This morning I got a note from someone who wanted to know whether a master's degree in anthropology would be useful to his career as a consulting anthropologist.
Here's my reply:
Thanks for your note.
A couple of things spring to mind.
The anthropology consulting world does not sort very well, so the good does not rise nor the bad fall away. Partly this is because there are no real barriers to entry. Lots of people hang out a shingle, despite the fact that they don't have credentials or any real clue.
Second, clients don't seem to care that someone doesn't have a substantial career training, education or accomplishment. Procurement just goes with the low-cost provider.
So I am not sure that a master's degree makes as much difference as it would in another field.
The second thing: to judge from your background, you have a breadth of experience, and you have engaged with the world, and that means, I am assuming, you are prepared to go places other angels fear to tread.
Many organizations are saying things like, "Geez, I wonder if there is an opportunity/problem opening up in this new place, new industry, new community." More and more, organizations are confronted with "unknown unknowns" and the best thing to do is to drop someone into the place/industry/community and have them think their way home again. This takes a kind of pattern recognition (aka problem cognition) that anthropologists, some anthropologists, are particularly good at. (My clients used to ask me for "to find the right answer," increasingly they ask me "to find the right question...then the right answer.")
In my intro to Steve Portigal's new book on ethnography, I praise him for being a Mars Rover, someone you can send anywhere to capture the culture in place. A lot of anthro-consultants would wilt under the pressure. So they eliminate themselves from the competitive set. (On this website, about 4 posts ago.)
This is not to say that I can identify the exact clients out there who would want to hire you. But I believe once you had established yourself as someone who perform this kind of problem recognition, you will have many clients largely to yourself. (For more on being a "self sustaining anthropologist," see my contribution to Riall Nolan's Handbook on Practicing Anthropology. http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Practicing-Anthropology-Riall-Nolan/dp/0470674598/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2.)
So my advice comes down to this. In the absence of a really strong program and clients who are sensitive to professional credentials, it might make sense to take the year (or two) you would give to a master's program, and spent in a "proof of concept" project where you go after a big problem and in the process deepen your skills and show what you can do.
Blog it, then turn it into a book. And that's your calling card. Lead with a total, open, intellectual curiosity and an eye to problem-solving pattern recognition. (Lots of people can do the first or the second. Advantage goes to people who can do both.) This is a "self invention" scenario, but if you trust your powers and experience, I suspect you can transform yourself more effectively than a Masters' program can.
I hope this is helpful. I hope you don't mind but I am going to post this note to my website. Naturally, I will not use your name or pass it along.
p.s., I am writing this from a Hilton in Columbus, Ohio where a philanthropic foundation has me for the week, talking to Americans about politics and community. It is absolutely interesting. I am listening to people reinventing their ideas of who they are and what community is. In almost real time. So keep at it. This is a spectacularly interesting career.
Here’s a game that will give you hours of fun.
Play it with friends and family! At the beach!
1. Assume everyone you meet is in witness relocation. Everyone.
2. Come up with the “real story” for each of them.
An example: My wife and I recently decided that our new neighbor was caught in the Bernie Madoff scandal, having served as one of Bernie’s assistants. In exchange for testimony, she was renamed and relocated. (As far as we know, this is completely untrue.)
Here’s how our “de-relocation” continued:
Life with Bernie was an odd outcome for someone raised by a woman who was raised on the commune founded by D. H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keefe in the Southwest many, many years ago, someone who had, as it happens, done time of her own for breaking into the Santa Fe institute and stealing top secret plans for complexity theory.
How would someone like this find her way to New York City and into the employ of Bernie Madoff, you ask? Well, because she had a heart murmur, a speech impediment, a lust for life, and/or served briefly as the President of Columbia University and, yes, Columbia Records, it just so happened… [Off you go.]
3. When you are introduced to the person in question, be sure to murmur, “Yeah, right” when given the “cover story,” and be sure to use broad winks and rolled eyes to let them (and your significant other) know “you’re not falling for it.”
Rinse and repeat.
This is a post I put up on the Harvard Business Review Blog. It's about an essential hostility between the corporation and the future. They are made of entirely different stuff, I argue.
To the corporation, the future looks a risk that can't be managed, an idea that can't be thought.
The corporation puts a particular boundary between now and the future. And it guards this border ferociously. New ideas are scrutinized with tough mindedness and high indignation. If we can't see the business model, we're not interested. If we can't see how to "monitize this sucker," we're not interested. When the future manifests itself merely as a murmur of possibility, we are not interested.
