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Boardroom Anthropology for Beginners 3/N: Reading List

It has been some time that I have been active on this Blog. After my last Blog in September, I found out that I am pregnant; in between I got married and moved houses. Now, with the baby arriving any time from now, I am committed to re-start this Blog – and I have a lot on my list I want to capture, share, and explore through writing. For the next few months, I will not only be on maternity leave, but also have a number of side projects I will engage in – reading is of course one of them.

As I am being asked a lot for introductory readings, this blog is devoted to that: A reading list of 10 books from my ‘Boardroom Anthropology Library’ that I recommend. This is not a ranking, just a variety of readings from different disciplines that I really enjoyed and that I think provide a good overview on perspectives, methods, and stories on the subject of this blog.

#1: For a great introduction to anthropological thinking, I recommend Matthew Engelke and his How to Think Like an Anthropologist. The LSE professor provides an easy to read introduction to “What is anthropology” and the methods used by this discipline, presenting a range of examples and highlighting why anthropology matters in many of today’s conversations. The book just recently came out, so it’s a timely read with lots of references to contemporary topics and offers ‘Boardroom anthropologists’ a good basic read.

#2: Ethnography is one of the core methods in human centric design. But why does it matter to talk about the matsutake value chain? Using one of the strangest commodity chains, The Mushroom at the End of the World – On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins is a great ethnographic tale on capitalism, told by anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The book won the 2016 Gregory Bateson Price, The 2016 Victor Turner Price in Ethnographic Writing, and many other awards, and I recommend it as an unusual read for those interested in ethnographic writing.

#3: I have spoken a lot about the need for participatory or generative research techniques for human-centric solution development and innovation: I enjoyed the Convivial Toolbox: Generative Research for the Front End of Design by Liz Sanders, as an introduction to participatory design methods. The book introduces a range of methods and tools and is highly visual, making it a good reference book on human centric design.

#4: A great reference book with a very comprehensive description of design thinking tools and methods is  Design Thinking: Process and Methods Manual by Robert A. Curedale. I found it a very useful guide and recommend it to those planning to apply the methods in their daily work and looking for a quick reference book.

#5: One of my favorite action-oriented reference books on service design innovation and for facilitating human-centric design workshops, is the The Service Innovation Handbook: Action-oriented Creative Thinking Toolkit for Service Organizations by Lucy Kimbell. The book is full of real-life examples and provides easy to replicate tools, methods and frameworks for those who aim to apply human centric design in their every day work.

#6: For a classic on user centric design principles, read The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. Even though first published more than 25 years ago, it is still recognized as one of the most influential books in human centric design, recommended by the likes of Tim Brown of IDEO, and many others. Definitely worth a read, especially the revised and expanded edition with lots of new examples!

#7: It all becomes more real by looking at examples: I found Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs by Larry Keeley to be a useful visual overview on patterns of innovation and innovation opportunities and the ‘how’ of breakthrough innovations.

#8: How can human centric design be applied in real life: For an overview on how Google does it, Sprint offers a good read on testing new ideas in just five days and through a very lean approach that can easily be replicated, applying methods of human centric design.

#9: Visualization is one key method used in human-centric design and solution development. Visualization techniques and tools can be used to get insights from your team, user, or target group and to develop new ideas. A useful and often referred to introduction to visualization games for those who facilitate workshops and meetings is Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray.

#10: in my previous blogs, I spoke a lot about the social embeddedness of  what we perceive as ‘reality’: An every-green and absolute must-read on the social construction of knowledge is Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Originally published in 1967, it is one of the most important sociology books of the past century and hence can be treated as a ‘classic’.

I could continue the list, but I stop here for now. I hope you find this useful as a first list – I will provide more topic specific lists in the future.

Happy reading!