Why hire a Business Anthropologist?

A Business Anthropologist

Anthropologist used to take off to exotic places. Upon their return they would tell stories beyond the imagination of their audience. Now why, you might wonder, what would bring such a person to the table in a corporate setting. Well, there might be other reason than great stories around a campfire to hire a business anthropologist.

So why are companies looking for anthropologists? Let’s see what answers we can find.

Three perspectives

Here we share some perspective on the value of anthropology in a business environment.

First, Abdo López has a convincing argument that anthropology is going to save your business

When producing knowledge through social research anthropology takes the study process very, very seriously. So much that, in my opinion, it is the most reliable method to understand human behaviour, who, how, why, when we do what we do. Its ability to work in an interdisciplinary way and its widespread view are impressive, being able to examine the micro and the macro, the global and the local, the space-time context in a given situation to fears that an individual could experience on certain topics.

Second, Business insider is able to contrast the skills of anthropologist with the managers.

While most execs are masters of analyzing spreadsheets, creating processes, and pitching products, anthropologists — and other practitioners of applied social science — can arrive at customer insights that big data tends to gloss over, especially around the role that products play in people’s lives. 

Third, Alex Stewart teaches us the achievements of an anthropologist

They can, and they have, improved the design of work processes and flows and the design of goods or services thus produced.  By “studying up” (Nader, 1969) rather than studying only the less powerful, they have also improved our understanding of elites who affect much of life in complex societies.  They have also been able to offer their help not only to large established firms, but also to entrepreneurs who build up wealth for the poor.  In all of these endeavors they can take pride for taking their place in a most distinguished tradition that began with “industrial ethnology” and continues to grow with the multiple branches of “business anthropology”.


Josh Roberts on an anthropologist doing ethnographic research among costumers:

For businesses, understanding the lives, desires, motivations, and habits of their client is critical for providing the right products and services to the right people. This is where ethnography is crucial. You can make assumptions about a person’s purchasing habits or service needs, or you can discover what’s beyond their wallet through direct interaction and communication. This discovery process is the cornerstone of ethnography.


One area that anthropology can help organisations is dealing with technology.

Ingrid Brudvig:

Technology is a social tool that requires understanding of social and cultural factors for it to be a driver of equality. Failing to incorporate an anthropological perspective into tech design, development and policy risks increasing social inequalities driven by digital exclusion. It also makes it more likely that your product or service will fail.

What would you think is the best reason to hire a business anthropologist? Let us know!

Are you an anthropologist and want to step into the field of business. Take a look at this advice gathered by Shelly Habecker

Companies that have used anthropologists

Some examples of companies that have conducted ethnographies of their own culture include:

  1. Google: Google has used anthropologists to better understand aspects like the meaning of mobile technology within their organization[1].
  2. Intel: Intel has employed corporate ethnography to gain a deeper understanding of customers, inform strategy and planning, and enhance innovation within the company[3].
  3. Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo brought anthropologists into businesses where they were planning to engage, enabling them to match the right team of people with the culture they were entering[1].
  4. Samsung: Samsung conducted ethnographic research in customers’ homes to understand how people interacted with their large screen TVs, leading to insights on customer preferences beyond technical specifications[1].

These examples demonstrate how companies across various industries have utilized ethnographic research to gain insights into their own cultures and improve their understanding of employees and customers.

What is the difference between a business anthropologist, design ethnographer, and UX researcher?

A business anthropologist applies anthropological methods in a business context in order to get a deep understanding of what drives the clients or employees in their behaviour and opinions and so is not limited to product related research; a UX researcher is related to product related research, but is not limited to anthropological methods; and finally a design ethnographer is at the joint of those two disciplines applying anthropological research methods to product related research.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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