Anthropologists with an understanding of Heidegger appreciate that objects aren’t about their specifications, but the meaning they carry for their users.

Christian Madsbjerg co-founded ReD almost a decade ago, after a brief stint in journalism. [….]

The founding story of ReD sounds more like the genesis of a doctoral dissertation than of a multimillion-dollar company. Madsbjerg says he became enamored first with post-structural theory, and then with the 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who argued that the distinction between objects and their beholders needed to be effaced. [….] A common mistake of philosophers, he claimed, is to think of the object as distinct from the subject. If all of this sounds opaque, I can assure you that in the original German it is much, much worse.

But before long, Madsbjerg had a list of clients desperate for Heideggerian readings of their businesses. The service he provides sounds even more improbable to a scholar who knows his Heidegger than to a layperson who does not. Many philosophers spend their lives trying and failing to understand what Heidegger was talking about. To interest a typical ReD client—usually a corporate vice president who is, Madsbjerg says, “the least laid-back person you can imagine, with every minute of their day divided into 15-minute blocks”—in the philosopher’s turgid, impenetrable post-structural theory is as unlikely a pitch as could be imagined.

But it’s the pitch Madsbjerg has been making. The fundamental blindness in the sorts of consulting that dominate the market, he says, is that they are Cartesian in their outlook: they view objects as the sum of their performance and physical properties.  [….]

“We find that these objects have meanings, not just facts,” Madsbjerg says, “and that the meaning is often what matters.” 

Excerpted from Anthropology Inc. | Graeme Wood | March 2013 | The Atlantic at