Posts Tagged With: corporate culture

Lessons From Corporate America on Humanizing Poverty

I originally wrote the post below for my company (Culture) blog and also set it here on linkedin

Hope you enjoy the inspiration.

Last year we completed what ended up being an intensely inspiring project…

Our client identified a customer group that they realized they hadn’t been serving to their fullest potential because it is a “target” that they knew very little about. Not only were they profoundly aware of this knowledge gap, but also that their ethnocentric point of view as a corporate culture was definitely going to be a road block on the innovation journey.

This set of humans our client sought so deeply to understand are American families and older adults living at or near the poverty line.

These are people who struggle to provide for themselves and their families and rely on “the system” to help them subsist. These are their customers and potential customers who spend their money from the bottom rungs of the hierarchy of needs and who typically get screened out of market research studies because their income falls below “acceptable” levels.

They are still on their journey and developing empathy every day that is fueling a rampant momentum in the socially forward activation of a newly invigorated corporate mission. And one big lesson they learned about this customer group is that money is not at the root of a person’s inability to break free from the grips of poverty, but it’s the degree to which our cultural views of poverty and social services systems are preventing meaningful relationship-building and provision of resources to allow people to do the work of living to their potential.

The reason they began to understand this (how most people begin to understand one another) is because they made a point to be present in the worlds of these customers, asking questions that go beyond the transactional nature typically used in market research to unearth the principles and behaviors that bring the highest common denominator values that these humans share to light. They unearthed a number of insights from this work which inspired a broad swath of innovation opportunities that, as it turns out, are acutely aligned with their corporate purpose.

This approach of developing empathy through values alignment is what has fueled Culture’s success in giving our corporate clients permission to grow their businesses by being more human.

While this may be an unusual target for consumer brands company to focus on, it is an approach to understanding that many big (and small) businesses are beginning to prioritize; aligning company and ultimately brand values with customer values to create “love connections” that inspire and motivate meaningful actions.

 But this approach is not one often seen applied (beyond the academic space) in the social services realm.

Why? This kind of work is not necessarily feasible for a public sector agency – for a number of systemic reasons that go beyond money. But perhaps the most obvious of which is that recipients of social services are not seen as “customers” but as burdens to the system and therefore not entitled to being understood on a human level in order to design more efficient and effective social services systems.

And delivering any kind of relevant product or service comes from making meaningful human connections. But that’s an easy thing to say. In order to innovate what is widely agreed-upon as a broken system, we must seek first to understand the human needs, rooted in the deepest-held values that unify this distinct cultural group within our American culture. We do this by understanding the context of the lives of the customers we serve.

It is important in Cultural Strategy work like this to address the anthropological challenge of cultural relativism (as we do here at Culture).

This theoretical guideline allows the story of that culture’s context and values system to be told from the perspective of the humans being served – in this case, customers of social services like SNAP (food stamps). Because nobody living outside their context can tell them anything about who they are, what they need and what their “problem” is unless they have lived on their block, in their lives, with their paycheck.

It is one thing to exist on the policy-side and use data to guide decisions. It is yet another to be on customer-service-facing end of social services and only see the tired, frustrated, impatient, sometimes unorganized and often seemingly “unmotivated” people rushing to get their benefits and get out the door. But if we take a moment to step in to the shoes of this set of struggling Americans, like teachers, bakers or nurses, that’s why we recommend nursing shoes at ShoeFinale.
From them we learn a few things about why empowerment to lift one’s self out of poverty is lacking.

For example: when you spend all your time and energy working long hours for little pay (often in service oriented professions that most middle and upper class Americans couldn’t do without), managing tedious transactions with government agencies and also dong your best to care and provide for a family – there is little time to connect with yourself and your highest order needs, let alone make meaningful connections with others that inspire and motivate progress.

So how do we get “the system” to start realizing what at least our clients and many other businesses out there are already embracing – that people should be the bottom line and that meaningful progress comes from building relationships? What are the ways we can learn from the lives of people living in poverty – the values that motivate their behavior and ultimately what their unmet human needs are above and beyond physiological ones?

What if the system were easier to navigate? What if customers could spend less time filling out / following up on piles of paperwork and more time focusing on work and family? What if – once they got a better job and made just a little bit more money they were allowed to keep their benefits for a while to build a savings instead of having their benefits cut and ultimately falling behind (newsflash –a $5/hour salary increase doesn’t make up for having $700 a month in family food benefits cut). What if the experience of going to a social services office to apply for benefits was simply a more loving and less demoralizing experience?

It’s a hierarchy of needs issue. Subsistence is a basic human need. But when we don’t have what we need to survive and feel like the system doesn’t care, we don’t feel the sense of love and belonging that ultimately allows us to develop self-esteem and empower our move upward.

Perhaps government agencies can take some time to examine the value Cultural Strategy can bring to innovate social services.

If social science can be applied to innovate consumer products for the middle class, certainly it can be used to lift people out of poverty – helping our economy and our society to grow and thrive by creating a culture of belonging.


