Why Business Anthropology?

Written by Marsha Shenk

While business in our era appears to be a complex, noisy, fast-changing affair, the lenses of Anthropology reveal hidden, deeply-rooted dynamics that impact every move a business makes. Through this view:

Commerce is as old as the first human community.
          (Business and the brain co-evolved.)
Human life is based on a network of exchanges;
          the marketplace – economic life – is an inevitable part of society.
And, though largely inaccessible to most – likely including your competitors –


Small matters such as how the brain handles new information and what makes people responsive; what determines what employees, and customers are able to distinguish and consider, how people choose, what generates trust. And what is likely to produce the opposite of the desired effect.

These hidden forces impact your business every day.

Humans make their living by way of exchanges with others – some monetized, some not; some tangible, some not. While society and the brain were evolving, most forms of cooperation and trade were prescribed: people learned them as children, and by the time they were adults, they had a pretty good idea what was required of them most of the time.

That luxury is indeed history.


We must capture the attention of increasingly diverse and well-informed customers, prove we are trustworthy and relevant, and delight them with our contributions via changing technologies in shifting environments and demographies, while competing with very smart people all over the world, many of whom are hungrier than we are.

Such tasks as designing offers and delivery systems, management practices, and outreach continue to become more challenging, as technology continues to disrupt, pressure for growth increases, and peoples’ concerns shift in response to political, economic, social, and climatic news.

The intellectual and emotional demands of modern commerce constitute a new form of fitness that defy the . Employees and customers are strained – if not disabled, making every hurdle murkier. And every opportunity a greater test. Many are exhausted and resigned, at a time when we most need them to be resourceful and committed.


Business Anthropology sheds important light on how to navigate the relentless change that is a fact of modern life.

Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?