CCO Bootcamp with Grant McCracken

Grantmccracken I stayed as long as I could at this workshop run by Grant McCracken, a rare opportunity to contemplate the application of anthropology and culture watching to how organisations engage with the culture on which their markets depend. So I missed the how to do it yourself bit in the afternoon though the session was running so late I wonder if this bit ever happened?

Much of the material came from Grant's book which came out at the start of 2010 called Chief Culture Officer – a role he proposes should be in every company. Adam Smith created the discipline of economics by removing social and cultural analysis from business. Which is why business schools turn out MBAs who are great at finance but have to develop cultural skills mostly unaided and are capable of getting to the C suite with no cultural ability whatsoever. Corporations immunise themselves against culture. Their working practices usually take no account of it. Which is why corporate history has been a series of car crashes as growth has been determined almost entirely by financial forecasting.  This may sound like a 2 D morality play but that is how the anthropology pitch comes across.

During the morning we covered 2 casestudies – the one the growth in artisan food and the other the rise of the Great Hall in American households (at least those who can afford to build one). The artisanal food example is traced from Berkeley in the 1960s to culminate in Michelle Obama planting a vegetable garden in the White House in 2009. As natural food hand produced by craftspeople supplants the ideal of industrially produced food rife in the 1950s. Here the key question was how when and whether  a chief culture officer could spot this trend coming in and could successfully persuade the corporation to ride it. If it takes 40 years for an idea to come centre stage how early can it be spotted and shaped. And once it is mainstream how long does it last till you have to pick the next wave? It wasn't clear to me how much culture analysis was capable of picking up the big trend and how much it was a useful form of insurance against clinging to a no hope trend long past its sell by date. L'Oreal's scientism would seem to me to be a good case in point.

The Great Hall casestudy was good fun largely because it became evident that the understanding of homey/homely had a strong Atlantic divide with the Brits expressing confusion and smirking North Americans working in the UK explaining that they wouldn't understand because Britain is still obsessed with class system markers. Many of the changes are indeed mirrored in the UK but interpreted and understood differently. Most interesting was the idea that the centrality of the kitchen in the modern home is driven by the TV cooking show where the cook is not only validated (not longer hidden away) but a celebrity at the social occasion.

I'd love to have heard more. But wil have to content myself with reading the book. And following Grant's blog.



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