A Peek Inside The Mind Of...

Grant McCracken

Grant and molly

Grant McCracken holds a PhD from the University of Chicago in cultural anthropology. He is the author of ‘Culture and Consumption’, ‘Culture and Consumption II’, ‘Plenitude’, ‘Big Hai’r, ‘The Long Interview’, ‘Flock and Flow’, ‘Transformations’ and most recently ‘Chief Culture Office’r. He has been the director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge and he is now a research affiliate at C3 at MIT.  He named the “Diderot effect.”  His new book, ‘Culturematic’, will be published by the Harvard Business Review Press March 2012.

1. What do you do?

I am an anthropologist who studies contemporary First World cultures. 

2. What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your occupation?

Seeing a cultural pattern I haven't seen before. 

3. What’s the secret of your success?

Such as it is, the secret of my success has been looking carefully, thinking hard, and then believing the the outcome of the looking and the thinking.  On first glimpse, the future always looks impossibly strange. You have to trust your instincts. 

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have shaken hands with?

Sir Francis Bacon

5. Which living person do you most admire?

Steward Brand, possibly? 

6. What brand can you not live without?

J. Crew makes all my fashion choices.  My wife says this is far better than the alternative.

7. What has been your biggest failure?

I should have started thinking by my own lights, trusting my instincts, taking risks much earlier.  I am timid by nature and, also, did I mention I'm a Canadian?

8. Who or what inspires you?

The Times Literary Supplement is just endlessly interesting.

9. What is it that you most dislike?


10. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Plentitude, self published in 1997.  Everyone scorned it.  And I mean everyone. Now it looks ok.

11. How must marketing change?

As a creator of culture, marketing was for a long time the idiot brother. Everyone, literature, movies, TV, was more sophisticated.  Marketing is getting more subtle, complex and nuanced.  Just in time. 

12. What work are you most jealous of?

I'm just reading Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens.  Oh, to have written this.

13. What are you optimistic about?

I'm optimistic about optimism.  We really are very resourceful.  Things often look grim but I think there's an inclination to assume the worst.  I believe ingenuity is staging a comeback.

14. What difference do you want to make?

To help people think about culture.

15. Who is your favorite hero from fiction?

Dr. Who is the present one.  

16. Where is there room for improvement?

We all need to learn to live with complexity, it's the signature of our cultural worlds, our social forms.  

17. What fascinates you?

The good and the bad thing about being an anthropologist who studies his own culture is that just about everything does.

18. What’s your most hard-won piece of wisdom?

That culture isn't everything, and that I needed to embrace entirely new approaches and methods to begin to capture the rest.

19. What’s the most exciting piece of culture you’ve come across recently?

BBC America is now being carried by my American cable company.  Dr. Who, TopGear, Graham Norton! But none of this compares to the riches pouring out of American cable: Nurse Jackie, etc.  This is popular culture beginning to look a lot like culture plain and not so simple.  

20. What are you reading?

Dashiel Hammet

21. What keeps you up at night?

My Siamese cats who like to drop by every so often to remind me how lucky I am to have Siamese cats.  

22. What does the future look like?

As long as it has cats of any kind, we will all be fine.  

23. What part of the internet can you not live without?

Aggregators like PSFK and appliances like Tumbler

24. What is your motto? 

Try your hardest.  Ok, once more, with feeling.

25. What do you most want?

Time and wit enough to keep writing.