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Notice the Unnoticed
New Revenue Opportunities May Be Right in Front of You

October 2017

“As a corporate anthropologist, I’m aware of the recent shift in thinking surrounding how cultures should be restructured in order for women to thrive in the workplace,” says Andi Simon, author of “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights.” “This has caused me to ask: What type of culture do women really want and is it that different from what men want, too?” In many ways men and women want similar things in the workplace – a strong clan culture that emphasizes collaboration, teamwork and a focus on people.

Andi Simon, author of “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights”

In my own work as a corporate anthro-pologist, it never ceases to amaze me how many business leaders fail to recognize that they’re sitting on acres of diamonds of unmet needs or obvious future opportunities. It’s not that these executives are bad managers or inept. It’s just that they can’t seem to see what is right in front of them.

So where are these gems? Maybe they’re buried in customers’ emails asking for services they’re not sure the company provides. Or they’re unnoticed at a business’s call center where operators tell inquirers, “No, we don’t make that.” Often great ideas come from employees who see better ways to do things but can’t seem to find a champion who will give their ideas a chance. Why is that? The company’s collective brain and its culture are getting in the way.

The Problem Lies in the Brain

The first question is: Why don’t we see something? The answer is the brain simply puts up obstacles.

Two of my favorite quotes capture the challenge neatly: Marcel Proust said, “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, of hundreds of others, in seeing the hundreds of universes that each of them sees.” Similarly, Anaïs Nin wrote in “Seduction of the Minotaur” that the problem is that “we don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.”

They got it: It is all about our brain.

Now that the neurosciences are finally able to look at how the brain works by using functional MRIs, what we are learning confirms some of our earlier assumptions and contradicts or turns others upside down. We now know that we are born with a brain full of potential. Then, as we grow up, we form perceptual mind maps and stories in our brain that help craft our reality. Once those stories and mind maps are in place, we tend to see the world through that lens, no matter what new information comes in. We sort what is going on around us – including those business opportunities and unmet needs – and only recognize those that fit our perceptions and stories.

Our limited vision and perceptual bias have everything to do with why we see such a constrained reality. As humans we happily hate to change. We simply cannot see the unfamiliar, because our brains are always trying to fit what we see and hear into what we think should be there. Not only that – the brain actually creates a chemical reaction when it is learning something new. It normally uses a whopping 25 percent of the body’s energy; when we’re trying to learn something new, it has to work extra hard, expending even more energy. Haven’t you experienced this? When tackling a new computer program, say, or learning a foreign language, or producing a new product, you have to concentrate really hard until the unfamiliar becomes a well-established habit. Until then, your brain literally creates chemical pain that says, “Please stop all that new work. It hurts.” Hence, rather than enjoying the challenges that come with the unknown or the untried, we fight change. To be sure, our brains are elastic and can, in fact, change and adapt, but it’s not a smooth, easy, or comfortable process. It takes a lot of work.

Returning to business examples, when companies stall, the people running them have to work really hard to alter old thought and action patterns in their quest for renewed success. The question is: How do they (or you) overcome that resistance to see, feel and think in new ways so that their acres of diamonds are not disregarded or destroyed?

As anthropologists, we suggest you give your brain a hand. Your brain is going to fight you. So you need a willingness to embrace change, to listen with different ears, and to see with new eyes – even if it’s painful. Often that means a taking a good look at a company’s culture.

It Is All About Culture

Ever since the time of cavemen, people have formed cultures, which are a shared set of core values, beliefs and behaviors. It’s part of what makes us human. Companies have cultures too, whether they know it or not, because companies are made up of people. A company’s culture is an amalgam of its core values, beliefs and behaviors that pertain to the business and the way it is conducted. Employees live out that culture every day. People join or remain in companies where they feel most comfortable, and they eventually develop habits that make their work go as smoothly as possible.

Anthropologists and others working in corporate settings realized quite early that cultures can help a company match the challenges of a competitive environment or cause a mismatch that threatens a company’s viability. These cultures don’t just happen. They have to be intentional, designed with an understanding of how those values, beliefs, and behaviors – along with the symbols and rituals that support them – fit specific business challenges.

Yet, of course, times change. The demographics of employees change, too. Employees grow up and become comfortable in their roles and the way things are. When corporate cultures have to evolve, communicating that fact to those who work in the business can be a challenge. Seeing with fresh eyes, assessing reality and changing a company’s culture can be difficult, I admit. But it’s not impossible. And in a fast-changing business climate, it’s often a necessity. What makes the process possible is applying the concepts, methods and tools of anthropology. And after many years of working with corporate decision-makers, I have learned how to help them do just that. Once these company leaders see what’s really going on, they are then able to rethink how they can successfully respond to the challenges of their business environment. The point is that you, too, can follow their lead. I95

Andi Simon, author of “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights,” is a corporate anthropologist and award-winning author. She is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants, designed over a decade ago to help companies use the tools of anthropology to better adapt to changing times. Simon has appeared on “Good Morning America” and has been featured in the “Washington Post,” “Business Week” and “Forbes” and on Bloomberg Radio.