How Business Managers Think (for anthropologists and others)


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Part of a panel at the American Anthropological Association 2008 annual meeting.

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How Business Managers Think (for anthropologists and others)

  1. 1. 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 Contact Mary Walker at or via
  2. 2. 2 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
  3. 3. 3 “For an anthropologist… working with witches is normal… …it is working with business that is exotic.” -Ann Jordan, Business Anthropology (2003) (and vice versa)
  4. 4. 4 Bernard’s four elements The key Question of the discipline Methods used by practitioners Evidence that practitioners recognize as valid For more information, see Bernard’s History and Theory in Anthropology (2000). 4 Assumptions made inside the discipline
  5. 5. 5 Clarification and Disclaimers “Business managers”: Who are we talking about?  Managers of for-profit businesses  In the United States  Now (~2008) Note: This particular QAME analysis is participant-generated, i.e. the author is a business manager. It is anecdotal, not formally researched. 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.
  6. 6. 6 QAME for Business Management The Cheat Sheet Question How to best organize people, processes and resources to generate value, wealth and organizational sustainability Evidence • Customer behavior Method • Business processes Assumptions • Virtues of markets • Scarcity • Competition • Action bias • Metrics QAME
  7. 7. 7 QAME To generate Value Wealth Organizational sustainability. How to best organize People Processes Resources The Basic Question A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business. - Henry Ford
  8. 8. 8 Mutually reinforcing Assumptions QAME #1) Virtues of markets #2) Scarcity #3) Competition #4) Action bias #5) Metrics
  9. 9. 9 Assumption #1: Virtues of Markets (and businesses) QAME …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 Corollary assumption: “Business” is the most efficient and effective mechanism for addressing many societal needs.
  10. 10. 10 Assumption #2: Scarcity QAME 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 too much. - Steve Jobs Key resources are limited. Time is the ultimate limited resource.
  11. 11. 11 Assumption #3: Competition Life is competition. Business metaphors: warfare, sports, Darwinism. Stasis is an illusion. Things are either improving or deteriorating. QAME 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 worse. - attributed to multiple sports coaches
  12. 12. 12 Assumption #4: Action bias Business managers are evaluated by their ability to predict and deliver future outcomes. QAME Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight. - 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 outcomes. 12
  13. 13. 13 Assumption #5: Metrics Metrics are essential. QAME 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.
  14. 14. 14 Method: Business Processes 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 (accounting/financial processes) QAME 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
  15. 15. 15 Evidence: Customer Behavior QAME Nothing happens 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
  16. 16. 16 A Quick QAME Comparison: Anthropology and Business Anthropology* Business Question What does it mean to be human? How to best organize people, processes and resources to generate value, wealth and organizational sustainability. Assumptions Empiricist basis of knowledge across space and time. Virtues of markets; scarcity; competition; action bias; metrics. Methods Participant observation. Business processes. Evidence Ethnographic monograph. Customer behavior. *From Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall’s paper for this panel
  17. 17. 17 A Few Areas of Difference: Anthropology and Business Anthropology Business Orientation to subject area / discipline Observe, withhold moral judgments, don’t interfere / contaminate. 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. Relationship to time Less time constrained, longer time horizon. Highly time constrained, shorter time horizon. Facts emphasized Qualitative Quantitative Language Academic terminology (ten dollar Latinate words). Business terminology (acronyms, sports/war metaphors). Interdisciplinary ethical biases The academy is fundamentally “good,” business is suspect. Business is fundamentally “good,” academia is suspect. Career path requirements “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 decade.
  18. 18. 18 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 worldview: 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 Kessinger. Roth, William. The Evolution of Management Theory. Published 1994 by CRC. Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. First published 1911; various reprintings. Veblen, Thornstein. The Theory of Business Enterprise. First published 1904; various reprintings. Wren, Daniel. The History of Management Thought. Published 2004 by Wiley. This presentation is available at