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Categories: Anthropology, Business and Culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Creating The Culture That Will Change The World

Superhero kid


I’ve had a bit of an absence from the blogosphere lately.  Not for lack of inspiration and desire to pontificate on the quirks of consumer culture – but because I have been busy trying to figure out a way to save the world.  Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit Narcissistic to think that a humble cultural strategist can save the world.  Then again, I resemble that remark.  But here’s the thing – so do the swelling ranks of consultants, brand strategists and corporate leaders who have been awakening to realize the power of business and brands to create positive social change in the world.

I have spent the bulk of the past year whilst in a bit of career transition trying to figure out how to more overtly begin applying my skills as a brand strategy consultant and cultural researcher more directly to the practice of helping my clients make the world better through the power of their brands.   I’ve always had a secret superhero identity under my blazer, t-shirt, jeans and Converse.  It’s the wonder girl who sneaks the “better for you” customer values vitamins into the “how do we sell more soda” strategies for my clients.  But it’s time to bust through the costume and wave my true colors.  I’m officially coming out as a  do-gooder!

But I’m not the only one.


Anyone who doesn’t live underground in a bubble devoid of communication with the outside world has seen the turning tide in global brands and purchase behavior.  We have seen the rise of small players like Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes whose purpose from inception as ideals based brands was to help provide resources to those in need.Web-based entities like Etsy and Kickstarter provide platforms for individuals to live their dreams and establish their own small businesses instead of succumbing to life in a cubicle cage.

Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan, formerly co-founders of the And1 basketball lifestyle brand, in a quest to find a way to serve the world through creating a better way to do business, established B-Lab and  the The B Corporation Certification of which there are thousands of global companies (among them brands like the aforementioned as well as  Patagonia ,  Ben and Jerry’s and Green Mountain Energy ) that have been proven via rigorous metrics that they are contributing to a better for the world.



Even global corporations have begun to see the light of the “Triple Bottom Line” and  retool their business and brand strategies to keep up with the growing imperative placed on big corporations by their customers to use their powers for good.  A great example is Project Sunlight, an initiative spearheaded by  global packaged goods giant,  Unilever, to empower youth to help youth activate their power to solve some of the worlds biggest problems – like eradicating hunger.

So what’s an anthropologist got to do with it?  Well – I’ve teamed up with another superhero cultural strategist and we have relaunched our cultural strategy agency with a very distinct purpose in mind.  We will use our powers for good – and help our growing roster of global clients do the same.  Because as it turns out (and it’s about time to let the secret out of the bag), doing business that makes the world better is actually better for business.

Companies who are run based on ideals and who employ sustainable and socially forward business practices actually grow faster and are more profitable.  Don’t believe me?  Read the studies.  Books like Grow by former Procter and Gamble General Manager, Jim Stengel show proof based on rigorous research that ideals-based brands who apply rigorous socially forward standards are those who reap the fastest rewards.

In an excerpt from B Corp Handbook, the authors play hardball, citing the following for those who are more motivated Wall Street:

        “For example, Goldman Sachs reported that ‘more capital is now focused on sustainable business models, and the market is rewarding leaders and new entrants in a way that could scarcely have been predicted even fifteen years ago.’ Goldman Sachs found that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of investors seeking to incorporate sustainability and environmental, social and governance factors into their portfolio construction.

In a report that echoes this sentiment, the International Finance Corporation found that the Dow Jones Sustainability Index performed an average of 36.1 percent better than the traditional Dow Jones Index offer a period of Five years.”

Therefore, pardon the recent conspicuous absence while my partner and I have been in “Pinky and The Brain” mode. But rest assured I have been on a worthy mission in my mouse-house.


Look forward to more blogs that focus on those elements of enlightened consumer culture.  The ultimate form of Narcissism is, after all, enlightened self interest.  So lets all get interested in how we as individuals can use our power to make the world a better place.

If you would like to know more about what I’ve got going on when I’m busy not writing blogs, you can find me here.

 “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” – Albert Einstein




Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, pop culture, sociology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From The Mouths of Millennials: Why They Are Awesome!


Since the day I walked into my first job as a consumer culture researcher and brand strategist,  the number one “target” for the roster of companies on my client list was Millennials.  Then:  tweens and teens ready to enter the working world and start driving cars –  but influencing the spending of their parents in a big way all around.   Now:  a final generation of teens all the way through a bustling populace of full-fledged adults, many already in their early to mid thirties.

This is a generation that has been pined over,  studied and marketed to for over a decade.  Brands have been coveting their share of wallet, and HR departments have been scrambling to figure out what to do with this workforce who by most counts is vastly different from their boomer predecessors.

On the flip side – Millennials are not immune to the scrutiny they have been receiving, growing up under a digital, big-data  microscope.  Many Millennials have taken on the task of examining themselves and relaying the blogosphere their impression of the world they have been raised up in and points of view on their place in it.

Some of my favorite Millennial-authored blogs include:

So Called Millennial , written by Rachel Gall, who is also the editor in chief of Life of a Mom-ennial  for Monogram Magazine .

James’ Room  and American Males  for a Millennial male perspective.

