This Anthro Life is based on lifting up the voices and value of anthropologists and human scientists in all fields through sharing their stories, thought leadership, struggles, and winding paths. Today we've got something special, where we turn the mic around on our host, Adam Gamwell and hear some of his story on how he is building a career as an anthropologist. TAL's Adam Gamwell recently guested on fellow business anthropologist Keith Kellersohn's new YouTube series Anthro Perspectives, where he interviews anthropologists in industry and businesses about their work. This episode has a bit of everything:
We cover all of this and more in our conversation.
One of the most helpful things in these scenarios I find is hearing other people's stories about how they did it or are doing it, or even how they just stumbled around in the dark and making it up as they went along and still came out with some kind of experience. I think perhaps the latter is closer to my own story.
So I invite you to join me for a chat about career paths, learning to articulate the value anthropology. Social sciences provide to businesses and a bit about why I do what I do. Thanks to Keith for sharing this episode.
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Adam Gamwell: [00:00:00] Hey folks, welcome to This Anthro Life I'm your host, Adam Gamwell. Today, I've got a special guest episode on fellow business anthropologist, Keith Kellersohn's new YouTube series, where he interviews anthropologists working in industry and businesses about their work.
This episode's got a bit of everything, whether you're an anthropologist in training, in school, looking to get your first job, an academic looking to move into industry, or if you're already working somewhere out there looking to change careers, or perhaps if you don't work with anthropologists, and you're trying to find out and understand what are the value of anthropology can bring to your business. We cover all of this and more in our conversation. One of the most helpful things in these scenarios I find is hearing other people's stories about how they did it or are doing it, or even how they just stumbled around in the dark, made it up as they went along and still came out with some kind of experience.
I think perhaps the latter is closer to my own story. So I invite you to join me for a chat about career paths, learning to articulate the value anthropology and the social sciences provide to businesses and a bit about why I do what I do. Thanks to Keith for sharing this episode.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:01:18] Okay well Hello everybody welcome to Anthro Perspectives, my name is Keith Kellersohn, and I'm an applied business and organizational anthropologist. And today I have with me Adam Gamwell who has his PhD in anthropology from Brandeis University. And he's a business and design anthropologist.
Adam also hosts a podcast show called This Anthro Life. It's great meeting and talking to you today. So why don't you tell everyone a little bit about yourself, where you work and what you're doing now?
Adam Gamwell: [00:01:48] Sure. Thanks for having me on the show. Keith, it’s fun. I've been enjoying your show as well, so it's cool to then get to join in the side of the screen as it were, so yeah, as you mentioned, I'm a business and design anthropologist but what I want to point out with that is that I'm the kind of person that never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. But I've always been drawn to certain forms of thinking, tha now I can define as anthropological or social scientific or what I also like to think of now as human scientific, which is a fun way of talking about it that I've learned actually really just this year. So we're all still learning. And something else I want to make clear with this too is that kind of how I described myself in the work that I do is very much in formation.
That's been in part because I have largely been self employed for the past few years. Working for myself and that has been because on one level I never really felt that one job description is totally encapsulated the kind of work I want to do or what I was hoping to accomplish.
Professionally, and the other side though, is that it's really tricky when you're coming from being an academic you're learning in graduate school, or even undergraduate to then articulate or understand how to say what your value is, what you can do for a business. That's not something that you're taught in school. And so there's been a lot of self learning as that process. So self-learning has gone hand in hand, for better, for worse with self-employment as a way to find my way through. And as part of that, I wear a lot of hats.
I co-founded Missing Link Studios in 2018, as a qualitative design research and storytelling agency with another business and tech anthropologists and Astrid Countee. And Missing Link is my attempt to bring together my two passions of storytelling and anthropology and we premise that work around helping clients tackle challenges around understanding the problems that they face and solving issues around communication and voice. What we might call branding on one level, and basically, how do they improve their social impact with their work? As you also mentioned at the top, I'm also a maker, I've been podcasting with This Anthro Life and producing other shows for about seven years now, which is crazy to think about that I've been doing it for that long.
I also care deeply about education and I've taught anthropological thinking in college level classes and anthropology departments in design programs and engineering schools. Yeah. And that says something to do with how I approach anthropology and where it can best be used. I think about it, these hybrid spaces of, not just being in one department, but how does anthropology help design or engineering, for example, and lastly, or just more recently? I have started working with an innovation and consumer research organization where we conduct rapid ethnographies using big data.
It's a lot of hats that I wear, but, again, I guess it's kind of part and parcel of the self employment world of figuring out where these pieces go. So happy to dig into whatever makes sense. And we can go from there.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:04:26] Absolutely. I really appreciate what you said about not being able to fit into a job description, in my own sort of job search that I've done. I feel like that so many times when companies put out a job posting or job description, they're looking for somebody to fit a certain formula, right? Like for example, if you're going to go apply for a job at Google, they want to see that you've worked at Facebook for a certain amount of time at Uber for a certain amount of time at Amazon for a certain amount of time.
