This year, at the 2018 Northeastern Association of Business, Economics, and Technology (NABET) conference, Dr. Rex Dumdum and I will be presenting a paper titled Building Sensemaking Capacity: Drawing Insights from Anthropological Thinking.

Building Sensemaking Capacity: Drawing Insights from Anthropological Thinking Abstract

Businesses, according to an IBM global study of 1500 CEOs, are facing a rapid escalation of complexity. Capitalizing on complexity and customer intimacy to create innovative ways of delivering value are business’ significant challenges. The study further revealed that “enterprises today are not equipped to cope effectively with this complexity in the global environment.” To help address this problem, we advocate drawing insights from anthropological thinking.

Increasingly, traditional business practices are proving not fully adequate to identify, interpret and robustly understand implications of emerging developments. This is due to our tendency to often try to understand the problems we face based on what we already know, instead of seeking that which we truly do not, regardless if are trying to make sense of consumer markets, design products or lead a corporate culture.

The value-add of drawing insights from anthropological thinking is found in its ability to help uncover unknown unknowns that exist and explain the “why.” To more effectively address the most pressing business problems and make better strategic decisions, we need to build sensemaking capacity to “make the strange familiar and the familiar strange” while developing empathy to understand humans and giving them a voice.

This paper provides examples of successful corporate breakthroughs aided by insights drawn from anthropological thinking.  It highlights how theories and methods of anthropology, particularly ethnography and phenomenology, can be applied to help develop a rich understanding of complex business situations. The paper also provides some suggestions for incorporating anthropological thinking towards building our sensemaking capacity.


The Northeastern Association of Business, Economics and Technology (NABET), formerly known as The Association of Pennsylvania University Business and Economics Faculty (APUBEF), originated in the late 1970s providing an opportunity for interested economics and business professors to meet and discuss their research and controversial issues in business education and in the state government of Pennsylvania. The original APUBEF charter is dated in 1976. Subsequently, a formal academic conference with published proceedings became the fundamental platform to conduct APUBEF’s mission. In the mid-nineties, the APUBEF Journal was created. In 2006, the APUBEF organization was renamed the Northeastern Association of Business, Economics and Technology (NABET). The journal was renamed, the Journal of Business, Economics and Technology (JBET, formerly JNABET).

NABET 2018

The 41st Annual Meeting is November 1st and 2nd, 2018 at the Days Inn Penn State in State College, PA. The Northeastern Association of Business, Economics and Technology invites papers for presentation at its Annual Meeting. The meeting provides an opportunity to present new research and discuss a variety of current issues in business, economics and IT. This is your chance to get involved with a dynamic, regional academic organization. Faculty Submissions can be based on either complete or incomplete scholarly work, workshops or discussion panels. NABET is politically non-partisan. Please do not submit papers that focus on political, religious, gender, or other societal and cultural issues. Such papers will be deemed inappropriate for the NABET Conference.