Too bad. There is really only one way to live in a world of speed, surprise, noise, and responsiveness, and that's to visit the future frequently. And, if we have the intellectual capital, maybe get a pied-à-terre there. Well, and if we're really committed, we need someone to take up residence full time.
Please click here for the whole of the post.
Acknowledgements: The image is from Tumbler and Villacollezione (http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/wooden%20planks). Thank you to Julia Matthews at the Royal Ontario Museum for helping me identify it.
See this wonderful ad from Haagen-Dazs and Goodby, Silverstein:
It suggests two things, I think, about branding and the future of advertising.
1. That we are now prepared to give the viewer a little credit.
Note that the brand and the agency are prepared to go with a foreign language.
And you can imagine how difficult this conversation would have been just 10 years ago. To trust anything to subtitles! To slow the ad! To turn the viewer into a reader! Unthinkable! Quite enough to make you want to throw a piece of crockery! AND POSSIBLY START YELLING AT SOMEONE!
There may once have been a time when the ad world treated the consumer is a dolt, a moron, an idiot but those days have passed. Or in the Cluetrain era, they are passing.
2. That we should be able to give the viewer more and more credit.
Some day, the brand and the agency will be brave enough to go without subtitles.
Have another look at the ad and put a post-it over the subtitles. The emotional power of the scene is undiminished. Indeed, it's more powerful because we don't have to take our eyes off these beautiful people, this splendid acting, and this moment of delicious outrage.
I will grant you this much. Without subtitles, we would miss two really wonderful lines from the actress: 1. "Isn't it your turn to apologize to me?" and 2. "You shouldn't yell at me!" (This from someone who is prepared to turn "honey, I'm home" into World War III.)
Subtitles give the viewer quite a lot of work to do. Giving them no subtitles would give them still more work to do. With no subtitles, we can I think guarantee 5 or 6 viewings.
Plus, I think we could assume that many people would take to the internet to look for a translation. And assuming they end up at a Haagen Dazs website, we have another brandable moment and our ad will have gone transmedia, a very good thing. Everyone is now a googling machine.
The two assertions come back together again in what is perhaps a new rule for the ad world.
The more credit and work we give the viewer, the more engagement, meaning and value they will give the brand.
Tip of the hat to the people responsible for this splendid work:
Ad Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Client Häagen-Dazs
Brand Manager at Haagen-Dazs: Cady Behles
Co-Chairman / Partner: Rich Silverstein
Associate Creative Director/ Copywriter: Will Elliott
Senior Art Director: Patrick Knowlton
Director of Broadcast Production/Associate Partner: Cindy Fluitt
Broadcast Producer: Melissa Nagy
Account Services Department
Group Account Director: Leslie Barrett
Account Director: Erin Fromherz
Account Manager: Kristen Baker
Assistant Account Manager: Lacy Borko
Brand and Communication Strategy
Group Brand Strategy Director: Kelly Evans-Pfeifer
Senior Brand Strategist: Molly Cabe
Business Affairs Manager: Mary Marhula
Production Company: H.S.I. / Person Films
Director: Michael Haussman
Director of Photography: Paolo Caimi
Executive Producers: Cecile Leroy, Michael McQuhae
Line Producer: Gianluca Leurini
Editing House: Union Editorial
Editor: Marco Perez
Assistant Editors: Nellie Phillips, Francesca Vassallo, Jedidiah Stuber
President / Executive Producer: Michael Raimondi
Executive Producer: Caryn Maclean
Producer: Sara Mills
Three paragraphs from my recent Wired essay on binging on TV:
Why do we binge watch? One way to answer this question is to say we binge on TV for the same reason we binge on food. For a sense of security, creature comfort, to make the world go away. And these psychological factors are no doubt apt.
But the anthropological ones are perhaps just as useful and a little less obvious. Because, as I’ve suggested here before, “culture is a thing of surfaces and secrets,” and the anthropologist is obliged to record the first and penetrate the second to figure out what’s going on.
I believe we binge on TV to craft time and space, and to fashion an immersive near-world with special properties. We enter a world that is, for all its narrative complexity, a place of sudden continuity. We may have made the world “go away” for psychological purposes, but here, for anthropological ones, we have built another in its place. The second screen in some ways becomes our second home.
I came to the conclusion that it's not a watch or a TV.
It's a version of telepresence so good it will be a little like teleportation, so good, that is to say, we will actually want to use it.