So you have to follow this recipe. And then if just depending on the position they want you to have, the exact same job, for the past 10 years with some sort of progressive experience with it. And I really don’t think that most people who are all looking for jobs fit those extremely limited definitions that companies put out.
The fact that you're doing so many different things I think is almost better in my opinion, as far as, the richness of life itself and the richness of what it means to be human. I don't think I would ever want to fit into that kind of strict, rigid definition of what a company thinks or a hiring manager thinks of what this person should be.
Adam Gamwell: [00:05:42] Yeah, It's a challenge. And it's work to learn to be okay being uncomfortable. That you at first you just say, I don't really feel like I fit in these positions. And then after that, then learning, how do you work with that discomfort?
To be okay with it, but then on top of it, how do you find strength in that space? And yeah, that's an ongoing challenge. Yep.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:05:59] Yeah. So tell us about your podcast a little bit. What kind of guests do you have and what do you talk about?
Adam Gamwell: [00:06:04] Sure. so This Anthro Life is my baby, and again, as I said, we've been doing it for about seven years and it began as a I like to call it graduate school therapy, that me and two other graduate students, we began it as an idea that we find ourselves at the bar after class, like you might do and every once in a while, we'd be discussing some random thing from class and find ourselves saying, you know what? That the way you described Marx's labor theory of value actually made sense and eventually either it was the beer or we just decided we should maybe record some of this and just see, because why can't we talk about these things? And so it began just as that, as like, why couldn't we, how do we make it more conversational to take anthropological thinking or theories or ideas and make them conversational? And it's funny. It's an open secret at this point, cause I keep talking about it, but This Anthro Life essentially is, if you follow the trace of what the show has done with the kind of guests we have and the topics that we talk about, over the past seven years, it's basically a like unofficial biography of what I'm interested in.
Which as you know too, when you have a show, you can pick what you want to talk about. That's right. and how you approach the things too. So o, one of the big changes that's happening, to folks, if you have, or haven't listened to the show, in general, it is a relatively, an open conversation, open format conversation.
It began with us three, co-hosts picking up an idea like garbage or beer and the kind of just doing a round table talking about what are some interesting ideas, theories, articles about. Beer. Cause who doesn't wanna talk about that for an hour or why don't we make garbage or waste or environmentalism, and then over the time, the show is then shifted to doing interviews with, originally anthropologists, mostly folks working in academia cause that's where we were at the time. So again, this is why I'm saying it's a little bit of a biographical piece. And seeing how do they, how can we talk to them conversationally?
And then that's when I first got the sense of there's a little bit of not pushback, but like here's where we're recognizing some boundaries of what we are being trained as an anthropologist to communicate the work that we're doing. And obviously talking about it like we're doing right now is very different from having to either read a script or having to write something for a conference.and if you've been to any academic conference and you've heard someone read a paper, it's very different than if you're watching a Netflix show, right? The presentation of an idea is very different. I started getting really interested in that, of actually what are the mechanisms? How do we talk about the work that we're doing?
And, so I was just fast forward up until where we mostly are today. And that, as I've become more interested, again, both starting to think about myself as self-employed capacity, really for the past two and a half years, is when the show really shifted to me focusing a lot on career as a question. And this is both about having, it began with having a business anthropologist on the show and that was a big break of going from like researchers to business anthropologists. Like obviously they do research too, but coming from an academic sense research feels different.
Which is itself an insight and so then where we are today I still will have business anthropologist on the show and folks that are working in industry, but largely like the emphasis of the show now is, I am interested in having anybody on the show that's doing innovative and interesting work in business or in academia in any kind of industry, for example, the last four episodes, I'll just say, we're with a cyber psychologist who works in academia, working with a neuroscientist and a marketer, working with a cultural anthropologist that works in consumer research, and with a forensic entrepreneur.
It's interesting. But then part of that then is if they aren't anthropologist, which they don't have to be actually only two of those four guests were anthropologists. The other two were not. So the value of it then is how can I, as the host ask questions, anthropologically to help our guests and our listeners approach, the conversation approach, the questions, approach, the way of thinking about problems, anthropologically? And so it's kinda I don't want to poopoo Malcolm Gladwell too much, at least not this early in the episode, but the idea of how he frames nonfiction work is about giving people pieces of candy as it were that helps them get to an insight without then, saying here's what the insight is, walk us there.
