Journeying into the business world... one undiscovered culture at a time

Welcome to [Per]Suit of Anthropology, a blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist, with a special emphasis on cultural understandings of work-life balance and disability rights in the workplace. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include: Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide, invisible disabilities, Ignatian spirituality, work-life balance, and some discussion of issues of tourism and its impacts on culture, and common human capital practices in private industry and government.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The liminal 'Death' of the Corporation - Does it exist?

In my second post relating the concept of liminality to that of the corporate culture - I will start at the beginning of the liminal process: understanding whether or not corporations are going through the metaphorical change, or death, that is necessary to jump-start a new period of redefinition.

I found myself thinking of this in the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy - which for many people in NY and NJ especially will find them in a real state of liminality much more real and have more real-life impact than any discourse that may be posted on this blog or other sites.  But that very question of an event that launches a community into a state of liminality is exactly, in my observation, what is missing to truly support the foundation that corporations are in a state of liminality.

For example, one could point as the advent of the internet as one of the factors that led to the state of liminality in which corporations are attempting to redefine themselves.  However, the impact of the internet has been one of gradual accumulation - taking place over years (over twenty to be  more specific).  Or perhaps was it the invention of Facebook and Twitter that enabled this change?   Well, yes both of those social networking tools have changed how organizations respond to their stakeholders (shareholders, workers, the public writ large).

Liminality theorists also bring up the idea of a group being in a constant state of liminality, such as Karl Jaspers' theory of axial ages, or Turner's thought that liminality can become fixed.  Both of these theories suppose that the community still follows the normal stages of the liminal process - and ends with some type of 'new world order.'

My proposition is thus:  what if there is no new world order?  What if the constant state of change and adaptation to consistent forms of communication (and thus a response) is a neo-liminal state, constantly in a state of upheaval, jumping from one messianic figure to the next - with tricksters popping up and disappearing all over the place?  The 24-hour news-cycle promoted by the media (and its subsequent impact on our culture and how we process and exchange information) can be a ripe example for further study of liminality.  It seems that the media jumps from one real or imagined crisis to the next, trying to be the messianic figure (leading its audiences to the Truth), while there are tricksters in the form of bloggers, conspiracy theorists, or even talk radio hosts who try to lead people in a different direction.

Would this lack of a new world order be, in and of itself a new world order according to the theories of liminality?   If so, who would guide?  I find this all fascinating and wonder if the answer to this line of questioning would help us better understand the impact of media saturation in the modern American corporate life.  How would corporate organizations take advantage of, or attempt to control the discourse to make the most of short-term profits?  One can only see how this all starts to get the wheels turning...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Liminality: the state of corporate (in)decision

Last night I was walking home from Chinese class.  It had been an odd couple of hours.  An alleged bomb threat had shut down all the buildings near my school, including the school building itself.  Although the 'all clear' was called, the staff had, nonetheless, left for the evening with a note on the doors indicating all classes were cancelled.  Not to be dismayed, my class of eager students (all six of us that showed up) ended up having a shortened class in a lounge in one of the nearby buildings.  It was not a normal evening.

As I walked home - a thick fog had descended upon the city.  The buildings where I lived were shrouded in a soft blanket - the city's hard edges looking like they had been gently rubbed away.  The light the buildings gave off gave the area a warm glow - much like that which occurs in the middle of a snowstorm.  Near my house there was a construction site, eerily quiet- with the white coverings from the windows flapping in the slight breeze - casting a ghostly look upon what during the day is a bustling site of economic progress.  It all seemed so surreal...

And that had me reflecting that evening on the state at which I think we find the corporate world in general today.  There is such rapid change going on that the precepts which have heretofore guided the decision-making of your colleagues seems to not hold up to the scrutiny and pressure facing many CEOs today.  For one, new pressures from non-Western markets change the amount and type of skin the game.  It is no longer just a matter of profits, but also a sense in many organizations of social responsibility.  Corporations are entering into a territory of liminality - and one can already see it occurring.

It is no surprise that the advent of social media has literally changed the world - with everything from corporations bowing under consumer pressure, to entire governments collapsing due to pressure from the people.  But when you examine the world of corporations this holds even more sway.  The one benefit of the 2008 financial crisis was that it wakened the public up to an entire secondary means of governance - that of the impact of corporate money and support on the public affairs of our governments.  All of a sudden  people cared about how much a CEO made, all of a sudden they saw the inconsistencies in social welfare.  When even warren buffet proclaims that a system of payment and 'rewards' is out of whack - then you know that the times are changing.

I was partly realized the impact of what this liminal state brings last night as I watched the "Half the Sky" documentary on PBS.  While I do read Nick Kristof, I do not always agree with his methods of raising awareness.  I think he pulls at the heartstrings of the 'other' and the 'foreign' and somehow latches onto that fascination that most Westerners have with the lifestyles long since forgotten in our world.  Nonetheless, what I appreciated about both his book and the documentary was the amount of attention int brought to serious issues around the world - and what a wide audience it has gathered.  I don't doubt that the organizations featured in the program will se ea wellspring of support from donors in the West - and no doubt an increase in awareness on the impact of our own actions, or rather inaction, on the lives of people thousands of miles away.

So why liminality and what do corporations have to do with this all?  There has been a trend recently, also with the advent of social media, to encourage the innovators of our world. Corporations are all seeking the next Steve Jobs, and are putting immense resources into encouraging innovative thinkers in their organizations - and the result is the very fabric of how corporations are structured is breaking down.  Take a simple example; the increase of Telework policies.  It is now a given fact that with the advent of mobile technology people do not have to be physically present in the same space every day to complete work (even education is feeling the brunt of this policy - but that is for another post).  The result is a workforce that now expects entirely different things from their employees - and it is changing the very dynamic of what it means to be a worker in a corporation.  A recent study by Deloitte actually examines this trend - and the greater impact it has on talent competitiveness in the overall American workforce.  And while I do not agree with all the conclusions of the authors as per the then relevant impact on higher education and vocational training - the very conclusion that the way the corporations do business is rapidly changing should raise eyebrows.

I was actually introduced to the concept of liminality in my first college lecture post 9/11.  I was a freshman, and my Anthropology 101 teacher, Dr. Andrew Shryock, explained the state we were all in in terms of liminality.  The new collective sense we had as Americans, the yearning for a leader figurehead - the presence of tricksters and those who want to take advantage of the situation for personal gain.  These are all present now.  Corporations as a whole are finding themselves in an unknown territory - and they are all equal in that grey fog.  While money continues to be the sacred object for which they all yearn, they recognize that the individual sacredness of profit is not dependent upon myriads of other factors that they really did not consider - for instance how instability in geographic locations can impact the supply line of goods that help to make a product.  And they yearn for leadership - a figure - the next Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet or any great leader to move them forward.

What this liminal state will look like is anyone's guess - but I think it is an incredibly exciting thing to watch.  In subsequent posts, I intend to look at the various aspects of liminality in more detail, so that we can better understand the changes in the world around us - and start, perhaps, to find our way out of the fog.