Tag Archives: anthropologist

Omnicom and Publicis: their kingdom for an anthropologist

john-wren-1_416x416We break our usual Saturday silence to bring you this astonishing quote from John Wren.

It was issued yesterday as the head of Omnicom discussed the failure of the proposed merger with Publicis.

Apparently, the causes went beyond tax and regulatory challenges.

“We knew there would be differences in corporate cultures of Omnicom and Publicis.  I know now that we underestimated the depths of these cultural differences. I want to emphasize these were differences of corporate not national culture.”

Very smart lawyers were working on the tax and regulatory issues.  If only they had had an anthropologist working on the cultural ones.

Source for quote: Laurel Wentz in Ad Age, see the full coverage here.

Advice to an aspiring anthropologist

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:

Jim,

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.

Best, Grant

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. 

Your faithful correspondent at Futures of Entertainment 6 last month at MIT

Click on this image for an excerpt of remarks by Grant McCracken in a session called “Listening and Empathy: Making Companies More Human” at Futures of Entertainment 2012, MIT, Cambridge, November 9, 2012.

Thanks to Sam Ford for organizing and moderating this event and to fellow participants who are, cruelly and unreasonably, excluded from this edit: Lara Lee, Carol Sanford, and Emily Yellin. For the full video, please go to http://bit.ly/WTy3dE.

Comments please.

Medieval marketing

Please come have a look at my thoughts on the revolution sweeping through the world of marketing and the rise of secret messages in contemporary culture.

You can find them here at the Harvard Business Review blog.  Click here.  

Writing and wrestling

For the ancient Greeks, muses inspired the creators of poetry and myth, whispering deathless prose and immortal truths.

My muse are a roller derby team, the Dock Yard Derby Dames.  The brunette scowling is called Mytai SmashYa (aka Might I Smash You).  I met them at the Bob Rivers show on K-ZOK radio in Seattle when I was on tour for Chief Culture Officer.  I have never been the same.

The Dock Yard Derby Dames are a source of constant inspiration on the present book. They keep up a ferocious pace around the track, sometimes pushing, sometimes clearing the way. And when I completely run out of ideas, they pull up beside me, lift me by the elbows, and fling me into the crowd.  This has a way of getting my attention and I return to the track with a firm resolve never to run out of ideas again.  

This post is my way of apologizing for my absence here.  I just have to keep at it.  Because, well you know.  The dames. 

Melville Herskovits: the Elvis of African-American studies

PBS has "must-see" viewing tonight.  (It’s on at 11:00 on my PBS station in NYC.  Check the PBS Independent Lens website here for local listings and more details.)

It’s a documentary called Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness.  Melville Herskovits (1895-1963) established the African Studies Center at Northwestern, the first at any American university, and he wrote The Myth of the Negro Past, which help re-defined black history.

Harvard history prof, Vincent Brown, calls Herskovits the "Elvis of African-American studies."  (Coincidentally, this wins our "best metaphor" award for Winter 2010.)

Here’s what the Independent Lens says about the Herskovits accomplishment:

When a white, Jewish intellectual named Melville Herskovits asserted in the 1940s that black culture was not pathological, but in fact grounded in deep African roots, he gave vital support to the civil rights movement and signaled the rise of identity politics.

Pictured: Vincent Brown, Professor of History at Harvard and project advisor, Christine Herbes-Sommers, Executive Producer, and Llewellyn Smith, Director and Producer of Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness.

Note: this post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle.  It was restored December 26, 2010.