Tag Archives: BusinessWeek

Making culture, categorizing culture

Good things happen when we loiter.

We start to notice.

Someone was noticing at the Boston Book Festival.

Here’s what they saw:

literary tattoo
cat jewelry
Chicago Manual of Style tote back
funny hat
drunk author

These are telling details.  They are not a perfect rendering of Book Festival culture, but they’re a charming first start.  Next Book Festival, everyone will be a little more alert.  Except for of course for the drunk author.  

BusinessWeek sent observers to airports in Paris, Montreal, and New York City. 

They began to notice and then to generalize:

Luggage Riflers
CNN Segment Chortlers
Twitchers and Touchers
Fortress Builders
Food Stuffers
The Wired Neurotic
Tabloid Readers
Chair Hoarders

Stuck at an airport, people try to make the best of a bad situation.  They resort to several strategies, all of which test the rules of public life.  Noticing happens, categories blossom. Is this perfect anthropology.  But of course not.  We have a very short while to make our observations.  The trick is to see whether we can find a "square inch" and work it.  

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the anthropological work of Normal Bob.  He has done a typology of the people we see at Union Square in New York City. Normal Bob, (aka Bob Hain) has observed "skaters," "scenesters," "models," and "junkies." He also has documented Ramblin’ Bill, The DJ and Quarter Guy.

Spotting culture is a way of creating culture.  Everyone is smarter and more observant when we’ve given them the ethnographic head’s up.  Cat jewelry?  I had no idea.  But now I will look for it.  When I am stuck at the airport, I will use the BusinessWeek typology to observe the people around me.  New categories will suggest themselves.  Old ones will get refined. Union Square?  I will keep my "Normal Bob" cheat sheet in mind as I go.

Our culture is that it is in a state of constant churn.  There is lots to observe. Patterns come and go.  And when we notice stuff happening, our work is only particularly done.  Now it’s time to create artifacts like Bingo cards, BusinessWeek typologies and Normal Bob categories. Having observed culture, it’s time to create it.   


Anonymous.  2010.  Boston Book Festival Bingo Card. Boston Phoenix. click here.

McCracken, Grant.  2010.  Normal Bob, Extranormal Anthropologist.  This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  click here.

Murphy, Tim. 2011. Airport Gate Semiotics. BusinessWeek. January 10 – January 16. pp. 76-77.


Patti Wood, author of Success Signals; Jason Barger, author of Step Back from the Baggage Claim, David Givens, author of Your Body at Work.  Wood, Barger and Givens are the authors of the Airport Gate typology in BusinessWeek.  

Creativity’s brief moment in the sun?

At year’s end, I have an unhappy thought, that some of the creative professionals who rose of prominence in the first decade of the 21st century will be eclipsed by the end of the decade.  My unhappy thought: the first decade of the 21st century will be for some creative professionals, a brief moment in the sun.

This suspicion turns on three propositions.

1) There has been a change in supply.

As Henry Jenkins pointed out in Textual Poachers and as I labored to point out in Plenitude, the distinction between cultural producers and consumers began to blur in the last 20 years.  Indeed, there was a vast migration from one side of the distinction to the other.  Many people who once merely consumed culture (in the form of film, art, comedy, observation, journalism, criticism) were now surprisingly good at producing this culture.  Suddenly in the economy of culture, the number of suppliers exploded.

2)  There has been a change in demand.

The first decade of the 21st century  was the moment in which the corporation reached out and embraced creativity. We have many institutions and people to thank for this, including BusinessWeek (when it announced the innovation economy), Richard Florida and his study of the creative class, the Kelley brothers (David at Stanford design school, and Tom at Ideo), Roger Martin at the Rotman School, to name a few .

3) There has been a change in the market in which supply and demand find one another

Recently, I was chatted with Richard Shear. He’s owns a design firm.  Over the years he’s done very well, thank you very much. But he can see a cloud on the horizon.  He is seeing some corporations "crowdsourcing" their creativity.  They hold competitions in which all the design talent "out there" is encouraged to apply.  The best work is selected…and paid much less than my friend would have charged.  In sum, demand may be increasing, but supply is increasing more. So prices are falling.

A case in point: that image that appears in the upper right hand corner of this post?  I just bought it from istockphoto.  It cost me a dollar.

4) Creative professionals may lose their moment in the sun.

The economics of creativity may be changing, and this trend appears to be on a collision with the trend that made designers the charmed creatures of the corporation.  It’s possible that the great golden age of commercial creativity may end almost before it began.  By the end of the decade of the next century, we may be looking at a very different design world.

5) Recommendation

In the new "crowdsourced" economy, there will be one place where designers will continue to flourish.  It will be with clients who do not know what they need.  When they do know what they need, they will take advantage of the new economy.  But when they don’t, they will need a enduring connection with a designers who gets who they are, who the consumer is, and what the culture is.  They will need designers who deliver a larger package of knowledge, intelligence, and creativity.  (To be sure, this is the way great designers always seen what they do.)  The upshot?Designers should be cultivating the skills that enable them to deliver ideas and intelligence, not just design.  (To be fair, this is what all design schools say they do.)  This will take a new order of professional development.  (It will mean that designers will have to be Chief Culture Officers, whomever else they are.)

There’s good news: that as the world grows more dynamic, more and more clients are going to need more foundational work from their designers.  They won’t know what they need. They will come to the designer with a wish for a bigger picture, pattern recognition, a true knowledge and mastery of culture, a feeling for the competitive field and a deeper skill set that is perhaps now usual.


Florida, Richard. 2003. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Basic Books.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge.

McCracken, Grant.  1997.  Plenitude.  Toronto: Periph Fluide.

McCracken, Grant.  2009.  Chief Culture Officer.  Basic Books.

Mandel, Michael.  2004.  "This Way to the Future." BusinessWeek, October 11.

Kelley, Thomas, and Jonathan Littman. 2005. The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. New York: Broadway Business.

Moldoveanu, Mihnea C., and Roger L. Martin. 2008. The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future. New York: Oxford University Press.

Winsor, John.  2009.  The power of And.  John Winsor’s Blog.  December 30. here.


I have the uneasy feeling that my recommendation comes from someone somewhere.  I have been reading widely over the holidays, and there has been a lot of water under the board (internet surfing, that is).  If someone knows the source of this argument, please let me know.

Note: this post was lost late last year due to Network Solutions’ incompetence.  I am reposting it today December 31, 2010.