How Business Managers Think (for anthropologists and others)
How Business Managers Think:
A Short Introduction for Anthropologists (and Others)
or, Using Barnard’s QAME Model to Inform Interdisciplinary Understanding
American Anthropology Association Annual Meeting, November 22, 2008
Panel: Engaging in Transdisciplinary Praxis: Comparative Questions, Assumptions,
Methods and Evidence of Anthropology’s Disciplinary Interlocutors
Panel Chair Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall
Participants Charlotte Linde, Christopher Travis, Mary Walker, Todd Warfel
Presentation available at www.slideshare.net/MCW
Contact Mary Walker at email@example.com or via www.linkedin.com/in/marywalker
Objectives of this presentation
To use QAME as a framework for examining the professional
worldview of US business managers.
To encourage cross-disciplinary understanding.
To assist effective working relations between business
managers and their peers from other disciplines
Anthropology is the science which tells us that
people are the same the whole world over –
except when they are different.
- Nancy Banks Smith
“For an anthropologist…
working with witches is normal…
…it is working with
business that is exotic.”
Business Anthropology (2003)
(and vice versa)
Bernard’s four elements
The key Question of the discipline
Methods used by practitioners
that practitioners recognize as valid
For more information, see Bernard’s
History and Theory in Anthropology (2000). 4
Assumptions made inside the
Clarification and Disclaimers
Who are we talking about?
Managers of for-profit businesses
In the United States
This particular QAME analysis is participant-generated, i.e. the
author is a business manager. It is anecdotal, not formally
This presentation only discusses QAME. There are other taxonomies
of business theory and other methodologies for examining the
worldviews of business managers; those are not covered here.
This QAME analysis is based on broadly accepted norms of “healthy”
business management. It does not address the many variations,
complexities, and/or pathologies of business manager behavior.
QAME for Business Management
The Cheat Sheet
How to best organize people, processes
and resources to generate value, wealth
and organizational sustainability
• Customer behavior
• Business processes
• Virtues of markets
• Action bias
How to best organize
A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind
- Henry Ford
Virtues of Markets (and businesses)
…a general plenty diffuses itself through all the ranks of society.
- Adam Smith
Markets are good for society.
The market is not an invention of capitalism. It has existed for
centuries. It is an invention of civilization.
- Mikhail Gorbachev
“Business” is the most efficient and
effective mechanism for
addressing many societal needs.
Assumption #2: Scarcity
Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed,
nothing else can be managed.
- Peter Drucker
It comes from saying ‘no’ to 1000 things to make
sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do
- Steve Jobs
Key resources are limited.
Time is the ultimate limited
Assumption #3: Competition
Life is competition. Business metaphors: warfare, sports, Darwinism.
Stasis is an illusion.
Things are either
While the law of competition may be sometimes hard for
the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures
the survival of the fittest in every department.
- Andrew Carnegie
You’re either getting better or getting
- attributed to multiple sports coaches
Assumption #4: Action bias
Business managers are evaluated by
their ability to predict and deliver
Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing
with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise
- Henry Luce
If I had to sum up in one word what makes a good manager, I’d have
to say decisiveness. You can use the fanciest computers to gather the
numbers, but in the end you have to act.
- Lee Iacocca
One must take action to drive
Assumption #5: Metrics
Metrics are essential.
Money is how you keep score.
- multiple attributions
Money alone sets all the world in motion.
- Publilius Syrus
Get the facts,
or the facts will get you.
-Dr. Thomas Fuller
If it can’t be measured,
it can’t be managed.
- multiple attributions
Money is one key (derived) metric.
Creating, improving, managing the processes that:
create the current product/service (operational processes)
invent new/future products/services (innovation/product development processes)
Track and translate all the above activities into financial terms
You read a book from beginning to end. You run a
business the opposite way. You start with the end,
and then you do everything possible to reach it.
- Harold Geneen
until somebody buys something.
- Multiple attributions
The real and effectual discipline that is exercised
over a workman is…that of his customers. It is the
fear of losing their [patronage] which restrains his
frauds and corrects his negligence.
- Adam Smith
A Quick QAME Comparison:
Anthropology and Business
Question What does it mean to
How to best organize people,
processes and resources to
generate value, wealth and
Assumptions Empiricist basis of
space and time.
Virtues of markets; scarcity;
competition; action bias;
*From Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall’s paper for this panel
A Few Areas of Difference:
Anthropology and Business
subject area /
Observe, withhold moral
judgments, don’t interfere /
Gather useful facts, prioritize, make
decisions, take action.
Outcomes sought Seek understanding of how
groups/societies function. Bring
this understanding to the world.
Seek influence/impact/outcomes in
the markets. Bring greater
prosperity to the world.
Less time constrained, longer
Highly time constrained, shorter
Facts emphasized Qualitative Quantitative
Language Academic terminology (ten dollar
Business terminology (acronyms,
The academy is fundamentally
“good,” business is suspect.
Business is fundamentally “good,”
academia is suspect.
“Publish or perish.” Academic
publications prove professional’s
worth. Fewer jobs / career
moves per decade.
“Perform or get out.” Business
results prove professional’s worth.
Multiple jobs / career moves per
For further reading: places to start
For more about the QAME model:
Alan Barnard’s History and Theory in Anthropology.
Published 2000 by Cambridge University Press.
For a model of how people in groups form a shared
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social
Construction of Reality. Published 1967 by Anchor.
This book is intensive; for several other books that
give a summary treatment of this content, check
the Amazon reviews.
For more about anthropology and business:
Ann Jordan’s book is a short and accessible
summary: Business Anthropology. Published 2003
by Waveland Press, Inc.
Gellner, David. Inside Organizations:
Anthropologists at Work. Published 2001 by Berg.
Schwartzman, Helen. Ethnography in Organizations.
Published 1992 by Sage.
Wright, Susan. The Anthropology of Organizations.
Published 1994 by Routledge.
For more discussion of transdisciplinary issues between
anthropology, design and business: AnthroDesign
email list at:
For more on business management practices:
A starting point: Peter Drucker and Warren
Bennis are both considered “classic” authors in
this area. For more experts, see Derek
Stockley’s list of Top 50 Management Gurus; this
list is based on an Accenture survey to determine
the “world’s leading business intellectuals.”
For more on the theory of business: a few historical
and more recent references:
Liang, John. The Theory of Business for Busy
Men. First published 1868; reprinted 2004 by
Roth, William. The Evolution of Management
Theory. Published 1994 by CRC.
Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of
Scientific Management. First published 1911;
Veblen, Thornstein. The Theory of Business
Enterprise. First published 1904; various
Wren, Daniel. The History of Management
Thought. Published 2004 by Wiley.
This presentation is available at www.slideshare.net/MCW