How do I know? Well, of course, I don't. My method was a kind of telepresence ethnography. I used empathy to take up residence in the Apple culture and I saw, or think I saw, two things:
1. that Apple wants to do great things. Reinventing the watch and the TV are too small.
2. that Apple wants to prove it can do great things without its guru, Steve Jobs.
What, I wondered, is big enough to be big enough for Apple? Telepresence feels right. To create this would be to transform the home, the work place, education, and perhaps also the city. Apple does it again.
Anyhow, that's the argument.
You can find the post at the Harvard Business Review Blog by clicking here.
If you have comments, I'd be grateful if you would please leave them at the HBR Blog. Thanks!
Credits: Thank you to BioShock for the image.
This is my Foreword for a new book on ethnographic method from Steve Portigal, Interviewing Users.
I was just looking at YouTube in a brave attempt to keep in touch with popular music, and I found the musician Macklemore doing a hip-hop celebration of the thrift store. (“Passing up on those moccasins someone else been walking in.”) Google results indicate that Macklemore is a product of Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington. And this is interesting because Evergreen produces a lot of ferociously creative kids—wild things who care nothing for our orthodoxy, and still less for our sanctimony.
Now, our curiosity roused, we might well decide to go visit Evergreen College, because as William Gibson put it, “The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Evergreen would be an excellent place to look for our futures. But it wouldn’t be easy or pleasant. We would struggle to get a fix on the sheer volcanic invention taking place here. Our sensibilities would be scandalized. We would feel ourselves at sea.
And that’s where ethnography comes in. It is, hands down, the best method for making our way through data that is multiple, shifting, and mysterious. It works brilliantly to help us see how other people see themselves and the world. Before ethnography, Evergreen is a bewildering place. After ethnography, it’s a place we “get.” (Not perfectly. Not comprehensively. But the basics are there, and the bridge is built.)
And that’s where Steve Portigal comes in. Armed with his method of interviewing, years of experience, a sustained devotion to the hard problems that our culture throws off (not just at Evergreen State College), and a penetrating intelligence, Steve could capture much of what we need to know about Evergreen, and he could do it in a week. And that’s saying something. Steve is like a Mars Rover. You can fire him into just about any environment, and he will come back with the fundamentals anatomized and insights that illuminate the terrain like flares in a night sky. Using his gift and ethnography, Steve Portigal can capture virtually any world from the inside out. Now we can recognize, enter, and participate in it. Now we can innovate for it, speak to it, serve it.
And if this is all Steve and ethnography can do, well, that would be enough. But Steve and the method can do something still more miraculous. He can report not just on exotic worlds like Evergreen, but the worlds we know—the living room, the boardroom, the not-for-profit, and the design firm. This is noble work because we think we grasp the world we occupy. How would we manage otherwise? But, in fact, we negotiate these worlds thanks to a series of powerful, intricate assumptions. The thing about these assumptions is that, well, we assume them. This means they are concealed from view.
We can’t see them. We don’t know they are active. We don’t know they’re there. Ethnography and Steve come in here, too. They are uniquely qualified to unearth these assumptions, to discover, in the immortal words of Macklemore, those moccasins we all go walking in.
This is a wonderful book. Steve can teach us how to improve our ability to penetrate other worlds and examine our assumptions. Ethnography has suffered terribly in the last few years. Lots of people claim to know it, but in fact the art and science of the method have been badly damaged by charlatans and snake oil salesmen.
Let’s seize this book as an opportunity to start again. Let Steve Portigal be our inspired guide.
Use discount code mccracken2013 to get 20% off Steve’s book here.(http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/interviewing-users/).
Orphan Black, the new show on BBC America (Saturday at 9:00 Eastern) is a pleasure. The theme is multiplicity, the writing is good, the acting is strong.
Seven women discover themselves to be clones. They are genetically identical. But that's where their similarities end.
Raised in different circumstances, countries and cultures, the "orphans" manage to represent some of the great diversity of the contemporary world.
These differences are enough to force them apart. But someone is trying to kill the clones so they are now obliged to work together.
Saturday, the "soccer mom" clone must stand in for the "Punk" clone. She must persuade everyone that she is the mother of the Punk's daughter. (The daughter spots her immediately. "You're not my mother.")
The soccer mom has an hour to get ready for her big performance, an hour to throw off suburban nicities and take on a brawling, street-smart cynicism. She is aided by the Punk's brother who says something like "Oh, God, this calls for a complete reverse Pygmalion."
It's one of those lovely moments, where an actress playing one person must now play that person playing a second person. Hats off to Tatiana Maslany, the very gifted actress who plays the clones.
