by Grant McCracken
“Live simply and wear a Rolex, and other advice for moving from academia to the consulting world.
Two decades ago, anthropologist Grant McCracken, AM’76, PhD’81, got a call from an advertising agency. They wondered why Chrysler was selling more Jeeps in New York City than in Colorado—and to find the answer, they had decided to hire an anthropologist. McCracken thus launched a career as an independent consultant, speaker, and writer. But he didn’t leave research and teaching behind.
In a recent essay, abridged here, McCracken offered advice for young anthropologists who aspire to careers that blend academic and consulting work. The first lesson, he writes, is to accept that doing research for business clients is “an exercise in improv. If one thing doesn’t work, you try another.” Before one consulting trip, a client told McCracken, “Look, just get on a plane and go. We’ll figure out what we want you to do by the time you get to Shanghai.”—Elizabeth Station
You will learn to live with ad hocery
I like planning. I like order. But you get used to the ad hocery. In point of fact, you never say “no” to anything. (First, because you can’t afford to and, second, because you don’t know what you don’t know—the project that sounds odd and unpromising might open up a new vista.) And, as it turns out, most things can get sorted out “on the way to Shanghai.”
You will learn to work in Shanghai
I don’t know anything about Chinese culture. I made that clear. My specialty is American culture (if that) and no other. But I was no longer defined by my training, discipline, or expertise. I was now defined by the problem at hand” (read more).
***This is practical advice. I’ve done it and still do it for a select few clients. I also warn that depending on the kind of consulting you do, you can find yourself in ethical situations you’d rather not be in. I think that’s saying something cos I’m not one for the ethics. For example, as a bioanth/archaeology person, the task may not technically be illegal but if you have any respect for science or provenience, you’ll find you’d rather just not get a cheque than deal with looted artefacts or artefacts stolen during war times. Or if you suspect human remains were acquired in a fashion that makes you raise an eyebrow.
(Source: University of Chicago Magazine)