Friday, January 8, 2010

FBI Geologists; VA Anthropologist

I've been listening to Irons in the Fire, a collection of essays by John McPhee. Among other topics, he writes about investigations of FBI geologists.

Despite having watched and read lots of crime stories, books, movies, and TV shows, it never occurred to me that the FBI would employ geologists. Yet, there's a whole field of forensic geology in which geological evidence is used in criminal and civil investigation and litigation. For example, in one of McPhee's essays, a murder investigation is supported by analysis of the soil on the undercarriage of an abandoned getaway car. Geologists can now pinpoint with amazing accuracy the source (location) of soil samples.

FBI geologists put me in mind of a VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) anthropologist with whom I worked. She told me that for the first 20 years of her career, she always got the fish eye from other VA employees. Why did the VA have an anthropologist? During that time, most of her work was supported medical research and wasn't seen as being directly relevant to health care delivery.

However, when I met her during the 1990s, she said that during the previous five years of her career, she'd had more work than she could handle and that other VA employees were enthusiastic rather than suspicious of her presence.

What was the difference?

VA employees, especially VA leadership, had glommed onto the fact that VA itself had a culture and that the functioning of that culture significantly impacted VA effectiveness and efficiency. Of course, soon after they'd had that insight, they'd started asking themselves: Who knows about culture?

Well, organizational development types like myself and social psychologists and sociologists all have knowledge of and information about culture. Yet, anthropology is the study of culture, and anthropologists can offer insights that elude the rest of us. That's how my friend the anthropologist went from pariah to rock star.

I bring these thoughts to this blog because U.S. and world culture is changing at an accelerating rate and UU culture is due for an overhaul. What will be the role of UU ministers in this transformation and how can we help prepare them to fulfill that role?

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