Saturday, 23 October 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from The Apprentice

Alan Sugar and the would-be apprentices (2009 series)
Photo: AJC1

The Apprentice is a reality TV entertainment show, with the emphasis on entertainment rather than reality.  But it is, nevertheless, instructive to those, like archaeologists, who are isolated from the day-to-day business environment, its culture and values. It may not present a wholly representative picture, but it is still possible to learn a little about how the world seems to those with a business role.

1. They don't care

Not just about heritage, about anything. Business appears to be one big game, with money the way of keeping score.  Someone who is willing to swear blind that  their product is organic in order to close a sale is unlikely to be trouble by the moral issues raised by not obeying a planning condition. 

See my posts on business meetings  , what not to say at a client meeting and Step 5: communication.

2. They know nothing

They stopped reading when they discovered money.  They may vaguely recall Elizabeth I, but don't count on it.  Archaeologist will need to explain from first principles about Planning Guidance, types of project, curators and contractors, post-excavation, archives and publication.  Don't assume that they know what you, or they, should be doing. They don't.

3. "Project manager" means nothing

There was a time when being a project manager implied a level of experience, competence and responsibility, and to introduce oneself as the archaeological project manager meant something that should be respected.  This has been eroded recently, and when fitting a kitchen or washing cars can be 'project managed' then clearly the term has lost much of its meaning.

See my post on Step 2: labels.

4. They wear the uniform

The phot above neatly demonstrates my discussion of image.  Although no dress code has ever been formalised, grey suits and black dresses have emerged as the uniform of business.  These days there is much more tolerance of idiosyncrasies such as weird hair and jewellery, but it is still true that business people will only respect people who dress like them.

5. Results are what matters

If money is the yardstick applied to success, expect an uphill struggle trying to persuade them to spend more than necessary.  At a certain level of maturity and seniority, company staff may be willing to consider the soft benefits of feel-good spending, but the default mode is cost minimisation.  Expect this - and make sure that you have costed for everything you need.

So, to conclude: business people have a different set of values, and  when communicating with them, bear this in mind.

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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from Dragon's Den

Peter Jones
By Simontrend, via Wikimedia Commons
It's not surprising that archaeologists are, on the whole, pretty poor business people: they don't want to be business people.  But an industry that employs thousands of people in hundred of companies, partnerships and freelance operations, turning over £100m a year,  IS a business: the question is whether we embrace that fact, and see what we can do to improve, or we ignore it and trust to luck. 

It is possible to learn a lot about business from Dragon's Den: not so much from the revolutionary rubber hammers, innovative chocolate teapots, and re-engineered sliced bread that hopes to be the best thing since the original sliced bread, but from the pooled practical experience of the entrepreneurs.  After a while their questioning starts to form a pattern, from which I'd highlight these:

1  Has it been done before?

Businesses based on innovation need to think about this all the time.  Archaeology, less so, at first blush.  But of course we build out work on existing knowledge.  We should be prepared to invest in analysing results of previous work in the area before firing up the JCB on a new site.  See Step 8

2  What's the IPR position?

Working with ideas and information intrinsically raises a whole range of issues about ownership, protection and licensing. Specifically, archaeologists generally use, as part of their commercial work, mapping, structured data and images created by others.   They should be clear about what copyright they own and what copyright they use. 

3  Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity

It's depressing to see how hard archaeologists work, yet leave to chance whether their businesses produce a surplus.  Typically they rely on estimating the likely work and charging accordingly, unaware that they are effectively gambling on the absence of complex archaeology, and gambling with the company's money.  Don't do that: follow Step 6 and Coping with the crunch and Step 7

4  It's the people not the product

Every successful business is built on its staff.  If flint-hearted Gecko clones know this, archaeologists should too.  Follow Step 4 and Step 10.

5  Are there hidden costs?

Most organisations carry along with them a lot of baggage - time and resources that have been sunk into things which have yet to bear fruit, or uncosted commitments that there is a contractual or moral obligation to fulfill at some point. Maybe archaeologists don't need to tell others about them, but they certainly ought to be aware of them.  These loose ends should be reviewed, quantified and allocated to someone to take ownership of, even if they're not actually being progressed.  See Step 8

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