How Gillian Tett’s Anthro-Vision extends the toolkit for behavioural science
In the world of insight, anthropologists are the coolest kids in the room.
They voyage into the unknown and embed themselves in the world they are researching. Personal judgement and experience informs their work as much as their training and rules of engagement. To outsiders there’s something enigmatic to their practice.
They’re the Fonz kicking the soda machine. Mere researchers are timid Richie Cunningham, looking on in wonder in their knitted cardigans.
Anyone interested in the topic could do worse than to buy a copy of Anthro-Vision. Author Gillian Tett is executive editor at the Financial Times, who started life as an anthropologist before a twist of fate brought her to journalism. Anthro-Vision is all about embracing the principles of anthropology to look at our world with fresh eyes – spotting new opportunities and “seeing around corners”. It’s relevant not just to researchers but to all business decision-makers.
The core principles
The core principles are straightforward. We are shaped by our environment so what is “normal” to you may not be considered “normal” elsewhere.
We need to spend time with people who are different to us to understand their lives and mindsets. Doing so makes it easier to gain insight on our own world.
Exploring how daily habits are shaped by rituals and symbols is a shortcut to understanding, as is being on the lookout for what people aren’t talking about (“social silence”).
Overall: we’re trying to understand the micro-level to draw macro-level conclusions.
The methods that deliver deep human understanding.
Whilst researchers and marketers don’t always have time to immerse themselves in their audiences, practitioners rely on a toolkit of methods which overlap with more traditional qualitative research methods:
Unstructured observation, open-ended interviews and accompanied activities;
If you’re doing a structured interview, you can still save time for unstructured, open-ended discussion at the end;
Giving people a blank sheet of paper and getting them to draw out how the different points of their world fits together; Using photo diaries and collages to allow people to illustrate what concepts mean to them – undirected and on their own terms.
It’s about adjusting your mindset
Adding deep human understanding to our datasets & models can only make them better. It’s all about supplementing and triangulating methods. Three things we can all do differently are:
Cultivate an insider-outsider perspective by looking at situations as an outsider would – and asking “the dumb questions”.
Collaborate widely, combining methods and tools from other disciplines. Like ingredients in a meal, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Develop expertise in both data and human understanding, because this allows you to spot the gaps and opportunities that others can’t.