Monday, January 6, 2020, I read an interview in Bloovi with colleague corporate anthropologist, Jiske Kramer. Sound fragments immediately come back from my study period: “hmm what are you studying? “What’s that, what’s in it for you? Why do your parents pay for your study? You can’t make money with that, can you? ” “Is that useful?”

And they were partly right… it was not easy to look for a job, especially with little work experience in a crisis period, a while ago. What it was: a very educational experience, which makes me look at the world differently and from which I still reap the benefits every day, certainly within this transforming society.

Where there are people, people get “messed up”

Jitske Kramer and Danielle Braun have released two books together in which they apply their approach to knowledge gained from other cultures within the business world. They refer to the importance of rituals, stories, roles. People are and remain people and have been struggling with the same interpersonal problems for years. Humans are strange creatures and sometimes very difficult to predict.

The business world needs to be humanized again: people and people-to-people relationships must regain importance. There is a need for empathy, compassion. Very beautiful and I am sure … but there is more!

My approach is different. What is the added value of the anthropologist?

• methodology used within cultural anthropology
• the developed skills of the anthropologist

Applied anthropology within the businessworld?

Certainly, in times when lifelong learning, the 21st-century skills, and the demand for an open mindset of employees are gaining importance, the added value of applied anthropology within the business world is increasing.

The new idea about network economy, in which the ecosystem is a dynamic factor, is growing. The role and relational connections between the different players in an ecosystem are changing rapidly. In other words, tomorrow your competitor is your partner or your customer. This has various consequences for society and business, new and changing business models arise.

Diversity and interdisciplinarity are accelerators par excellence, in the scope of innovation. Creative ideas often arise at intersections. With such a differentiated group you come to an explosion of ideas and solutions. If you work in a heterogeneous group, there is any way a need for being open-minded, otherwise, you cannot work together. You try to understand each other as well as possible, ask for insights, listen, and learn from different angles.

Companies such as Google, Nissan, and IBM have been working with anthropologists (both internally and externally). The anthropologists have functions in various domains: research both within product design and organizational level, within marketing and market research agencies, and certainly also within innovation teams.

5 topics that forms the added value of the anthropologist

During his training, the anthropologist learns to discover, to understand, problems in other ways. The commitment and way of approaching and solving the problem are also very different from people from other disciplines. The anthropological approach contains a methodology, a course of action that is focused on the continuous collection and analysis of what happens on the market or within an organization. Different perspectives are all accepted at the same time. These different viewpoints will be integrated into a larger, more coherent image. This image will continue to change and will therefore never be complete: it always integrates new elements and repels old ones. One speaks of integrative complexity.

1. Culture is a process: it is never finished and always changing.

An anthropologist sees culture as a process that comprises a whole of variables. It is a spider’s web of what people think, have, and do. Culture changes and is not measurable or manipulable but remains grainy, incomplete.

Through a series of workshops, you are not going to turn the corporate culture into a corporate culture that supports innovation, it is a continuous process that needs to be worked on. There are experts who promise to introduce innovation in the short term thanks only to the use of tools. Often people play on fear, “you have to innovate or you won’t make it”. Fear causes people to temporarily adjust their behavior, but behavioral change is not internalized. You get a shiny innovation sauce that no longer shines but smells after a few months.

2. Collecting data through observation

Used in applied anthropology with participatory observation as a research method. They observe people, the interactions, and relationships, they listen to stories and see which cultural proverbs and metaphors are used. Different types of data are collected and connected to each other in order to acquire additional information and insights.

Taking a survey is really not enough. There is a risk of Self-fulfilling prophecy occurring. People want to “please”. Systematic observation is a solution to know what works and what doesn’t. Example of how people use technology or tools during their working day. How an employee gets meaning from his work… We quickly make assumptions and generalizations here, but we don’t really know.

Conclusion: observation is a must. Through this way of research, people know what and why it actually happens in an organization.

3. Integration of different perspectives.

Anthropologists are trained to see, analyze, and integrate both an emic and etic perspective and to integrate these two views.

By emic, we mean that the anthropologist understands the customers and the employees from the point of view and the experience of the customer/employee. How does the community view this? The etic approach is then a viewpoint from someone outside the community.

4. Comparing and discovering contrasting patterns.

An anthropologist views the life of the consumer or employee and that of the organization/company holistically. In other words, Data is collected through time — past, present, and future — and place — the headquarters, the various branches spread geographically. They see the whole, compare parts (subcultures), and discover contrasting patterns.

5. Conceptualization

As an anthropologist, you are challenged to conceptualize culture (organization, country, communities) in such a way that ethnocentrism (the belief that one’s own culture is better than the others) has no place. This is a stumbling block that is often found in the market research, one is so convinced of the product.


The deployment of anthropologists within a company ensures that there is room within the company for an extensive and empathetic world view. This alone has immeasurable value, certainly in the scope of innovation and transformation, both in terms of design and on the human level.

Imagination and being open to other experiences provides new insights, creativity and innovation that we need as an organization to grow. Through observation and imagination, we come to a connection and let it be precisely this network of people who ensure that your organization and you learn, grow and innovate. ”
Evelien Verschroeven

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