Urban Anthropology

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Today was a conference called Business Leader NW. It occurred at the Portland Convention Center. One of the highlights of the day was a keynote by Urban Anthropologist Jennifer James.

It is always exciting to meet other anthropologists, and I was introduced to her before her speech. We exchanged a rapid amount of words back and forth. Of all the things spoken, I am able to report that she was very calm before her speech. Evidenced by a lot of practice speaking around the world.

In fact, her speech was pretty memorable. She talked about all of culture being a mythology. It’s a pretty epic look at the reality. I attempted to record the speech, the results of which are below. Apologizes for the clicking noises. I tried to type quietly.

About Jennifer

Jennifer James is an urban cultural anthropologist who was for 12 years a full time faculty member of the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at the University of Washington. She left the University in 1982 to follow her interest in international business and community service.  She now lectures to audiences around the world.

Speech Highlights

“Why are all the newspapers failing? It’s because they don’t print the news. They’re not challenging anyone”.

“Let’s not teach evolution in schools — because it is only a theory. They’re right – but so is gravity. I invite someone to the roof of this convention center with me right now to prove me wrong”.

“What is adaptability? The ability to use your critical thinking skills”.

“We’re in the technological age and we still want to use mythology”.

“We’re choosing clients and consultants because we think we’re like them. Because we’ll get along with them. It’s often what we need is the opposite”.

“You must know your myths and the myths of the people you’re dealing with”.

“It’s amazing how much time we waste because we’ve ‘always done it that way’ – that’s what the comic strip Dilbert is about”.

“You have to consider what people need. It’s not just money that motivates, but a work/life balance”.

“In times of great stress/change leadership is no longer complete mastery”.

“You have to match tasks in an organization with those with the strength to do those tasks”.

“The best way to lead through times of great change is through influence — which is by telling a compelling story”.

A compelling story consists of the following things:
*A set of ideas that fit the future.
*Those ideas have to resonate to deeply held values
*The person telling the story has to be believable.

“Now you can go to Costco and buy a gallon jug of Mayonnaise that you’ll have to leave in your will — because you won’t use it”. “Why do rich people buy seven houses? Because they can’t get over security”.

Your customers — they need a product that makes them feel that they’re moving up Maslow’s hierarchy while still feeling secure.

On the Concentration of Energy by Technology

“The minute you replace a steam engine with a microchip you have concentrated energy”.

“Economics is nothing more than the efficient use of the energy available”.

“Those who have a high amount of productivity in the workplace are those who are most trusted: it relaxes them. They can do more work. They can do better work”.

“We change the definition of intelligence — now you have intelligence retrieval”.

On the Census

“Why are polar bears white? So they can go to better schools? It is absurdity — these census categories. We can handle the economics or we’re going out of business. We understand that diversity opens our business and opens our minds. The last part is opening our systems”. “If you offer people a business that gives them meaning — people are hungry for lives that have values — they will work harder and take less money”.

Three Parts to Civilization

  • Increasing access to information
*Increasing inclusivity – the more we’re wiling to see leadership where it is, the more likely we’ll accept it
*Increasing non-violent alternatives to violence – learning to debate — learning to use soft power

The audience at this conference contained no laptops. Except for the blogging pavilion, I was the only technosocially connected one in the audience. This is one of the reasons I love business conferences. The people to talk to are not the ones that understand who you are and what you do — they’re those who are different. This situation maximizes the potential exchange of ideas between people.

Source: [1]