But as being intentional about how do we communicate the kind of work. And so for me, it's like, how do we put anthropological candy into the conversation? So people come away saying, okay, I get a little bit more about why that's right. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's what we're doing, That's great.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:10:02] That's great and that's something that I think has been a common theme in these interviews that I've been doing in this show that I've been doing. Anthropologists working in business. I think people struggle with that. They may think. people are on the business side and they think, yeah, we have some people who work here that have degrees in anthropology. Yeah, no, it works, it's fine as long as they have a degree, we're not talking about that. That's great. But we're not talking about that. What we're talking about is, people who bring anthropological skill and anthropological talent into business, and actually some of which are hired to be anthropologists like Elizabeth Briody, she was hired at GM, General Motors to be an anthropologist and there are many other, I think, two, areas, one of the areas that I'm fascinated by the most is people analytics, which is quantitative heavy, but doesn't have a lot of strength when it comes to the qualitative research. And so I think, too, I'm very interested in that because if you're going to talk about people, anthropology, if you break down the definition from Greek, it's the, or yeah, from Greek it's the actual science of people going to talk about people, data science, anthropology, culture, qualitative research ethnography should all play into that at some point.
Adam Gamwell: [00:11:19] Yeah.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:11:21] So I like what you said very much.
Adam Gamwell: [00:11:22] Yeah. Thanks. It's yeah. I just had to before it is a, you got to figure it out as you go along too because even as we're saying, it's you don't get taught that ahead of time and it is a language game almost, It's like, how do we learn what are other people saying in different fields and people analytics versus user research and then how do we talk to that? How do we articulate to that?
Keith Kellersohn: [00:11:42] Yep. So speaking of user research, what are some of the design projects you've worked on and what are some of the insights you've gained from that work?
Adam Gamwell: [00:11:52] Yeah, sure. So one thing that, to me, I think it may be helpful. That's been fun for me to think about is that I say I'm a design anthropologist. That sounds fake when I say I'm a design anthropologist. No one ever gave me the job title of that but that's how I professionally present myself.
And so to me, what that means. Cause if you, obviously we know anthropology in this case as the study of humanity and in a broad sense. And then, if folks are in school or an industry you may have heard like applied anthropology and public anthropology, I think to me it's mainly useful to distinguish between these.
At least from my perspective and that, so if we have academic anthropology, which is research within a university then we might have public anthropology, which, the organization Cool Anthropology describes as engaged scholarship. So you're still doing scholarship, but you're engaging with the public, which makes sense with the word public.
Applied anthropology might go a step a little bit further than that it is actually trying to help people solve problems. And these practitioners that may call them practitioners versus researchers. They may work in an industry, such as the department of fishing in the government or something to help make sure that fishing stock is okay.
Design anthropology might go one step, even beyond that, where it's actually working with communities to design interventions, to help solve problems and these can be as big as working on cultural brokerage between different groups of people that have different mindsets, which I'll talk about in a second or something as simple as like another project is helping someone understand or articulate. Actually the problem they're trying to solve in a very small sense. So in a big sense, one of the projects, this is a part of my PhD research, but, I, when I did this research, I framed it as a design anthropological project because I worked essentially as a research consultant for a international NGO in Peru, working with the Peruvian government and indigenous farmers and this NGO and the work was essentially that this question of cultural brokers.
And by that I mean, it was helping communicate between indigenous farmers and agricultural scientists and the government and NGOs around the question of quinoa conservation, like the little food quinoa. So there's the ultimate hipster project, but so in this case it was around, we design interventions for conservation.
How do we incentivize farmers to want to grow agrobiodiverse quinoa when there's not a market value for them, but there is a market for commercialized quinoa that we can then buy and sell here at Whole Foods and so in this case, it was thinking about like, why does a design anthropological approach help here.
It's because it was making sense of basically how farmers and scientists and government agencies all came together around the same problem and they use different language. And so a lot of the work as being an anthropologist, you're hanging out with people, you're living with them, you're spending time with them.
And so they appeal to you a little bit differently than they would if it's a more formalized government agent as it were. And so to me, like that was what gave me the taste of this is a big, long project of a design anthropological intervention that, ended up working with ten communities and conserving six different kinds of quinoa and a bunch of other fun hipster sounding things that I got to pretend to be Anthony Bourdain for a little while.
Cause I helped a chef come up with some ideas for new recipes. Yeah. Great. Mostly I just sat in the kitchen, so there's that side of it. And the other side is like a much smaller design project was actually just working for example, with the AAA, the American Anthropological Association, to just think about how to ask questions of users for the Anthropology News, the publication they do now they were trying to revamp it. And so basically we just sat down and had a couple of conversations about how we would frame the research in a different way. So to me, the design work can go again from this, two year long multi-stakeholder thing to something as small as let's actually just figure out how do we articulate questions to users in a way that's going to actually get results. That'll help us understand. I should maybe move this around to the website or I should change that, goes across the spectrum.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:15:25] That’s great and also tell us about the qualitative research you've done, surrounding organizational culture.
Adam Gamwell: [00:15:31] Yeah, sure. So this stuff came a little bit later in that, so, basically the way my kind of biography or my story went a little bit was that I finished my PhD in 2018.
