Anthropology Culture Product Management

Why this blog?

Written by Paula Gray

Product managers are the central hub for products within companies. You deal with tribal dynamics within the organization and ultimately move a product from the company into the hands of the customer.

You need to understand the company culture, the culture of the respective internal departments, the culture of the vendors, the varied cultures of their customers, etc. This is both a huge task and one utilizing a diverse set of skills. Fortunately, cultural anthropology holds the tools that product managers can use to facilitate these processes with ease and grace.

This blog seeks to apply the theories within anthropology to the discipline of product management.

When you were completing your undergraduate degree, you may have taken an anthropology class to fulfill your social science requirements. You probably studied the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert, or the Yanomami of the Amazon. You may have studied primates or early hominids. Anthropology is all of that and much more.

Anthropology offers us the study of language in linguistics, and in cognitive anthropology, the motivations of individuals and groups. We look at how tribes are formed, status and hierarchy within groups, access to resources, symbolism within language, gender issues, taboos, rites of passage, non-verbal communication, and all of these, believe it or not, are going on within your company right now.

Maybe it really is a jungle out there!

In anthropology, we also talk about the emic (insider) and etic (outsider) perspectives. We recognize that, even though we may undertake participant observation, we ultimately are on the outside of the group we study. However, that outsider view can be a very useful analysis tool for understanding internal processes, deeply held but unstated beliefs, taboos, power plays, etc. As the anthropologist half of this duo, and the outsider, I hope to offer you, the product manager, some sound anthropological principals and strategies to help you do your job better.

I am excited to co-host this blog with Trevor, a working product manager who can offer us what only an insider can; the triumphs, tragedies and struggles of working with a cross-functional team of complex humans in order to offer a product to an even larger group of complex humans.

I look forward to future guest bloggers from both the product manager and anthropologist perspectives and I hope you will join the conversation, too.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead, AnthropologistPaula Gray
the anthropologist

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.