Entitled Millennial , a blog that started as a project geared at examining and redefining the term “entitlement” – one often used by boomers and older adults to describe what they see to be the main “fault” of this up and coming generation.

And yet another, which I am showcasing today:  Working Self – a blog by Millennials for Millennials dedicated to conversations about creating meaningful work.

In the article I have re-posted below, the conversation is an empowering Millennial perspective on whats shapes their attitudes toward life and work – an essential read for any employer seeking to lead with empathy in their attempt to grow a happy and productive Millennial workforce:

7 Habits of Awesome Millennials: A Guide to Understanding Gen Y


Today’s guest post in the Millennial Perspectives series comes to us from Debashish Das of Quit, Be Free. I had the good fortune of being placed in a triad with Debashish during Jenny Blake‘s Build Your Business course last May and we’ve been supporting each other ever since!

The world knows us as millennials, yet there’s no clear definition of who is or is not a part of Gen Y. Depending on who you ask, millennials are born somewhere between 1977 and 2003, but no one can agree where to end or begin.

In any case, millennials are a recent addition to the society, and everybody is trying to get their head around the puzzle that is Gen Y.

Why are they so unhappy? Why are they always glued to their phone? Why can’t they stick to one job? Why do they want to leave everything behind and travel the world? The truth is that we are different, as is our way of looking at the world.

Millennials are no longer the future, we are already here, now. And we cannot be ignored.

If you’d like to know what makes us the in-your-face, world-shaking, agents of chaos, read on.

1. Global Connectors

Anyone who is familiar with Gen Y knows we are addicted to social media. There’s a reason for that. We were right there when internet changed social interactions. While other people complained about the way the world was changing, we took to social media like fish to water, embracing a digital world that was free from the prejudices of society.

Without the barriers of language and culture, we shared our thoughts, ideas, and lives with people from across the globe. Millennials became the first true global citizens. Our food, hobbies, work, and lives are a colorful kaleidoscope of influences from around the world.

Millennials have truly shrunk the world. Social media is our connection to this new world.

2. Defiers of Status Quo

Never ones to take things at face value, millennials are accused of being rebels, a charge we readily confess to. If no one was out there doing things differently, sticking to the known ways, we would still be living in the dark ages. We push the boundaries to see what’s possible. We’re forces of social change.

Even though we are not the victims, we feel for humanity. We believe in a world without discrimination and accept all people as one. We defy status quo because we believe there is better future for all of us.

3. Serial Experimentalists

On the surface, our behavior might not make sense:  jumping jobs, buying gadgets every few months, or pursuing a new project every year. To the world, we might seem like overgrown five-year-olds. Underlying the behavior, however, is a belief in the power of growth. We do not live by the time-tested rules because we believe in living our dreams today.

We seek new things because new is the symbol of progress, an indicator of growth. And growth never comes from the known or the comfortable. It comes from exploration, making mistakes and learning from them. We are willing to fail to be able to learn something new.

We experiment to fulfill our desire for growth, because that is what makes us truly come alive.

4. Fearless Artists

Creativity is our middle name. With the power of the internet and the ready audience of a digital society, we do not hesitate to unleash our creative potential.

Sharing creative gifts with the world is no longer limited to a privileged few. Millennials know the value of their own creativity and are not ashamed to share it fearlessly with the world. Kickstarter funds books and products; Youtube sponsors individual video creators; smartphones and DSLRs make traditional photo studios defunct; not to mention the collapse of record labels and the publishing industry.

All proof of the fact that creativity is appreciated when it is authentic and original. We believe in the creativity that resides within each of us and are not afraid of showcasing our hidden talents. Being a millennial means not letting the world tell us that we are being stupid for wanting to be a writer, singer, or a painter. It means embracing our inner artist and creating our own unique art every day.

5. Real Life Explorers

World travelogues are blossoming all over the web. Some of the most jaw-dropping Youtube videos are captured by personal digicams. Blogs about breaking free from the routine of nine to five and traveling the world are gaining followers like crazy.

For millennials, the whole world truly is an oyster, and one that we seek to explore every inch of, whether by bungee jumping in Queensland, getting lost in the grand bazaar of Istanbul, learning to cook Thai cuisine in Bangkok, or riding a motorcycle on the world’s highest motorable road in Leh, India.

Our thirst for adventure is insatiable. We live for experiences. Especially the ones that take us outside our comfort zone. We do not plan for vacations after retirement. If we want it, we go and do it. It is one of the defining traits of a millennial.

To us, life is not about making bucket lists, it’s about going out there and living them.

6. Economic Revolutionaries

Venture-funded start-ups are old news. The new age of entrepreneurship is here, heralded by the small online businesses and bootstrappers, and millennials are leading from the front.

We want to be rich, and are not afraid to say so. Selling our soul in exchange for chump change is not our style. We want to do things we want, whenever we want, and provide for people we care about while not being slaves to a paycheck.

If we do the same thing that our parents did, and their parents did, how can we expect to live life differently from them? Big dreams require big money. And we want those disproportionate results.