The theme here is forced transformation, aka involuntary improv. As Orphan Black assumes the identity of another clone, the challenges come fast and furious. In rapid succession, she discovers that she has an American accent, a stylish condo, a dolt for a boyfriend, $75,000 sitting in the bank, a career as a police detective, and that she is under investigation for a crime she can only guess at.
In the title of the best book on improv, Orphan Black must deliver "something wonderful right away." This is improv in real time, under unforgiving pressure, with dire consequences attending failure.
I believe we are seeing this theme more and more in contemporary culture because it is more and more a theme in contemporary life. Increasingly, it's what life is like.
For more on this argument, see my book Transformations, on Amazon, by clicking here.
I was listening to Justin Timberland’s Mirrors the other day and at the 2:03 mark, something weird happens. It’s as if the song suffers a sudden loss of blood pressure.
The tempo so far has been driven by a calm but persistent momentum. A horse traveling at a canter, leisurely but insistent, the base line supplied by instruments and voices.
And then the momentum suddenly glides! The baseline stops. At 2:03 strings come in and fall away. And you think they are going to keep falling until strings come in again at 2:04. Between 2:03 and 2:04, there’s free fall.
It feels like the song is over. Then those second strings come in, just in time, to catch the song and prepare for a return to canter.
Not quite a resurrection. More like a save (in the baseball sense of the miraculous catch).
It’s hard to see what this intrusion means for Mirrors. The first time I heard it, it seemed to me that the song was wheeling (as trains do) and now moving off in a new direction. But Mirrors comes out of this swoon the song it was going in. Nothing has changed. (Unless I’m missing something. You can tell that I don’t know anything about music. So something might have changed and I can’t see it.)
I might have ignored this aspect of Mirrors, except that it reminded me of the music that accompanies a recent Microsoft ad. This is Labrinth’s Express Yourself. This is a good natured, peppy, confessional little song that comes with an admonishing chorus: Express yourself!
No sooner has this chorus started than (at 0:54) it sounds like a Paris ambulance has decided to take a short cut through our “listening experience.” Klaxon blaring! Get out of the way! This is an emergency!
It’s glorious, great confusion, as the song has suffered a blowout, lost its stability and fights now to get things back under control. Express Yourself on two wheels! Look out!
Popular music has often cultivated this conceit, that it is a lord of misrule capable of summoning terrible confusions and disorders. In fact, “Look out!” is exactly what guitarist sometimes mutter at the beginning of a solo, as if chaos were now to be unleashed. I am not always buying it, but I am usually charmed. “A” for effort and grandiosity.
Again, it’s not clear what the Paris ambulance adds to the song. It sounds out of place. Not quite in error. Not entirely apt.
And this reminded me of that moment in Beyonce’s Single Ladies (Put a ring on it) where we get (at 0:52) what struck on first hearing as “dread chords.” They come in like a low pressure zone, dark, menacing, and if this weren’t a pop song, majestic.
These three things are anthropologically obvious…or at least probable.
1) That music is one of the most cultural of cultural artifacts. What works in one culture is strange and unpleasant in another. We are extremely particular about what we like and what we don’t.
2) That music is rule bound. The rules specify, among other things, how sounds should be chosen and combined. Some selections and combinations are so conventionalized, they become genres. But what confines some artists frees other, and part of the fun of musical creativity is seeing what an artist can make these rules do, by stretching them to the breaking point and in some cases deliberately violating them. This is what keeps music “fresh.”
3) Some of the rules of music call for “harmony.” Some sounds go together, some do not. It’s a largely arbitrary arrangement. It varies between communities and it changes over time. But at any given time for any given group, the rules say some sounds go together more surely than others.
And what we are looking at in the case of Timberlake, Labrinth and Beyonce are sounds that so clearly don’t go with the surrounding sounds that they seem to qualify as intruders. They remain separate and different. They are passengers. Stowaways even.
The simplest explanation for these dark passengers is that they are post hoc efforts to give the song additional depth and credibility. The artist says, “oh, God, we’ve gone too far. This is bubble gum. Do something!” And faithfully, the tune smith or the producer comes up with a sound that “runs against type” as we used to say of casting Broadway or Hollywood actors.
But I think there’s another explanation. Or, better, I wonder whether we should search for the explanation elsewhere. I wonder if culture, and in this case pop culture, is changing. Changing so much that unitness is breaking down. Cultural rules once said what a unit was and how to constitute it, not least how to specify what goes in a song and what does not. This is what gave a song its “thingness.” This is what allowed the artist and the listener to agree that, yes, this is a song.
