The contribution of Anthropology to companies

Anthropology is a discipline that can contribute a lot to Innovation. In fact, I had a positive experience, when in 2014 we hired an anthropologist / economist who made very interesting contributions to an innovative project that we wanted to promote.

But first of all. What is innovation? There are many definitions in this regard, but mine is this: "Generate changes that produce value for users, customers or citizens in the form of products, services or systems that improve their well-being and quality of life."

This "generation of value" can manifest itself in situations as diverse as designing shoes that are much more comfortable, digitizing a service that can be used remotely to improve user mobility, create a model of home health care that satisfies a neglected need for a certain segment or even, rethink the rules that define the participation of citizens in the political decisions of a country.

What is really important in these examples is that the "increase in value" inherent in genuine innovation is always measured from an anthropocentric perspective, that is, it must produce an improvement in people's lives.

This is not incompatible with making money, rather it often happens that putting people in the center helps a lot to get profitable businesses, to the extent that the second is conceived as an effect derived from the former.

This humanistic idea of ​​innovation is what enhances the role of Anthropology as "social science that studies the human being in an integral way"; and to my way of seeing, there are several reasons that explain the great influence that this discipline can have in the management of innovation.

These are some of them:

1. Its strong empirical nature, since it is based on direct observation and the method of long-term fieldwork (inherited from Ethnography), something that innovation projects in companies have lacked. This idea of ​​cultural anthropology can be extrapolated to anthropology applied to the world of innovation, so as not to be content with mere information from secondary sources.

2. The emphasis placed on qualitative research methods, an approach that the marketing pseudo-science which has been devalued in companies. The anthropologist does not reject the quantitative, and in fact takes advantage of the tradition that in that sense inherits from the sociology, but appreciates much more the qualitative methods, of which in turn feed their sociological colleagues.

3. The "specificity", which is one of the attributes that works most and values ​​the anthropological approach, by putting the focus on "human variability". This vision is critical to detect niche innovation opportunities and propose segmentation models that are effective. In fact, Anthropology is usually understood as "the discipline that deals with the contemporary diversity of human cultures".

4. The primary intention of the anthropological approach (I would say that is its obsession) to understand the motivations of people in their decision making in a given context; which makes it very useful to discern if an "innovation" adds value to the expectations of the potential beneficiary.

5. The independent gaze with which anthropological good practice is defined in a strict way, which, as Augé and Colleyn explain well, comes very well for innovation: "Anthropology puts the decoration of established truths in crisis as during their stay on the terrain the researcher is obliged to leave behind the protection that conformism implies with respect to a concrete order of the world ".

6. The emphasis that Anthropology places on empathizing with the subjects of study. This vocation is well summarized in this idea: "Not to judge, but to understand", and which is at the very center of the innovative logics of success.


For this reason; When working on business models in companies for entrepreneurship, one of the most repeated mistakes is that their vision of the client has only one perspective. For this reason, companies need anthropology.

Regardless of the size of the company, access to the market should not be from an economic perspective, but social. Let me explain ... When we try to create a project (company) that is relevant, we can not start from an analysis of the needs of a customer segment, but from an analysis of social needs. Identifying, or better said, changing the concept of client to being human is key to building a relevant project. An analysis of a need must be an analysis of a social need, it must be an analysis of how human beings behave in their environments, how they relate, what they see relevant, what tastes they have, what needs they have to cover. That is, an ethnographic analysis of a population group must be made.

After carrying out that aforementioned ethnographic analysis, we will be able to create segments and give it a customer focus, we will be able to discover a latent need, analyze our ability to create an answer on which to design a business model and discover its profitability. The result must be a solid, sustainable proposal with the capacity to expand its range of clients to other social groups.

If we start from an ethnographic analysis we will have the possibility to give solid answers to real needs, to solve problems that affect the human being and not to focus our presence in the market in a marketing campaign to generate a fictitious demand, because it is not based on a real need, but in the creation of a desire with a solidity at least questionable.


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