And then, as I said, I was doing a design anthropological project and I was really interested in design itself as the field, obviously from the visual graphics side, but also then the idea of user experience and what does it mean for people to use websites or use digital services and apps and what is their experience of doing that?
And so I became interested in that phase and space of it. And so I ended up taking a user experience bootcamp, in 2019 into the early part of 2020, actually. So up until the early part of this year, and that actually gave me a really much stronger sense of how to talk industry as it were.
And it's funny, this will sound a little strange, but I've been teaching in a design program for two years at this point, just as an adjunct professor, one or two classes per semester. As I was getting things going and, I was teaching design thinking and these more higher level ideas of design discourse of teaching design students how to articulate their work and write about it. So I wasn't really critiquing specifically like their line or if their golden ratio was off, I learned to do those kinds of things. But, so with all of that then got me more comfortable having an industry framework of language.
So that I looked more and again, in these design areas, but then with that one of the pieces that always stuck with me and it’s probably because I'm an anthropologist is around storytelling. And how do we tell stories is one way of thinking about how we organize information and who tells the stories and who is making sense out of the stories. And how do people interpret them? And oddly enough I then come to find out that there's actually just a way of thinking about this, which is like organizational culture in an organization. and that's very people-centered. And so some projects that I've gotten to work on, which have been super cool, have been largely what we call white label services, where someone will hire me, like as Missing Link, but then I'll go work basically as if I'm part of their organization, and so what this would be then is for example, one project I did earlier was for a international nonprofit that was trying to rebrand their communication strategy around, like they had different organizations in distinct parts of regions and they wanted to have more of a unified voice.
And so it was interesting because it was framed as a communication challenge, but let's figure out how do we change the way we talk about ourselves. But then, I did what we might think of as traditional research. I went and stayed with them, for in this case, in business context, I was there for a week.
So it wasn't like I was not there for two years this time but hanging out and doing interviews with people and just seeing what office culture is and then getting a sense of how people think about their work and how they move about the space. And it's interesting cause so being there gave a sense of how people, what kind of camaraderie do they have, how do they think about power structures?
Like obviously who they report to, but how do they feel about how they should report and, so it was interesting to be able to do what I felt was a bit of old school anthropology, going hanging out with people and seeing how they do what they do. And then mixing that with other like design research tools, like competitive analysis of how do other similar organizations that they like, how do they talk about themselves?
What kind of ad campaigns do they use? What kind of branding do they use? And mixing all these pieces together to then ultimately come up with some new communication ideas of how they can articulate their value and who they are and their identity. And so to me, it's interesting, cause it's very steeped in this question of how do we organize ourselves?
That also it's been, that's been an interesting you kind of piece, one other thing I've done in that space also some white label kind of work is, helping an organization both internally and externally to do research around workplace relationships. And what does it mean to have a good workplace relationship and have intercommunication and have clear communication and what do these things look like?
And so we've been doing projects where we interview CEOs of companies that have reputations for being good about that. And, it's been a mix of this kind of qualitative quantitative stuff where we have a survey, but we also interview them about the questions on the survey and so that's been really interesting too.
And, just again, get a sense of what is happening behind the curtain, from a leadership side. So some of it obviously can be like, how do the employees deal with ideas and think about authority. And the other side is, and how do the authorities or leadership think about how they should relate to employees? So I think both sides are super important when it comes to organizational culture and it's a tough nut to crack.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:19:42] Yeah. Yeah. It is. And my career has been very much working in organizations and doing some research. And what'd, you were talking about cultural brokerage and language, I think, really makes me think about how organizations have this assumption that the way their language is correct, the way they talk is correct. And the people they work with, whether it's a vendor or a supplier or farmers in Peru, just have to learn their language and then they understand, and then everything will be organized and come together. And that's what needs to happen, but that's, I don't even know what the word is for that lingocentric or enthnolingocentric
Adam Gamwell: [00:20:27] I like that. I like that.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:20:28] But, I can imagine being in that cultural broker position and, there's times when. I've been in that position, not knowing that it was like I was culturally broken brokering or whatever, however you want to put it.
But you may talk to someone maybe in that organizational leadership area in a certain way. And then when you talk to the other side that you're brokering with, you're going to try to say the same thing in different words then there’s someone over here who can say, that's not what they said. Oh, that's not what they said or how come you're saying it this way. This is not what we agreed to. It is, but I have to say it differently to get both sides to come together on the same page. Otherwise they're not going to understand what one is the other, because there could be, I would say, especially if you're working with indigenous people, there could be some words that an organization leadership within an organization could use that are very triggering for indigenous people, I don't think we even use the word colonization or something like that or anything like that, but you've gotta be very careful.