To us, being rich means living life on our terms. Money is not a motivator, but nor do we call it the source of all evil. We seek to make money because it gives us the power to choose how we live. Living a millennial lifestyle is about living with passion, doing what we love, and making money along the way.

7. Freedom Fighters

Underlying all these traits and connecting all these habits is our deep-rooted desire for freedom.

Freedom has no common definition and is absolutely individualistic but it is what lies at the very core of being a millennial. We define our own freedom and take responsibility for it. It’s also the source of our greatest fears. Living a life defined by society, not being able to explore who we truly are, conforming to social rules, and becoming part of the system frighten us to the core. A millennial will fight till the dying breath to avoid anything that is a threat to freedom.

The simple truth is, if you seek freedom in life (whatever its meaning for you), you are a millennial at heart.

This is not a manifesto for why millennials should rule the world. Nor is it a plea for understanding our plight. This is a statement of facts and an effort to show what makes Gen Y tick.  We know we have faults, entitlement issues, and an attitude problem. But we’re also ready to change and adapt.

We’re willing to meet the world halfway. If only the world understood the language we’re speaking.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Culture, Generation Y, Marketing, Millennials, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Meetings About Meetings: The Culture of Getting Things Done (Or Not) Through Collaboration


Did you know that there are over 11 Million meetings every day in the U.S. alone and that 80% of them fail to achieve their stated objectives?

Shocking? I’m going to venture a guess that nobody is floored by this statistic.

I learned this fast fact among others things about why meetings fail and what to do about it in a training session on meeting organization and facilitation skills that I, in turn, trained my team on.

I remember being out drinking last night (preparing for my big day) and trying to explain to one of my friends that I was going to spend the morning leading a meeting about meetings. I think it made her spit up her gin and tonic and nearly spun me into an existential crisis.

But after the session was over today I realized how important it really is to teach people how to properly generate ideas and how to listen….and that there is actually a “right” way to do it.

I would say there are a lot of sociological and anthropological factors in U.S. Corporate protocol that have created a routinized system of unproductive meeting culture, such as:
– hierarchy: we tend to place value on rank and the clout that comes with it in our business organizations. Rather than fostering a culture where people “down the ladder” are allowed to question, we tend to favor cultures of deferral to senior team member’s ideas. Like in military culture, there is this air of insubordination that comes with challenging the opinions and egos of those who are in a higher echelon. This is why so many companies are so slow to change – because nobody wants to stick their neck out for fear of being a troublemaker and potentially losing their influence at their organization or, worse, losing their Job.
-Limiting access to time: we stay so “busy busy” that we tend to seek to want to take as little time as possible for meetings so that we can “get actual work done”. What happens is we end up skipping the necessary steps to actually inspiring and truly considering and building on new ideas before we accept or reject them. So, we tend to make snap decisions and / or end up not landing on the right set of next steps because we are in a hurry to move on to our next meeting or task. What this does is end up necessitating yet another unproductive meeting – and the process continues in perpetuity. It also leads to the next culture killer…..

-Devaluing listening skills:  we tend to speak to be heard and only listen to the degree that we feel a topic is personally relevant to us.  We have forgotten how to not only hear, but truly understand another person’s point of view and find ways to nurture ideas by building on them.  Because of this we end up rushing to judgement on whether or not to accept or reject new ideas before really giving them proper consideration.  It tends to halt progress in it’s tracks because we don’t feel like we have “time” to hash things out constructively.  We value making decisions and being “right” (without risking too much) more than we do “seeking first to understand and then be understood”.   We have forgotten how to listen with our whole mind and heart.

-Stigmatizing “fun” in favor of formality:  we tend to feel like work should be something very serious that we don’t necessarily enjoy but get done because it has to be done.  We forgo levity for the sake of putting our nose to the grindstone and getting things done.  We have our meetings at conference room tables and limit activities to conversation rather than idea generation.   We don’t allow for stretchy thinking because we worry that too much creativity might lead us down some dangerous unknown path…or we fear that we are not capable of creativity.  But if we actually allow ourselves to incorporate a little bit of structured playfulness and imagination into our meetings, we get a chance to discover our potential again and unlock parts of our brain that we don’t use.  Remember – we develop really rapidly as children and part of that development is related to play and enjoyment.  We retain things that we enjoy the most.  Why don’t we apply that enjoyment to our work?

The style of meeting facilitation I have been teaching is all about lateral thinking, creating an open and comfortable environment, more productive listening and actually taking the time to go through a results and accountability-orientated process.  And it’s good to see  both younger and older team members getting excited about collaborating and realizing that you CAN get stuff done in meetings if you re-adjust your priorities a little.  If we suspend our cultural rules about seniority and efficiency for just a little while and embrace a nice slow-roll where we can all enjoy the ride on the same level, we may just evolve in the process.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Corporate Culture, Culture, Emerging Workforce, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Office Acculturation 108: Business Travel Rituals and Protocol

Business_Travel_PosterPart of the glamorous life of many corporate professionals is the business trip – pulling on your traveling pants and heading to client meetings, conferences, focus groups and other such adventures.  It’s a life that young professionals aspire to and get tired of by the time they are in their late twenties.  Many people envision being pampered by attentive, attractive stewardesses, turn-down service with mints on their pillows, lavish meals, town-cars and upscale cigar bars.  The reality:  sardine-can airline seating, bitter wage-reduced airline workers, hotel carpets that you don’t want to walk on in bare feet, Chain-food dining, taxi-cabs and (if you are lucky) seedy strip clubs.

