by JASMINE CHIA & SAMUEL HAGEN
A senior leadership team gathers in the executive boardroom. The doors are closed; the glass is opaque. Sparkling water is served. Projected on the conference screen is not a financial statement, or an operating report, but instead, an intricate diagram resembling a map or relational lineage. The subject of the meeting is the company’s reorganization – a “reorg.” Perhaps a desperate cost-cutting measure, or perhaps a tactfully planned efficiency boost, this reorg is led by a team of outside management consultants who drew the diagram slide and now lead the meeting. A confluence of rectangular boxes – “heads” – are organized according to hierarchy, with the CEO (and her board) on top; one notch down are the leaders of each business unit – Product, Sales, Finance, Human Resources. But the way these organizational charts will be re-drawn is not a purely functional exercise – like map-making, it is deeply symbolic and imbued with power.
Figure 1 (left): First organizational chart...
by TOM HOY, Stripe Partners
Sensemaking: The Power of Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm
2017, 240 pp, Hachette Books
Christian Madsbjerg has done a huge amount to elevate the profile and impact of ethnography in corporate settings. As co-founder of ReD Associates, Madsbjerg makes a consistent and compelling case for ethnographers to set their sights beyond user experience and design to impact decisions at the pinnacle of global organisations.
His new book Sensemaking advances his mission further, advocating humanities-based thinking to a much wider business audience. The central analysis feels more even resonant today than when the book was released last year: the power of big data has created a false idol, lulling us into the belief that the algorithm has the capacity to replace critical thinking.
What unfolds is a story which is compelling and bold in critique, but strangely conservative and ambiguous in the solutions it prescribes.
Silicon Valley and the Renaissance Man [sic]
by ANDREAS WESTER HANSEN, Senior Manager, ReD Associates
In recent years, business anthropologists have come to play a role as top-level advisors to large corporations. In particular, anthropologists have helped corporations shift their gaze from an inside-out perspective to an outside-in perspective on their companies (Madsbjerg and Rasmussen, 2014a).
Business anthropologist (Baba, M. 2006) who have challenged the conventional inside-out approach to corporate decision-making, have often been active in helping companies pursue ‘blue ocean strategies’ (Kim and Mauborgne 2015, Kim and Maugborne 2005), ‘disruptive innovations’ (Christensen, 1997) or more generally to pursue ‘differentiation’ as opposed to ‘cost leadership’ strategies (Porter, 1985). Other times, business anthropologists have studied and helped companies make sense of their organizational cultures (Schein 2004) or focused on the globalizing nature of the contemporary organization (Jordan, 2013).
Cost reduction is still considered outside of domain of...
EPIC Profiles Series
by SHAE QUABBA
How to Succeed in Business (Using Ethnography)
Christian Madsbjerg gives the sense he is on a quest. He talks about the world with interest, respects intellectual firepower to resolve problems and doesn’t believe in the ‘dumbing down’ of anthropology or ethnographic practice. He is determined to understand how corporations operate and to mature the practice of corporate ethnography to better comprehend how people engage in the world.
An outsider in many respects, Madsbjerg finds himself at the heart of US corporate strategy on a daily basis. A former philosophy student, Madsbjerg is a senior partner at ReD Associates, a consultancy that guides companies toward smarter strategy using the principles of anthropology and phenomenology. With offices in Copenhagen and New York, ReD Associates provide services to Fortune 300 companies, assisting them to navigate through complex problems.
The impetus for working in the field of applied business anthropology was simple: “I learned that the...