In Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life the thesis is that we need to adopt an anthropological lens when we look at data and ask why. Historically, anthropologists have done that in face-to-face observations and conversations that are designed to ferret out the unknown unknowns. The challenge is to make the strange more familiar and the familiar more strange so that we can see what is missing.
As a reporter for the British Financial Times, she predicted the 2008 financial crash, noting that the problem “was that financiers could see neither the external context of what they were doing (what cheap loans did to borrowers) nor the internal context of their world (how their clubbiness and peculiar incentive schemes fueled risks).” (p. 79)
Other takeaways from Anthro-Vision include:
- Anthropology, as a discipline, requires that we remain open-minded and empathetic. It helps us move from tunnel vision to lateral vision. It requires us to look around us and search for unknowns. We must question what is going on behind the data.
- According to Tett, “Anthropologists are almost like psychiatrists, but instead of putting individuals on the couch, they place groups of people metaphorically under their lens, to see the biases, assumptions, and mental maps that people collectively inherit.” (pp. XIV-XV)
- We make a mistake when we take ideas or assumptions for granted and don’t challenge them.
- She discusses pandemics, from Ebola to COVID and notes that one of our problems is not being able to understand what seems strange in others. Rituals are quite important and if we don’t understand the rituals in other cultures, we will not understand why our approaches to fighting pandemics aren’t working. For ex., in the Ebola crisis, people failed to recognize how important the burial process was, including kissing the dead.
- In researching problems at GM, she uncovers the various assumptions about how meetings should work and the notion that participants were not aligned in their expectations. Some thought meetings should be a place where people openly discuss problems and make consensus decisions, while others expected management to take a larger role and simply announce decisions and offer guidance.
How does all of this apply to project management? We need to challenge assumptions, find the unknown unknowns, and seek to understand other perspectives. We need alignment on how teams should function and what the goals are.