Adam Gamwell: [00:21:30] Sure, sure.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:21:32] What words are used because you want to keep, make sure that relationship stays intact, sometimes the one side doesn't know what the other sides, bad words are to put it that way
Adam Gamwell: [00:21:44] But even with that too, It doesn't even have to be spoken words. And it can be the language of ritual. This is how we talk. This is how we organize and if you do that differently too, Then that can cause it to fall apart too. So it is, that's actually the super power of anthropology. As you say, multilingual
Keith Kellersohn: [00:22:01] We can kind of see, okay, this is that, this is not going to work. This is not going to be said properly or that I can just see a reaction over here that this is going well but it shouldn't be. So yeah, we do notice those things and it's almost, sometimes it's very anxiety producing because we want to wait and say. Wait, stop. Don't say anything. Just hang on a second.
Adam Gamwell: [00:22:21] Yeah, that'd be okay. Just wait, just hold. Yes. Hold on.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:22:24] Calm down, everybody. It's going to be okay. You can't always do that.
Adam Gamwell: [00:22:28] True.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:22:29] So in your experience, what's been the value that qualitative research can bring to companies with their initiatives surrounding organizational culture?
Adam Gamwell: [00:22:37] Yeah. So building on what we're saying there in the top most level, you tend to get a human perspective rather than just numbers. Well, it's a broad statement. It's also incredibly valuable that it shouldn't be diminished. That it actually is getting the human perspective. And that has been talking with people that are just again, seeing the rituals and moving around in a space for how they organize, who sits with who at the lunch room. We talk about that in high school, it matters in the workplace too.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:23:01] It happens in the workplace too absolutely.
Adam Gamwell: [00:23:02] And some people in the workplace still act like they're in high school, that matters. So I think that I'm getting that is super important. And so the other kind of piece that we're saying there is that you can see better what will stick and what won't, and that's just by again, people will appeal to you differently. If you're an anthropologist in a space where social scientists, where human scientists doing research in this space, they may appeal to you differently then again, if you're the authority or power structure, that is the one imposing the rules.
And I think that there's something about that being an arbiter or a third person or third space, that actually makes a difference also. That anthropologists are particularly good at doing, we're there’s Mike Agar’s idea of the professional stranger. It matters that we can do that and that we can be in a space, but not be super beholden to it, but hold space for it as it were. I guess the other thing I'd say too, I think that, to me also, it shouldn't be diminished is our ability to interpret what we're seeing. You know what I mean? Anthropology is an interpretive science or at least that's the camp that yeah, I live in, as most of us do, post Clifford Geertz but this idea that we actually interpret the meaning that we're seeing. Cause everybody makes meanings out of everything, the language that we're speaking, how we dress, how we talk. What were our values that we carry are laden with meaning? And our work as anthropologists is to understand that we can look at behavior, but the point is not to see what someone is doing specifically, but to then get behind the why they're doing it. And, to be honest, like the big challenge with that is how do we articulate that to a business right?
What's the business value of doing that? I'm remembering a thing that Abbas Jaffer who works at Facebook said, he's a business anthropologist also, he was speaking at the business anthropology conference in New York a few years ago. And his answer to this question was like, is it harder to put out PR fires than it is to do something good in the first place?
I was like that’s a good answer. That there's a very simple level of value. Do you want to get the PR fire to go off or do you want to actually get someone that can actually broker between these different groups and figure out what isn't gonna work and start there, set yourself up for success versus fail and then try to fix it.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:24:43] Yeah, I guess. And that's something, I also have a conversation with many people about is, yes, quantitative data is important, but again, one of the skills that anthropology brings is this interpretative skill. If we have qualitative data we can even help interpret that much more because I often wonder how much time do companies spend even though they get quantitative data quick, they get it quick. They got it on their desk. They got it on a dashboard. It's right there in front of them. How much time do they spend interpreting that data? Talking about that data, debating about that data, arguing about that data, how did you pull this and this isn't what I thought it would be. And that sort of thing.
Adam Gamwell: [00:25:21] Or I don't believe it cause it's not what I thought it was going to be. Exactly.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:25:24] I don’t believe that. So why don't you go back and pull some more data? And then it's almost like the star Trek episode, The Trouble with Tribbles you hit the data over and over again.
Now you have this huge thing. And then they say, simplify it for me. Well, we had it simple for you. The problem is getting it interpreted in a realistic and accurate way so that top leaders can make decisions based on that data, but to be able to interpret it properly. You're going to probably need some qualitative data and you're going to need someone who can help with the interpretation, because I think that's one thing that I think that, company leadership, they want data that they don't have to interpret. And, I often hear, and this was a common term way back is actionable data. We want data that's actually. Look, data. can't make you do anything. Okay. Data doesn't take action. You actually take action based on the data. So it's your choice whether to act on it or not. In many places I worked, sometimes the issue is they don't act at all because they're too afraid of the risks that may come with making the wrong decision or making a substandard decision based on that data. Yeah. So I think that's one place where anthropologists can really fill in and hopefully, leaders don't think we're stepping on their toes, but we can help with the interpretation and we can help with making a more accurate interpretation with the qualitative research.