Life on the road is hard if you are not traveling with C-level (CEO, CFO, CMO, etc.) and the rites and rituals are ones that inevitably make you stronger and give you motivation to do it right when you get to travel for a well-earned vacation.

Here are some examples of the lifestyles of the mile-high professional:

Packing protocol:  for most of us, a typical business trip involves anywhere from one to four nights away from home.  The objective of packing is to make sure you don’t have to check a bag and end up having to wait at the airport / be the jerk who holds up everyone else on the team so your high-maintenance-highness can get their luggage packed with all your wardrobe changes.  Therefore, you try and cram as many useful items as you can into a carry-on bag that you will then heave into an overhead compartment.  It is important to carefully select the one pair of shoes you can tolerate wearing, find ways to make sure your shirts don’t wrinkle (lest you have to actually iron when you arrive – which none of us want to do) and that you bring enough pairs of socks and underwear.  You will likely underestimate on this account and end up washing your argyles or bikini-brief’s in the sink.  I heard on Oprah once that many people use the in-room coffee pots for this (given the easy access to hot water).  Make a mental note:  never make coffee with your in-room coffee pot.

Airport security:  A part of the glamour of being a necessary person who has to travel to service their clients’ and colleagues’ needs is the honor of taking off your shoes, jacket and belt, putting your toiletries in a zip-lock bag in a bin (so everyone can see your jock-itch cream) throwing out your bottled water in the garbage (it’s a threat to national security) and pulling out all of your electronics to be scanned.  If you are lucky you also get selected for a random search so they can dig through the entirety of your personal belongings and potentially pat you down.  Pimpin’ aint easy – but don’t forget how important you are.  🙂

The hunt for the charge:  if you don’t have membership in an airline club or access to a lounge – the race to the power outlet is a challenge that requires agility and skill.  You must know where to hunt for place to charge your phone or plug in your laptop lest you go too long without being productive.  While many airports have added seating areas with lots of space to plug in your necessary tech, airports are still lined with people in slacks flat out on the floor against the wall.

Airline club membership:  A rite of passage for business travelers that gives us the illusion of being a VIP.  For an annual few of a few hundred dollars (or if your company is generous enough to let you carry a Platinum American Express) you have access to a private lounge where you can sit in comfy-ish chairs, drink free booze, snack on a collection of single-serve packaged goods and plug in / charge your laptops and cell phones.  This gives you absolutely no excuse not to take conference calls, check email and get work done while you are in transit.

Airline Status:  If you travel frequently, it is always smart to stick with one airline so you can earn points for the miles you travel and, ultimately, status.  I think the same thing goes with voucher loyalty. At the upper echelons of airline VIPness you get free upgrades to business class / first class.  This is your reward for not getting to have a personal life because you are always on the road.  It means, if you hold your breath and are one of the lucky ones, you get to board the airplane first and sit down in a slightly larger and cozier seat with a cocktail before anyone else gets on the airplane.  Then if you are super-lucky, the first class cabin is located in the path of traffic to coach, so when everybody else boards they get to walk past you and stare at you with resentment.  From there your food choices get upgraded to a microwave meal placed on china that still tastes bad but at least beats a thimble full of peanuts.   The flight attendants will smile at you and call you by your name and you can plug in your laptop so your battery doesn’t die and once again have no excuse to not get work done.

In-Flight internet:  for a small fee that your company will be happy to pay you can now access the internet on airplanes so you are able to send and receive emails.  Now you don’t have the pressure of deciding what movie to watch or book to read since you will be working the entire flight.

Hotel loyalty programs:  another “perk” of choosing to consistently stay at one of many cookie-cutter business hotel choices.  With the economy still not doing so great, your client or company budgets for travel are likely a bit meager.  This means you will be staying in one of those hotels you see advertised on commercials that have dials on the beds and free continental breakfasts.  BUT – if you are a member of their loyalty programs and stay at the same brand often enough you will get upgraded to rooms that have a higher class of branded toiletries and get free bottled water.

Business dinners:  one of the snazzier perks of business travel and a charming ritual whereby you dine at chain restaurants with people you work for:  exchanging pleasantries, talking about your favorite ski destinations, sports scores and nutritional regimens.  The best part is you get to drink.  The worst part is you get to see your clients and coworkers get drunk.  The smart business traveler saves the uber-boozing for when they get back to their hotel room so they can forget the personal stories and office-political melee that they witnessed at dinner, take a nice bath or make “full use” and give a shower head review of it’s abilities – and hit the sack.

