I've collected lots of articles on Corporate Anthropology but maybe this one here in the Financal Times, written by an anthrologist (Gillian Tett)who has "tried to incorporate what I learnt about “people watching” into financial journalism", can be used as the standard introductory text as it provides lots of examples of anthropologists in the business field.
Among others, she interviews Simon Robert, who many of us know from his blog at Ideas Bazaar. For his PhD, Robert had investigated the impact of satellite TV on households in an Indian city and on how they looked on the world (see Ideas Bazaar's website for some of his papers)
He explains how he is studying the Office culture at the company Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC):
“Studying PwC is like looking at a town - you try to see how the bits all interact, and you are looking for patterns,” he says. “What we try to do is describe what is happening, but we don’t present solutions. We let the company decide that.”
The article starts explaining that anthropologists ask unusual questions based on their unusual knowledge they gather via their unusual method - participant observation. Anthropologists "translate" as they have alwas done:
"“Many companies assume that if they want to have a global website, say, all they have to do is translate it into different languages,” explains Martin Ortlieb, an anthropologist who now works at a global software group. “But that isn’t true - what works in German can’t just be translated into Japanese with the same effect."
Here is a good explanation of the anthropologists' different way of asking questions. Anne Kirah, who was hired by Boeing to study passenger behaviour on flights, and is now the senior design anthropologist at Microsoft, is interviewed:
"Kirah does not ask much about technology per se - let alone about how people might use computers. But that is the whole point - and part of the defining nature of anthropology. A normal marketing person might approach a family with a barrage of highly directed questions about computers. But that way, Kirah argues, they are likely to just get the answers they expect to hear - and will only offer the consumers products that the software designers have already created. The anthropologist starts by observing everyday life, with all its odd little patterns, and then tries to work out how computers might eventually fit into that. Microsoft’s hope is that this will inspire entirely new applications for technology.
But I doubt everyone agress with Kirah here when she says:
"Yes, there have been periods in history when anthropologists have been abused by governments... but as long as I believe that I am helping the voice of the consumer to be heard, I am happy to do my job at Microsoft." >> continue