Adam Gamwell: [00:26:52] Yeah. And with that too, that's a really great point and the other piece I'd highlight there too, is, as you said, is what is it that leadership wants to do with data? First the actionable and the secondary is use it to make decisions. So if we, as anthropologists or social scientists or human scientists can take that knowledge and then think about that's how we're going to use our data and interpretation. We also need to present data in a way that feels like they can make decisions as it were. And actually, there is power in interpretation, right? And so it's, it is a bit incumbent on us to show this is the power of interpretation, like that is super valuable for your business.
But then, it’s like saying, Hey, we can help grease the wheels of decision making to make it even easier for you to do it right. And feel more confident in your decision making process because this interpretation is so clear, Or whatever it is. Yeah. So high five anthropology for that.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:27:36] Yeah, exactly. And I think the other thing too is, put together a process that once that decision is made to constantly follow up and monitor that decision to see how it's going.
Adam Gamwell: [00:27:45] Yeah.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:27:46] That's something I learned from my days at Toyota. It's a Deming cycle; plan, do, check, act. You've got to have that check in there and, you've got a plan, but you have to do something, right? Why don't you do something? You have to check on it and then be able to readapt. Here's a, here's another anthropological thing we can do is adapt to the situation and adapt to what we're doing and change as we go. In other words, they call it agile these days, but we've been looking at that for, that's been our, the way of our life.
Adam Gamwell: [00:28:18] That's right.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:28:19] So on that subject, you've been working on a personal mission to help anthropologists articulate their value to business. Can you tell us about that and what are some of the key takeaways for that effort?
Adam Gamwell: [00:28:30] Yeah, sure. This is funny too, cause it's it's, it has certainly begun as a personal mission again, in graduate school, trying to figure out how do I think about this conversationally. But the cool thing is as we all know, like there's value in sticking with something you believe in, and it still of course is a personal mission, but because I've stuck with it and learned to talk about it for so long and evolve how I've talked about it, small results like you and I were talking about this right now.
And so there are people that want to have these conversations and there are businesses that want to have these conversations. And, so it's been one of the nicest parts. A personal takeaway of the mission has been that it's not just me and to speak to that, for example, what's really exciting is I actually work with Elizabeth Briody, we recently got a Wenner-Gren one of their first new for their global impact grants, that's designed around helping anthropologists create training programs for anthropologists to be able to talk to the media and to policy makers, to show how our work can be used again, for decision making in a different, slight area.
But ultimately also I mean for businesses as well, is the idea. So just thinking about these different arenas in which anthropology can have impact insured. And that's on one level the one takeaway is that is grants for that kind of work. Like people will pay you to do it. You might be able to do it for your work, if you work in an organization or you're looking for work, but also again, even if not, like there are things like in theWenner-Gren, there's other things outside of, the specific workplace that you can actually get funding and honestly, a sense of validation that it matters to do it.
And I know that sounds weird, but it's again, when you're figuring out how do you articulate your value? having someone to say that question matters and will pay you for and are like, Hey, just that matters anyway. Like thanks for doing it either way like that does do something. It tells you that there's this coalition that's being built.
And so if anybody listening, watching his has thought about this, like how do we share our value for businesses? I know many of the people that listen to this show, that's what this is about. There are people that believe in this work, like beyond Keith and I, and everyone else has been on the show so far.
And that matters like that really matters in part of the work to me, even talking over email before we did this episode too, of just hey, it's actually really great to be able to talk back and forth and say, we are both working on media led efforts to help bring these conversations in a new way also in.
Like that again, just it's these small gestures of just being like, Hey, we're actually, we're in a tribe trying to figure this out. And like that, to me has been incredibly important and validating in a way that both I've been able to find work and then get these kind of surprise things like getting to work on this grant too.
And so there is just the shared hunger that is worth acknowledging that's out there, and it's also partially why, like This Anthro Life has moved from being a straight, anthro conversational show to very much just career oriented stuff. I recently got an email from a fan I'm just, I'm going to out them.
I won't say their name, but they sent me some mail the other day that made me realize this is why I'm doing what I'm doing. And they said that “I just want to let you know that I have, I've been looking for a job recently and I want to tell you that I've been binge listening TAL and it has upped my game incredibly to finding work to the extent that I actually just got a job offer the other day. And so it's been so helpful to pay attention to how the conversations on the show happened and how you do them, as a way to then think about how I say what I'm doing to businesses into folks that are hiring.” And Yeah, of course now I'm like, I need to go back and listen to hear what I'm saying.