Demonstrations of machismo:  for guys who travel (and the lucky females who “can hang”) there is the seedy business travel ritual that usually follows a dinner with too much drinking.  It typically involves a trip to the local strip club to check out the “local talent”.  In this situation men give themselves free rein to behave like animals in heat and spend hundreds of dollars they will expense later on stripper tips and lap dances.  At some point in the evening the newbies will be reminded that “what happens on the road stays on the road” as their (typically married) colleagues ogle women half their age and reminisce about a time (that likely never happened) when they were a ladies man.

Receipts:  another business travel survival-must is saving your receipts for the inevitable expense report.  Most people shove these bits and strips of white paper in pants pockets, purses, laptop bags and various other crevices and then get to go on a scavenger hunt when they get home to locate them so they can be taped down to blank sheets of white paper and handed into the corporate accounts department with their expense reports.  It is important to keep these receipts so the company can bill clients for the expensive dinners they pretended they weren’t paying for and so you can get reimbursed for stuff where they don’t take American Express.

Expense reports:  noted above, this ritual is an administrative slice-of-hell that every business travel must go through.  Aside from the taping down of receipts, you get to code every maid and valet tip and Starbucks latte to a specific project.  You also get to make up an amount that you spent – in theory – on maid and valet tips and buying your clients drinks at the cash bar.

These are a few of the travel traditions that road warriors endure every day.  But don’t let the mundanity discourage you.  Sooner or later the travel industry will catch up and create experiences that don’t suck.  Human traffic from one place to the next is what brings us together, builds relationships, spreads ideas and helps us all fight the good fights.  So, go forth with your travel shampoo get your head in the game.  It’s a big world out there and somebody has to keep those hotel beds warm.

*for further reading, feel free to poke around for my other “Office Acculturation” lessons in the archives.  A good participant-observer of corporate culture should always go in with an ethnographic-knowledge edge.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Emerging Workforce, Participant Observation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

This Is My Lunch Break: The Perceived Non-Value Of Blogging

This just in: blogs do not contribute to value creation. So I’ve just recently heard on an otherwise very constructive conference call.

Apparently – from a corporate culture perspective – by attempting to create cultural commentary on topical issues relevant to everyday humans, one essentially cheapens the value of their intellectual capital. Therefore, spending 30 minutes a day, or 2 1/2 hours a week blogging is actually taking away from the value that could be created by working on other more relevant things: like taping receipts down to blank sheets of paper, populating a time tracker spreadsheet or attending webinars on the logistics of market research call centers.

It’s an interesting conundrum to be in: vehemently disagreeing with one’s superiors on the value of well-timed, purpose-driven vernacular. On one hand, I can understand the lack of ability to grasp the value of spending valuable “work” time (because, as we all know, work time exists exclusively during business hours and those of us employed in corporate environments never ever ever work on our own time) writing about things like the cultural history of weed or why bald guys succeed in business. On the other hand, I think it important to consider the distinct value of being able to make one’s intellectual capital accessible.

This comes to the reason why I started writing a daily blog: I know I am pretty close to the top of my field when it comes to what I do for a living (narcissistic…perhaps. But it’s what folks keep telling me and I have a paycheck to prove it). However, a while back I realized that, while I can put an intellectual spin on my grasp of human culture and social systems and how those apply to various business objectives, my ability to communicate that in writing was lacking. It was a bit too academic, nerdy, highfalutin and whatnot. And while I could reach those who prided themselves on being too smart to mingle with the rabble, I was missing a critical audience: the rest of the humans. And I was being constantly reminded by mentors that I worked with (who I am eternally grateful to) that in my day-to-day interactions on a corporate level I didn’t need to try so hard to appear “smart”. They said that I should “stop trying to look smart and just be smart”.

What that meant to me was that I should apply a more empathetic approach. In the words of Stephen Covey, I should “seek first to understand then seek to be understood”. In my work setting I decided to un-puff my chest a bit, listen more and talk less. I also decided that I was going to find a way to take the accessible language I use to interact with my friends and other human peers and apply it to my writing.

This blog was the result of the last directive. I needed to give myself a cadence and structure to ensure I would commit to the exercise of accessibility. I decided that every day I was going to devote 30 minutes (give or take) to respond to some immediate sociocultural stimulus happening in my / the world. It sounds like it would be easy enough to do: what’s going on and how can I lend an anthropological or sociological perspective to it that people will not only want to read but would also get something out of it: some new information, a new perspective, a laugh or instigation of critical thought.

It has so far proven to be a humbling task: forcing me to be extremely agile in not only finding the time but also choosing relevant topics on typically short notice (or even entirely extemporaneously) and finding something intelligent to say about it. And I am not always successful. I leave it to my readers to inform me of my batting average.

That being said, I am hoping that my blog, while demonstrating very little value to my employers, still proves valuable to the rest of the world and nourishes your souls a bit…as from this point forward it will count as my lunch break.

And yes, I would like some cheese with this whine.

