Practical Ethnography


Once again I’m packing for my return to the Copenhagen Business Summer School (ISUP). I am so looking forward to teaching Business Anthropology and Organizational Ethnography – big mouthful but basically … its people-watching with some theory thrown into the mix. Key textbook is written by a fellow Canuck, Sam Ladner who is an Anthropologist at Amazon. She has written a yummy book, Practical Ethnography – a what the heck is it and how to do it book. Great for students. Great for those who wish to explore the new worlds of understanding meaning. Ever taken a survey and found you didn’t fit into the neat little boxes? That is because traditional market research uses an ‘etic’ position – defined by the researcher.  Somewhat useful but sometimes misses the mark.

Ethnography is the study of culture. As Ladner explains “Ethnographers connect details to wider patterns of social life.” It connects direct insights about people and what they care about and why. It takes what is called an ’emic’ position – being from the person’s point of view. Redefining the box or in many cases, removing the box altogether to obtain actionable insight that leads to a game changer. Ethnography puts the needs of the consumer first. And its about time.

If you care about having a competitive advantage, its time to care about ethnography. I can hardly wait to introduce it to the excellent students at CBS. People watching! in the summer! in Copenhagen! Let the educational games begin ….

Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector

Leadership BS


Have you ever wondered why organizations keep spending thousands of dollars on leadership programs and the evidence actually indicates that our workplaces are filled with distrustful, disengaged and dissatisfied employees? Have you noticed that the qualities we select most leaders for in an organization are unlikely to produce leaders that are good for employees or long-term performance?  Maybe its time to tell the truth about leadership – and the shadow side of organizational life. Jeffrey Pfeffer knows of what he writes. He teaches at the Stanford School of Business and has authored or coauthored fourteen books on topics such as power, management people, organizational design and evidenced-based management.

It may sound like a depressing topic but I find it somewhat comforting.To build a science of leadership you need reliable data. I am tired of the ‘feel-good’ stories of incredible companies that never seem to reside in my backyard. I teach a course in how to survive organizational politics for change agents. Every individual so far comes to me battered and bruised from the realities of organization life. At conferences, I am frequently asked to speak on building corporate cultures that support innovation. The topic discussions quickly come to shadow side of leadership and how to survive until trust can be rebuilt. Many people, maybe most people, have soul-crushing jobs. That is the reality in which we live. Pfeffer is blunt, yes. He states that if we don’t have baseline measurements of leader and workplace conditions it is simply impossible to know what to do to make any improvements. So … do you want to be the one to ask for 360 reviews on your leadership team? Me neither.

Research tells us that people who deliver bad news sometimes suffer adverse consequences. If we want to change the world of work, Pfeffer claims that we need to act on what we know rather than what we wish and hope for. Great leaders are rare. So what to do? What is the implication for the average person in an average organization? Pfeffer recommends becoming a skilled and unbiased observer and pay attention to what your leaders do, NOT what they say. The most fundamental principle of learning theory is behaviour is a function of its consequences. What behaviour is rewarded in your organization? Leadership for the people or leadership for  profit?

This is not a feel good book about leadership. But, if you are looking for confirmation of workplace reality and some solid suggestions on evidence-based management, this book is for you. It balances the heroic tales of exceptional leadership and organizations on my shelves and gives practical advice on how to survive until you can find one (or build it yourself). Consider this book a practical survival manual if you are not in the enviable position of working with a great leader and/or a great organization. I truly believe we can get there. But, not just yet.

Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

Leaders Eat Last


Fall is always an exciting time for me.  Maybe because it is the start of a new school year – so therefore full of possibilities and potential. Maybe because Fall is my favourite season – transformation is literally in the air.  I had an excellent summer in Copenhagen at the Business School.  It is such a pleasure working with students who are dedicated to their learning and celebrate their own potential. Is that every student? No, but enough to rejuvenate my spirits and feed my soul.

One of the highlights this summer was visiting NOMA – an experience best described as living ‘food art’.  Definitely a bucket-lit item for any foodie. The meal was superb as could be expected, but the experience was made transformational for me in hearing a sous-chef state: “I don’t work for a restaurant. I serve NOMA. I serve my country. I serve a movement.” The statement left me in tears, for I have never heard such a powerful statement about corporate culture. I only wish I could hear that level of commitment more. But first, it has to be earned. And that is the role of the leader.

Simon Sinek has written a great book about leading an innovation culture. How you get it and how you keep it. What if you got up every day and could not wait to get to work? How many of us can actually say “I love my job” let alone “I serve” as above? The title comes from a marine general who states that leaders go to the back of the chow line and the most junior soldiers eat first. Why? Because it symbolizes in no uncertain terms that the role of a leader is to sacrifice individual comfort in service to the good of those in their care. Walk the talk. What a novel concept and what a shame it is so rare. Have you had an experience of that type of leader? I have. And would follow them anywhere.

Sinek also covers his topic from a biological/sociological perspective which provides additional insight into how cultures thrive. If you are contemplating any initiatives this Fall, as part of your own organizational transformation, this book is a must. It is one of the best business books I have read in a while. And for this book addict, that is high praise indeed. A Fall Feast for you.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Ethnography for Marketers


If you are serious about understanding your customers, you need to hone your ethnographic skills.  In plain english, how you watch and listen to people in order to obtain actionable insights. My favourite go-to book for advice is a gem from Hy Mariampolski. It is a practical guide to understanding ethnography – for those of you who didn’t study anthropology. Some business schools are getting smarter and suggesting business students study both anthropology and psychology in order to obtain better and faster customer insights. As Mariampolski states: “The greatest challenge for market research nowadays is to deliver value by linking findings to the strategic business decisions that confront corporate decision makers. Ethnography responds to this challenge by observing consumers in the their ‘natural’ environments and then turning these consumer encounters into ideas that transform brands and product categories.”  The book gives you basic theory and very practical guides to implementation. For beginners or experts, this is a great reference guide.  A recommended text for my business anthropology classes in Copenhagen and here in Canada.

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Ethnography for Marketers: A Guide to Consumer Immersion

Scaling Up Excellence


Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao have written a great little book on how to scale up farther, faster and more effectively. After having spending last week at the HRPA conference and talking to over 1,000 eager HR professionals committed to improving organizational performance, I thought this book would be a great addition to any library. In it they uncover why it is so difficult for most people to link everyday actions to the organization’s long-term goals. My take is that the science behind gamification will contribute to that understanding. Engagement is crucial – and this book covers much of the ground that is missing in today’s current engagement practices. One of my favourites is their take on the size of teams. I always hated the two pizza rule – mine is one large pizza only! So a team of six or less is highly effective. Groups that are larger tend to talk a lot, waste a lot of valuable time and accomplish little. If that is the norm in your organization, this book is for you!!

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less

Jane Austin – Game Theorist


I love teaching at the Business School in Copenhagen in the summer. I always learn something new – which in turn informs my teaching which informs my research and round and round we go.  The students are an international mix – so lots of different perspectives are brought to the discussions. There is also an international mix in faculty – so lots of conversations start around our faculty lunch table which frequently continue over dinner.  A book suggestion from Betty Tsakarestou, Professor and Head of Advertising at Panteion University in Athens, Greece, found its way into the mix and on the coffee table. And of course, I had to read it!

Jane Austin Game Theorist is a great little book available in hardcopy and ebook format that was featured in the Business School.  Written by Michael Suk-Young Chwe, the author explores a diverse range of literature and folktales that illustrate the wide and relevance of game theory. Game theory is the study of how people make choices while interacting with others – how we all play in the sandbox.  Without the heavy mathematical emphasis, Chwe shows us how we all are strategic thinkers through a literary lens. An interesting approach that makes a complex subject much easier to understand and more importantly, utilize in organizations. A great find – and an interesting read on a rainy day in Copenhagen. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

What’s Important ….


If you want competitive advantage, here is the place to start.  Hyatt and De Ciantis take us on a journey of discovery in one of the most interesting areas of our lives – our values.  Working with values allows us to keep track of what is really important to us. I use this process and program within academic courses at the undergraduate and graduate level as well as executive education. We also use the software package – you can go online and explore, the details are all in the book. It will be added to my course work for Business Anthropology at the Copenhagen Business School this summer (only 7 more sleeps until my flight!)

It makes for a great discussion around the kitchen table or the office. A conversation that needs to happen on a regular basis – just as a reminder that there is more to life than daily routine. The Values Perspective Survey is one of my favourite tools, I highly recommend it.

Popular, thought-provoking, stimulating and (best of all!) fun – working with values perspectives will give you insight towards making better judgments and decisions – for yourself, your family and your organization.

What’s Important: Understanding and Working with Values Perspectives