So it's to get those things down. But that, I'm not trying to toot my own horn too much anyway, but it really just, it showed me this is what this work is for. And that, the personal mission is now the people's mission, so it's really, honestly, I don't know. It's a weirdly personal answer to a question that I'm saying it's something bigger, but, it just shows me that this is worth doing, and that people want it and that we all want it. And it's so cool to watch us build it together.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:31:53] Yeah. And part of the reason I'm doing this kind of show too, is I think we can help ourselves by helping everyone else.
Adam Gamwell: [00:32:00] That's right.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:32:00] Yeah. And if anybody, who watches this show or listens to your podcasts? Gain some insights or they gain some aha moments where they say, next time they go into a job interview and the interviewer looks at them and says, what is this degree in anthropology about? Then they can, rattle it off and say, this is what it's about. I can help grease the wheels for decision making and I can help, make more
informed research decisions or that sort of thing. However they want to word it and they can get a little script going on and they can memorize it.
But also, I hope that both of us are also telling companies that a lot of these things that you're looking for in employees are actually anthropologists, right? You would never believe it because a lot of companies have this idea in their head that we're Indiana Jones and we had talked about that all the time, but, really, you want someone to come in and solve it. No problems, you know what? We can do that with the right research, we can help get people to work together with the right cultural brokering. We can do so many things. And, I hope that's the message we send to both companies and to, people who are in the job market, looking for jobs.
Adam Gamwell: [00:33:05] Yeah. Amen.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:33:07] Yeah. So what would you tell anthropologists to include when trying to discuss their value to potential employers?
Adam Gamwell: [00:33:13] Yeah, that's the question, right? I think this is really interesting because it's definitely one of these questions that I think about often in part,because there's a challenge with this being a high level question, right? The idea of what do we tell them when they're talking to potential employees? Because there are high level answers. Such as, Oh, we can do the ethnographic perspective where it's holistic and that we can look at both deep dives of various specific phenomena, but then take it up to a cultural level too.
And it's like super hard to explain why that does anything but appealing to what we said before I think it is really helpful too, about the idea of we can actually grease the wheels of decision making, in a much more effective way on top of the fact that we can help different silos, not be so siloed within an organization.
We can help different groups or spaces talk together in a more effective way. So one thing that I've been thinking about recently, cause I've done a number of career webinars with the American Anthropological Association. I've given talks on it this year, too. which is nice.
Cause again, it's showing that as I'm figuring out where we're having a conversation together with other people. And so one of the things that I would actually tell folks to think about, if you're trying to figure out how do I discuss my value to a potential employer? If you're not sure what to say. I would actually take a step back. So if you're already in the interview too late, sorry. But if you're before the interview, what you want to do is when you're looking for a job. So if you're looking at job descriptions, we started with this idea too, you can note again, what it is that the job is asking for the description, the requirements, the whatever, and of course, for most of us that don't have a lot of quote job experience. They want two to four years, or five to 10 years is crap. I can't apply.
One thing to know that is a truth is that these are ideals that a corporation or a company wants. It doesn't mean it's, I'm not gonna say it's not a requirement, but like it's not as required as the word requirement says.
The other thing then is I will do what I call it like a skills assessment. And this is thinking about if, again, if you don't have a lot of job experience or you haven't been at Facebook for two years and then Uber for two years, and then whatever. So you can't just rattle that off.
The flip side is to say, so what is it that I have done? And for me, this has been like, this is my own journey too, assessing my skills. What are my skills in qualitative research and communication in project management, in design and writing and all of these kinds of fields that would actually matter.
These are the things I can say I can do at a job. Anthropology doesn't say that, but these are the things I can do at a set job. And so making a skills assessment of these different things and getting as detailed as you can. I want to be, and then match those to the job description and see, okay they want research of this, here's the kinds of research that I've done. Let me leave some of the projects for myself. And so literally it's actually doing an inventory of yourself based on your skills. And so for me, this actually ended up then culminating in a skills based resume versus an experiential based resume.
And so what that meant is that on my resume, it has job experience, but the actual emphasis on these core skills that I have, and here's what I've done with those skills. And so that was just another way. It's the same kind of thing, but I didn't have the job experience. So I then didn't put that forward right?
But I do have a lot of experience. I'm not coming out of nowhere. I didn't just wake up and say, let me apply for a job. So this is a bit of a roundabout answer to the question of what do you want to articulate that value then for me, since I didn't have that quote job experience and I wasn't really able to say here's the value, the flip side is, let me take the skills assessment of what I can do, And then turning that around, taught me to then talk about. The value that I add to a corporation, which are things like you're saying about greasing the wheels of decision making, Brokering between different groups. And the trick is, and this is one of my main things too, that I wanna encourage, all of your listeners and viewers, as well as other people that are thinking about, or if you want to check out This Anthro Life too, this is actually one of the hardest and most fundamental questions is how do we articulate this value?