If its possible now to smuggle music into a song that doesn’t quite go, well, that would be interesting. After all popular culture has been ruthlessly crafted. Artists are controlled by conventions and producers who are controlled by genres and labels who are controlled by sales numbers. Even in an era of indie and alt musical producers, music is crafted quite carefully. Rules are honored. Conventions play out.
But if an artist/producer/label can now allow dark passengers, musical moments that are not just cast against type, but markedly different in tone and character, then what we call a “song” is changing. And if that’s changing, well, think what else must be changing.
On changing in music and the music biz, see the remarkable work being done by Leora Kornfeld over at Demassed.
Have a look.
You will see that I rush the conclusion. These are early days and at the moment we have little more than a suggestive trace of the new trend. Still, early notice has to start somewhere, as it were.
Here's a paragraph from the post.
Why sweetness? Well, we are coming out of an era of some darkness. We seemed almost to celebrate skepticism and snark. We dwelt upon the grimmest aspects of the human experience. TV and movie making were increasingly ghoulish, with new standards of viscera and depravity. Shows like CSI and NCIS dwell lovingly on the crime victim. Bright lights and strategically placed towels protect our sexual sensitivities, but everything else on the autopsy table is enthusiastically examined. Once the standard bearer of heartlessness, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) now looks a little quaint. Since its release, we have seen a succession of werewolves, vampires, serial killers, and human monsters of every kind. If you are 40 or under, you've grown up on a steady diet of heartlessness.
This just in (Tuesday, February 26)
Steve Crandall had this excellent datum to add to the post. It turns out he recently had dinner with one of the writers for Big Bang Theory, who "said the show was designed to be "sweet' … characters who might be considered intimidating due to their skill in math and science [were] brought down to human scale by being socially clueless and quite "sweet"."
Thank you, Steve. (See Steve's excellent blog here.)
It's not hard to imagine why Netflix has decided to focus on original programming (most recently with House of Cards and now with an animated children's series). Making oneself an exclusive source for a show starring Kevin Spacey is a great way to sweeten the value proposition and compete with Hulu and Amazon. Plus, eventually every grocer wants to be a P&G. Why merely manage the channel when you can start filling it?
But Hollywood is not just any industry. It's the true north of our culture. To become a broker here! Think of the power! Think of the parties! And this is why so many are called. Everyone would like to be a player and Hollywood is littered with the wreckage of careers of people who looked at the entertainment industry and thought, "I would love to be a big shot and, anyhow, how hard can it be?" It turns out that making entertainment is extremely hard. Even Disney can make a stinker like John Carter. Even very talented people (the Weinstein brothers or Bonnie Hammer, for instance) make mistakes.
For the rest of this post, please click here.
My nephew is up for an interview at the college of his choice. Everyone is thrilled. His speciality is the classics so I am no use at all.
But what, I wondered, would be a good way of quizzing someone about how much they knew about contemporary culture.
As it happened, I was working on a Keynote deck for which I produced the image above. It has several bits and pieces. We could just to hand an applicant the image and invite them to comment. This would be one of several "quizzes" and is not meant to be the only useful test.
There are no right answers. But I think we would be able to judge very swiftly whether someone had depth, range, intelligence, and what do they call it in tennis, "touch." I want you to identify each of these images and tell us how and why what they represent matters to contemporary culture. You should be able to speak for 5 minutes on each image...and that's just for starters.
Please have a go and if you feel like banding off a thousand words I would be happy to put together a set of judges with the winner getting a Minerva award.
Or just work out your answers "in your head" and let's discuss our various answers in a later post.
Click on the image to see the whole test!
I can't supply attribution for these photos. If you recognize where they came from originally, please let me know!
Every time we renew the debate on women in combat, I think of the soldier in Aliens, rippling with muscles and attitude.
A fellow soldier asks her,
"Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?"
She turns and asks him cooly,
"No, have you?"
I thought this might stand forever as the best response to a someone who dares challenge a woman's abilities on the field of battle.
But then I saw the scene in The Dark Knight Rises where someone asks Cat woman,
"Hey, do those shoes make it hard to walk?"
She kicks the offender in the groin and asks,
"I don't know. Do they?"
Portlandia (Fridays, 10:00, IFC) has started its third season. Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) continue to search the city for satiric targets. And because satiric targets are one of Portland's chief exports, the comedic opportunities are many: Bed and Breakfasts, knitting, pickling — and organic deodorant: