The key to true business Innovation

When I tell people I’m an anthropologist, they are more likely to assume I dig up ancient peoples or dinosaurs than to assume I consult businesses to identify and develop transformational growth strategies. While we can all appreciate Harrison Ford donning his iconic hat to smuggle treasure out of hidden temples or that twinkle in John Hammond’s eye when he talks about fossilized dino DNA (Note: Paleontology is NOT a part of Anthropology), Anthropology and the tools it offers are capable of so much more than studying past (and dead) cultures. Business or Consumer Anthropology, is just one, small piece of one field (there are four total) of Anthropology, yet its use in and implications for business Innovation are paramount.

Take Whirlpool for example. After experiencing a steady decline in Fortune 500 ranking after the 2008 financial crisis, Whirlpool flipped the script in 2014, securing a 20-spot gain on the Fortune 500 list by 2016. What changed for Whirlpool? They started really listening to their customers.

They hired an anthropologist. In a recent study for Whirlpool, Dr. Donna Romeo, Whirlpool’s in-house corporate anthropologist, went into people’s homes and interviewed them while they were soaking in their bathing suits, in their bathtubs. She got personal. She asked them about their experience. She asked them to tell her what more they wanted. She filled in the gaps, where sales data and secondary research only gave a glimpse, to more fully understand the real-life conditions and expectations of real people.

It takes a village (a dedicated and talented team) to achieve growth through Innovation. Whirlpool’s forward-thinking corporate direction and willingness to adapt and to change is what is really propelling the company forward. To form the basis for this change, however, Whirlpool needed to form an in-depth understanding of what its customers – consciously or unconsciously – wanted.

Big data, while useful in its own right, can only get you so far. Through the combination of in-depth interviews, surveys, focus groups, participant observation, and more, we can understand the “why” to really understanding our consumers.

If you are interested in exploring the field of Business Anthropology for your own organization, give us a call or shoot us an email!