And one of the most disheartening things for people that are coming out of school and trying to figure this out, because they will hear Keith and Adam say we grease the wheels of decision making. They're like, how do you do that? Like, how did you even think of doing that? That's the question, right? But to me, that's, I think, such an important thing as we help young practitioners that are coming into the field, they're trying to figure out how to get into it is we have to actually give them these first couple of steps. And so I'm just reiterating the skills inventory of what you have done before. This is not job based necessarily. It's things you've done, the research, communication, design, those things start there. It will. I promise, give you a couple steps to start walking your way up.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:37:12] That's really good advice, I think. Yeah. And then of course, you'll run into people that still, I once had a boss say at a company looking at, it wasn't my report it was somebody else's, but they said, if I have to think about it, it's too hard. I think about that sometimes perhaps when hiring managers or maybe recruiters are looking at resumes, look at the resume of somebody with an anthropology background. Yeah. We may have the research skills that you're looking for, we may have the sort of people skills that you're looking for. We may have all the skills you're looking for in your job. But if they're sitting there going, I don't understand what anthropology has to do with this. Or, this person did not work in the same industry for so long and he didn't have progressive experiences so I can't deal with this. I think, and sometimes companies will do that, the best thing we can do is we have to put our best foot forward and we have to be passionate about it. And we have to show that we can. And, but I think on the other hand too, there has to be some more consciousness from companies that having an anthropology background or anthropology specialty is going to be so valuable for your company. You have to understand, I'm sorry, but you do have to learn. What it is that we can bring. Perhaps that kind of, that this, sometimes they call it the purple squirrel or the unicorn that they're looking for to fill that position might be somebody who's an anthropologist, to solve the problems that you have in your company. You just don't realize it.
Adam Gamwell: [00:38:43 Yeah, that's really well said too. I think that's hyper important. It reminds me of Dan Podjed of The University of Ljubljana, I believe. He does this project called The People Project in that it's a coalition between four universities in Europe that they basically take anthropology graduate students and partner them with industry. Industries that need anthropologists essentially, to do two things. And they're what you're saying. One is to teach the anthropologist how to speak and articulate their value to industry practitioners and do work. But the flip side is equally important in showing the industries how anthropology has value to them. So it's like without both of those sides, It doesn't work.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:39:19] and it's the same thing I think, too, with anthropologists looking for work out there. it's can be very frustrating and very fatalistic at times.
But the thing is that, you have a problem that we have is businesses and companies don't understand the value of anthropology. They may understand it like Purdue X, like they may get it. Okay. It's quantitative research. We get it. You're going to talk to people and you're going to talk to customers and find it great. We get that. But for everything else, like organizational culture or, a little bit with marketing or some other problem solving, cultural broking, that sort of thing, they don't associate the two. So both of us, you and I both can help educate companies with both of what we're doing and I hope people are picking up on it
Adam Gamwell: [00:40:03] That's our mission, man.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:40:06] So that's it. So that's all the questions I really have for you today. Is there anything else you want us to know or we'll walk away with?
Adam Gamwell: [00:40:12] Two things, I don't know, like one is that you're not alone. Again, if you're trying to figure this out, as Keith and I are saying this it's hard and on one level, like without being too pandering, it's not all us, it's not just anthropology. Industry has to learn what anthropology's value is. And it is also incumbent on them to do that. It is not a one way street. Like as much as we want to say, we have to say our value to them. Like it's not just us, It is us too. but the thing is, you're not alone, right? We like there are folks like Keith and I and a ton more people.
Again, this is like the reason that I'm doing this now, and imagine you too, is that we've found so many other amazing charitable and good friends and colleagues that have helped us think about these questions and ideas too, that believed in what we were trying to say and try to figure out and people that would hire us as crazy as that sounds.
So there are a lot of us out there. And so part of it is just like making that visible. And if you're trying to figure this out to like help, make yourself visible to like jump on LinkedIn. Shoot Keith or I a message or anybody else you see that says business anthropologists or anthropologists and their title, reach out, say, hi, ask for an informational interview or just to chat. Like it's important to be part of the conversation, And so don't be afraid of that. Anthropologists usually don't bite, some might.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:41:18] Most people are very approachable to be honest people in a very academic field, most people are very approachable and very willing to openly converse and talk about problems and talk about possible solutions and that sort of thing. yeah. It's great. Any company can reach out to any anthropologist anytime and just talk if they want to, after a while we start charging, but that's another story.
Adam Gamwell: [00:41:40] Yeah. We do have to make money at some point.
Keith Kellersohn: [00:41:41] We have to eat at some point.
Adam Gamwell: [00:41:45] Yeah, I guess that’s what they say. They tell us that right. I guess the other thing I would just say too is then keep checking out Keith’s show and check out This Anthro Life if you want more good stuff. Alright, great. Keith it’s been amazing talking with you. Thanks for having me here. Yeah. Cheers.
Here are some great episodes to start with.