Categories: Art and culture, Blogging, Consumer Anthropology, Corporate Culture, Experiment, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Office Acculturation 107: The Signification of Seating Arrangements In Workplace Habitats

The culture of an office environment is full of nuance, as elaborated on in previous posts.  Today’s topic covers the rapidly evolving signification of seating arrangements in such offices. There is a distinct tradition with some differences depending on the industry or nature of the business than a specific office serves.

Here are some examples:
In a more traditional business workplace setting – one that isn’t typically engaged in a creative profession like design or brand strategy or the nebulous spaces of “creative” or “strategic” or “innovation” consulting, there is a standard hierarchy signified by seating arrangements.  In this case, junior employees are usually relegated to sit in shared cubicle or pod spaces with little privacy so that mid and senior level employees can drop by with a pile of work they don’t want to do at any time and pawn it off to the person who looks least busy.  Those employees who have paid their grunt-work dues but don’t yet have a VP or higher order set of initials next to their title typically get the dignity of their own personal cubicle or shared office with one other employee of equal rank.  This allows them a modicum of privacy to make client calls and prepare their expense reports.  Finally, more senior / executive employees are often granted private offices with doors that shut and windows to the outside world so that they can think, make important calls, have secret meetings with other senior staff members on who to cut during the next budget crisis and what kind of booze to have at the company Christmas party.  In theory there is also important work going on in there and because they can afford to eat out for lunch every day, there is likely also a lot of gas.

In the more creative professions, the seating arrangements are often far more open.  The head of the company usually still gets his own office…but it is likely made of glass and has an “open door policy” for people lower level employees to come and ask important questions or invite him to happy hour.  Typically speaking, the rest of the employees will sit in a giant workspace with no walls and desks arranged in “pods”.  This is to allow the creative juices to flow and minimize the need for meetings while sucking up as much productive work time as possible with idle conversation about insignificant details.  But here are less emails sent and typically everyone gets to stay in touch with the latest hipster music trends…usually coming from one of the senior creative team member’s Pandora stations or esoteric iTunes playlists.  These offices also typically have lots of mini basketball hoops, the odd video game console and a scooter or novelty bike for peddling around the office and generally enjoying playtime at work.  These things help the creative juices flow and bring you things like cat videos or clever blogs like this one.

In some offices, they also like to randomly and often switch up seating arrangements so “cross functional teams” can work together or employees have a chance to bond with one another over their seating-induced schizophrenia.  The more “progressive” offices, however, will allow for “flex time” or “telecommuting” that doesnt’ require you to be in an office at all…because space is really an illusion and the most important thing is that you answer your blackberry emails at any hour of the day or night…because that’s when the REAL productivity happens.

You are welcome.


Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Emerging Workforce, Ethnography, Participant Observation, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Sociology of Style: Are Women “Dressing For Success” Only To Encourage A Corporate Culture of Failure?

I have been spending a lot of time in the past year doing work in the apparel and retail space…studying the cultural context that influences how and why different types of consumers choose the clothing styles and brands that they use to cover themselves up everyday or to uncover their unique personal identities.

Recently I was introduced to a PhD in Sociology named Anna who focuses on the Sociology of style: how our social structures and societal facts (rather than nuanced cultural facts) influence fashion trends. And I was immediately enamoured – with her brain and her point of view.

Below is a link to one of her more recent blogs on women’s fashion and the influence of masculine clothing styles on women’s apparel trends.

It started a long email trail between myself and a few other brand strategy, sociology and anthropology geeks / professionals on the issue of women in corporate america. Interestingly, a social structure run mostly by men, albeit social science has recently proven that corporations who have women in senior roles actually perform better.

The conversation turned my thought to how corporate style for women is very – seemingly intentionally masculine: slacks and suits and shirts with collars. ANd this is especially true in senior levels of corporate organizations. At the junior levels, and especially in more innately creative companies like ad agencies, women in the lower and middle rungs get away with more street-style and feminine allure. But that is something that seems to get lost as women rise up in the ranks and essentially start dressing for the job they want by emulating the mainstream masculine fashions.

But in reality, it would seem that if women in corporate settings that were running the show made a point to embrace more empathetic and diverse fashions that pervade “street” fashion and couture trends, then perhaps the empathy, intuition and diversity of thought that women bring to the table would become more mainstream – stomping out the outdated “kill or be killed” masculine mentality that has so far sent capitalism into a downward spiral.

So I beg the question: can we learn from the sociology of style about how we turn around our economic decline by simply letting our girl-power shine through with a more feminine sense of style?

And will this mean that I will have to start wearing skirts…or can I just wear pink? 😉

Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Emerging Workforce, Fashion, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chic-Fil-A Doesn’t Want Gays To Get Married: But Can I Stil Eat Thier Sammiches?

What an interesting dilemma the folks at Chick-Fil-A have put consumers in.  They have publicly expressed a very polarizing point of view on social hot-topic:  Gay Marriage.

In case you haven’t heard: they are not in the equal rights camp.
Rather, the CEO of the company has come out publicly on several occasions letting America know that they believe in the biblical definition of marriage…although they treat all of their employees and customers with the utmost respect.

