Louise Vang Jensen, partner and co-CEO at Is It a Bird, a strategic innovation agency in Copenhagen, has been applying anthropology in business for over 10 years. In a recent interview on the Anthropology in Business podcast, Louise shared her perspective on how the practice of business anthropology has evolved and matured.

From Methods to Mindset

One major shift Louise has seen is moving from a focus on anthropological methods to embracing an anthropological mindset. As she explains:

“I think there’s been a few major shifts which have mostly been in our self perception. So one of those being is the value of what we apply in our projects. Is it the methods or the mindset? When we started out, we were very much focused on the methodologies… I really see the value of what we apply being the mindset.”

This mindset-focused approach allows for more creativity and flexibility in how anthropologists gather insights and understand human experience in a business context. The core is still about “sharing time and space with people” to deeply understand their lived reality, but the mindset allows us to transcend traditional boundaries that a methodological approach may struggle with.

From Data Collector to Trusted Advisor

Another evolution Louise highlighted is shifting from seeing the anthropologist’s role as a data collector to being a trusted strategic advisor:

“…shifting away from being somebody who designs a deliverable, hands it over to somebody who does smart strategic thinking based on what you do, to actually insist on building a relationship where you are the trusted advisor.”

Rather than just uncovering insights, anthropologists need to take responsibility for providing clear guidance and direction to clients based on those insights. This means being bold in making recommendations while embracing the complexities.

Leveraging the Power of Anthropology and Design

At Is It a Bird, Louise and her team work at the intersection of social science, design thinking, and strategy. Anthropology brings a slower, more reflective, and philosophical approach, while design enables fast experimentation and tangible outputs.

“The combination of these two complementary skills is what holds such great strategic potential, because a great strategy has to offer a vision, but it also has to have some, some tangible components.”

Anthropology ensures the strategy is grounded in real human needs and contexts, not just defined in a boardroom. Looking around, not just ahead, is key to crafting relevant strategies.

Stay With the Friction

For those starting out in business anthropology, Louise offers this advice: stay with the trouble and friction.

“…the value of what we do as anthropologists in business is that we are the ones who dare to stay with the friction a little longer and dare to stay with the trouble in that sense that where there’s friction there is potential and there is potential for transformation.”

Friction in client interactions often points to an uncomfortable truth that the anthropologist has uncovered. Rather than shy away from it to please the client, Louise encourages anthropologists to hold their ground, as this tension is often the fuel for meaningful change.

The Future of Anthropology in Business

Looking ahead, Louise is excited to further explore how anthropologists can serve as strategic advisors and apply their lens to the inner workings of organizations, not just external consumers. She also envisions a future where seeking an anthropological perspective becomes as natural as consulting an economist on business issues.

With practitioners like Louise pushing the boundaries of the discipline, anthropology will no doubt play an increasingly vital role in the business world – asking important questions, uncovering human truths, and guiding strategic decisions. The evolution continues…