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  • Jason Partridge

Will your business adapt or perish?

A fireside chat with Gillian Tett, about the need for more anthropology in the corporate world.


Mention the term ‘anthropology’ to most people and the first thing they may think of is evolution. Or the study of how creatures adapt or perish. Corporate anthropology isn’t that different. Only, it is the study of people and the meanings they associate with your product or services. This insight allows a business to more effectively adapt to changes in culture.


And businesses that fail to adapt, are at risk of extinction.


This idea - the adoption of anthropology in the corporate world - inspired a fascinating conversation at MotivBase's first of several fireside chats.


On April 15th, MotivBase CEO Ujwal Arkalgud was joined by social anthropologist Gillian Tett.

Not only is Gillian the chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US of the Financial Times. She is also a Best-Selling Author whose new book “Anthro-Vision” tackles the need for companies to embrace anthropology.


To view the full conversation on our Youtube Channel:


But for a summary of the conversation here are the key points covered in the chat.

  1. An intro: The role of anthropology in business and innovation. Gillian talks about her background in anthropology, her field research and her journey to working with the "Titans of Wall Street".

  2. Why 'meaning' matters? And why it's anything but fixed. Gillian and Ujwal talk about how everything carries meaning and that all meanings are evolving and changing. If you want to understand how changes in culture may impact your business, you need an anthropological lens to map and track these changes.

  3. Why big data by itself isn't the solution. It's about how big data is used to study and decode the diversity of meaning that exists out there. Ujwal talks about the problems with traditional forms or research that require asking consumers questions and Gillian talks about the problems with "tunnel vision" and and the need for Anthropological Intelligence. Big data is a compass, but if you don't look up to see the forest, you're destined to walk into a tree.

  4. What is Contextual Intelligence? Re-envisioning the role of traditional Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in studying the millions of conversations on the internet. Artificial intelligence isn't enough in and of itself. Ujwal and Gillian talk about the need to go beyond mere mentions to incorporate models that contextualize what is happening in a culture. It's not enough to know what people are saying. You have to answer the question "Why?"

  5. How 'meaning' allows us to get past shiny-object-syndrome. Ujwal and Gillian talk about how Anthropology can help prevent getting hypnotized by short-term behaviors and instead, focus on long-term cultural meanings that are more likely to withstand the test of time.

  6. How Cambridge Analytica built AI models using Facebook 'likes' and why they don't solve the problem of studying 'meaning'. Gillian talks about the danger to following data only based on mentions or likes. There is more to the picture than meets the eye. Ujwal talks about the value of long form content and discourse.

  7. Using the lens of 'meaning' to understand how much of a disconnect there might be between a company's perceived purpose versus the consumer's expectations of that purpose. Ujwal talks about how companies are not asking if their brand or organizational purpose are aligned to the consumer's expectations and definitions. Gillian talks about the importance of thinking of your company as based on human relationships. If you don't understand the internal or external definitions of a metric or purpose that you use to define and set expectations, your business will struggle.

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Gillian for joining us. It was a great conversation and we look forward to our next collaboration.


In the meantime, we are now looking forward to the upcoming and second fireside chat that will feature acclaimed Cyborg Anthropologist Amber Case. Amber studies the interaction between humans and computers and how technology is changing everyday life. She is currently a 2021 Mozilla Fellow working on the future of money, alternative business models for the web and creator compensation.



In addition to her TED Talks, Amber was named one of Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30 and Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology. She was also named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2012 and received the Claude Shannon Innovation Award from Bell Labs.

To sign up for the next fireside chat with Amber, click here.


About the MotivBase Fireside Chat Series: Over the past 5+ years, MotivBase has seen the power of anthropology and how it can serve business leaders in predicting where culture is going and what will be more relevant to their consumers in the short and long term.


In this series of conversations with some of the biggest and brightest business minds, our CEO and Cultural Anthropologist Ujwal Arkalgud will be talking about how anthropology is critical at decoding the implicit meanings that get assigned to cultural topics, ideas, issues, and trends. In each session, Ujwal and a guest speaker will unearth and showcase the value of anthropological thinking in driving innovation in an environment that is culturally becoming increasingly fragmented and complex.


To learn more about MotivBase visit our website at motivbase.com.