Anthropologist but great companies have Anthropologists. 

People interact with products different. For example take a new phone X model, in a company in South East Asia can use the new phone X model as a basis for the creation of a cheaper android phone model with close to similar functionalities and name it Xi phone. Come to any African country you will find an alley at the central business district in the city with phone shops selling phone X products and go down to the city's downtown area you will find find an alley with ten different phone shops selling Xi phones. This example shows that different people interact with products differently.

For businesses to be sustainable and succeed, they need to gain an understanding of the people who will interact with their products and services. A better understanding of customer behavior, customs and language will help companies design better products and services that will satisfy customer needs and win you new markets.

Images sourced from antropologia2-0 and anthpop respectively

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