I Feel like Somebody's Watching Me

Wondering how an anthropologist could help your company? Just take a look at these three successful case studies.

1 A new CEO at Pfizer Pharmaceutical wanted company scientists to operate differently, but they balked. Anthropologist Marsha Shenk asked them what they'd define as a more effective operation. The scientists realized that ever since they were grad students, they'd been in business to keep their projects funded for as long as possible - because in science, funding is a status symbol. But in business, it's more efficient to kill projects that don't show potential for big financial payoffs. About-face! They moved from judging themselves by how long they could string a project along to how quickly they could quash it.

2 After observing, recording, and videotaping families at breakfast, anthropologist Susan Squires realized that moms want their kids to eat nutritious food, dads prefer to eat comfort food that reminds them of childhood, and kids want to eat fun or sweet food (like cereal that turns the milk blue). Plus, everyone eats on the go. So Squires recommended developing a breakfast food that was healthy, portable, and fun. The result? Go-Gurt, which brought in $37 million during its first year in the dairy section.

3 A small hotel chain wanted to pull a Madonna and remake its identity. A team of anthropologists observed guests for days, recording words and body language. They also handed out disposable cameras and then used the pictures from them to get guests to talk about their trips. One finding: The hotels essentially ignored kids. Now when families arrive, the hotels check in the kids instead of the parents. That and other changes have boosted the chain's leisure business by some $500,000.

Sources: Marsha Shenk, the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology, and Inc. Magazine.