The consumer anthropologist and the brand strategist in me are both equally fascinated by this scenario.  As an observer and analyst of consumer culture, I am glued to the Facebook and twitter feeds and so curious to see how consumers react to this uncommon ground that has been stabbed to death by a company known for cutesy advertising using mischievous cows and also for being active members  and supporters of the local communities where they operate.  They are also known for not being open on Sundays because they are observing Christian traditions.  All of these things being their previous public persona, they have been a strong presence in the fast food game and have remained an Icon in the Southern U.S., where they hail from.

The brand strategist in me is also intensely curious as to how their decision will play out in the court of “share of wallet”.  Typically speaking, It is really important these days for a brand / company to have a point of view and a set of ideals that differentiates them and connects them to consumer’s hearts, minds and wallets.  This means not just having a distinct personality and perspective on our human condition / their role in improving our lives, but also walking the walk.  MOST Brands will find some sort of positive point of view to hang their hats on.  In this case, Chick-Fil-A chose something decidedly negative and divisive.  Such an atypical move for a mainstream brand.

What Chick-Fil-A has done is lay down a challenge to our American Ideals of free speech and free enterprise.  It has also put consumers in a precarious position: forcing them to choose how important their convictions are to them when it comes to how they make purchase decisions.  If you have checked your Facebook page lately you will notice a lot of action:  lots of liberals talking about the conundrum of free speech and the fact that while they don’t agree with Chick-Fil-A’s point of view, they still don’t think it’s fair to deny them the right to do business (like they are trying to do in Chicago).  Then there are those who are admitting they are closet patrons and feel bad about it, but can’t resist the MSG-filled tastiness of their favorite Chicken Sammiches.  And of course there are those left-wingers who have sworn off the chain entirely to vote with their wallets in expressing their disagreement.  Finally, there are those on the religious “right” side who are cheering on the fast food chain and encouraging others to “like” them.  And I know more than a few people who have “unfriended” a few folks because of their unexpected fervor for fighting against gay marriage with chicken nuggets.

My opinion?  I think everyone deserves a right to enter into a legally binding commitment to another human being.  Will I eat at Chick-Fil-A again?  No…but I avoid most fast food anyway because MSG makes me crazy.  Do I think cities like Chicago should ban Chick-Fil-A from doing business:  no.  Let consumers decide if they want to support their business or not.  The philosopher in me sides with the likes of Voltaire:  whilst I disagree with the chicken-sandwich-giant’s point of view, I will fight for their right to express it.  However, I will also be very vocal in discouraging anyone I care about from spending a penny at their restaurants.

And that’s the exciting part about this situation…a very unique one in our modern, liberal age.  As brand strategists and consumer anthropologists we have been talking about the trend in consumer empowerment and how Brands must be fearless in staying true to who they are and expressing their ideals.  But what happens when they express an unpopular opinion?  Will they sink to the bottom of the performance pile or will apathy allow them to float by unscathed?

I suppose the numbers will tell…and i will be watching with an Eagle eye….

Categories: conflict theory, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Culturematic, Experiment, Food, Marketing, pop culture, Social food movements, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Capitalism 2.0

I recently read a book that put forward a perspective on restructuring capitalist ideals for modern life. It suggests and illustrates philosophies and practices that both adapt to and anticipate the needs and consequences of a modern globalized economy and consumer culture.

In The New Capitalist Manifesto (, Umair Haque talks about Constructive Capitalism; a disruptive and productive way for business to create what he calls “thick” value that sustains.

He talks about “socio-productivity”, which means creating markets and industries for those whom orthodox capitalism is unable to serve…creating “impossible” new markets…essentially giving all of “us” humans the power to play the game and improve our collective experience. He uses the example of India’s Tata motors and their creation of the Nano: a super-low cost car for the poor living in ultra-urbanized emerging markets.

What IF we could use the power of human understanding, empathy and consumer insight to help make life more fulfilling for everyone? I have a wide-eyed vision that through practices like Consumer Anthropology (what I do for a living), we can do just that.

Consumer Anthropology asserts there are several contextual spheres of influence involved in the creation, dissemination and evolution of consumer culture. Among those, at a minimum, are 3 C’s: Clients (organizations seeking to sell a product or idea), macro Culture (macro forces and people trends) and Consumers (attitudes, values, behaviors, etc.). Breakthrough innovation happens when at least these three spheres find synergy.

Imagine if every brand actively practiced this kind of holistic simultaneous understanding: of themselves, the world they live in, and their consumer. They would consistently be able to deliver not only better products and marketing, but would likely be inspired to do so using increasingly sustainable business practices.

They would find ways to serve the underserved in unique ways that both satisfied unmet consumer needs and shareholder value requirements. And most likely, shareholders and employees (who, as it turns out, are also humans and consumers) will feel a higher sense of purpose, knowing that they have the power, privilege and obligation to address the bigger needs of the world we all live in. And there the “thick” value cycle starts and continues.

Oh, the vision of a Utopian marketplace powered by good intentions. And here’s a secret you may not be party to just yet: I’ve learned it from years of participant observation in this business: it’s totally possible. 😉

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Corporate Culture, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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