Anthropology + AI: The new formula for effective executive decision making?

Executives are suffering from decision fatigue

Leaders are increasingly expected to take reactive, business-critical decisions without a clear lens into their organisations, leaving them without the time or insight for true strategic thinking. Poor decision making in the board room impacts the bottom line; research from McKinsey has demonstrated that ineffective decision making could cost the average Fortune 500 company 530,000 days of lost working time and $250 million of wasted labour costs.

In recent years, one solution has been louder than most: big data. By collecting vast amounts of intricate details across all aspects of their business, leaders can get a clearer picture of what’s going on within their organisation.

But there’s one major hurdle that data cannot overcome on its own. While it can tell leaders ‘what’ is happening in their business, it struggles to answer the crucial question of ‘why’.

For a small but growing group of business leaders, applying the principles of anthropology – the study of what makes us human and why we function in the ways that we do – in a business context could hold the answer. Anthropologists seek to discover, analyse and listen, without bias and prejudice, so that they can understand behaviours more effectively and their impact on everything from social wellbeing to trade and economics. In the business world, this clarity is crucial in helping to eradicate assumptions that can often blur decision making. And as the corporate landscape shifts, executives have a growing list of questions that need answering: How do we competitively keep pace with accelerating digital transformation? How do we keep dispersed workforces connected and productive? How do we attract and retain skilled staff and know they are in the right role? Which strategic projects are likely to succeed or fail, and why and what work can or should we stop? By looking at their organisation as it truly is – a living, breathing network of human beings – executives can uncover deeper, more accurate insight into performance that are not revealed by current reporting standards alone.

In recent months, anthropology within business has risen up the agenda with the launch of Financial Times journalist Gillian Tett’s book, Anthro-Vision. With a PhD in social anthropology, Tett is perhaps most famous for predicting the 2008 financial crash using the skills she developed while studying the social science. She says that “we need anthro-vision to survive the half-hidden risks all around us; we also need it to thrive and seize the exciting opportunities created by cyber silk roads and innovation. At a time when AI is taking over our lives, we need to celebrate what makes us human.”

Anthropology + AI

At GainX, we have been embedding anthropology into our AI algorithms for nearly a decade. Our platform uses insight from anthropology to make sense of fragmented data points, revealing a systemic picture at the organisational and group levels. Whether that’s smaller teams or wider business units, this gives leaders a true insight into the silos and networks that indicate how their organisation is truly performing.

By gaining insight into how these different business subcultures work and interact, leaders can see how information flows below the organisational silos and identify the behaviours that are contributing to zombie strategies, successful programmes, and the outright failure of projects. With this additional understanding, the complexity of decision-making for the C-Suite can be reduced, which will in turn increase organisational efficiency whilst reducing risks and costs.

With business complexity increasing beyond what is humanly possible to manage, and business leaders being asked to take strategic decisions faster than ever before, organisational risk is climbing and we’re seeing billions in unplanned losses in the market. Something must give. With the combination of anthropology and AI, leaders can now view, measure, and predict business performance with unprecedented speed and accuracy – and finally move away from a decade of reactive behaviour and into more strategic, profitable outcomes.

About the Author 

Angelique Mohring, CEO and co-founder of GainX, launched the business after 25 years of experience as an anthropologist and bio-archaeologist, a Fortune500 consultant, and a technology executive working for the likes of IBM.

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