Humans of Claro: Meet Josh Dresner

At Claro Partners, we have purposefully built a diverse team of passionate people from different cultural and professional backgrounds to solve problems from multiple angles.
In this new blog series, we proudly introduce you to all of the Claros and Claras in our office, and share the personal journeys that brought them to Barcelona.
In our last HoC we talked with Hans Villarica and now it is time to meet Josh Dresner: our resident anthropologist!

Could you tell me something about your personal background?

As a kid, I always wanted to be an explorer and discover the world! I’m the youngest in my family, and grew up in a quiet North West London suburb. From the age of 13, I chose to be a commuter, on the train two hours a day, going to school in busy central London. I wanted to be at the heart of the action every day. In a sense, I grew up in two parallel worlds, the suburban dream and city life. I was very attached to being ‘a Londoner’, all my family live there, but a lot of people at my school were from different places all over the world and in school holidays they would fly off to exotic places to visit grandparents and stuff like that. I didn’t.

I was a kid that slept next to a world map and read all these adventure and explorer books. I always wanted to live somewhere else and not just visit, because even though I had the taste for life in central London, I wasn’t living it 24/7 and I knew living somewhere else, in a different culture, would be different. Challenging, but fun!

My adventure began after secondary school when I had the opportunity to live and work as a volunteer teacher on a remote island in Vanuatu. It was a place I had never heard of before, it seemed like a crazy move to make, but a place to go when you’re young, and it completely changed my view of life.

Tell me something about that adventure!

Vanuatu is a tiny tropical country, in the South Pacific, near Australia and New Zealand. It’s very isolated, I remember it took up to 6 weeks for letters to arrive, there was no internet, no contact with people back home. I did get to shower every day in a waterfall though! There were good and bad experiences, but it made me realise it is possible to live in different cultures and that you can thrive, and that it is exciting and interesting for both you and others!

It also kind of switched me on to human centred design, but I never connected that until later. The kids there would read books, but the storylines would be set in places completely different from their reality. For example, they had no idea what a train was, they’d never ridden on one, or seen one. For me, the adventure books that I had read as a kid were always relatable. For these kids these adventures were so far removed from their own lives. I helped the kids to write their own storybooks, by having them review the books that they had read and then be creative to write down their own stories.

How did your story continue after Vanuatu?

I came back and went to study Anthropology in Manchester for 3 years. I had enjoyed history and geography at school, and was excited to start something new. During my studies, I got interested in economic anthropology, so how people determine and create value in a society and how value is sustained and exchanged. In parallel to my learning this was also around the time of the financial crisis, and the bank bailouts. Nobody had been able to predict the crash. I quite enjoyed reflecting on that and it switched me on to discovering new frameworks for thinking. It spurred me to then take a Masters in anthropology and people-centred business, because I was very keen to use this broad and reflective thinking in an applied way.

Can you explain the benefit of integrating anthropology with business?

An anthropological outlook provides a layer of critical thinking, and an approach to study people and interpret their cultural context. As I see it, businesses fundamentally provide a service to help people in their lives. All businesses need to make sure that they are in tune with their customers, to ensure that what they are thinking and producing is resonating with the people that buy their products. A brand’s value is created in the minds of the people who consume it. The imagination of people is different depending on their values and where they come from and what is important to them.

What do you mean with imagination in this context?

Everyone grows up in a culture that they know as their normal. Lots of people are never able to step out of their normal, because of lack of money, opportunity or interest. But, once you start stepping out and travel to different places or have interactions with people from other cultural backgrounds you realize that your normal is not normal to other people. Your imagination is created by the normal of all the adults that surround you when you are a child. Your imagination is created by the cultural creators; so TV shows, books, music and all the other things that you are absorbing as a child and that become your frame of reference when you go out into the world. Everything you experience is interpreted through the lens that you grew up with or that you create for yourself.

How does that relate to your work at Claro?

There is nothing that gives me more pleasure at Claro than taking a client on fieldwork and getting them to see that their mental models for their product’s value can be very different from how their customers see it. I enjoy showing people, who think in a very analytical structured way, that there are many people in the world that don’t think like that, who don’t value or experience the same things, who aren’t motivated by the same outcomes.

It is important for people designing products and services to be willing to step out of their comfort zones, to walk in the shoes of the other person, even if it is just for a short moment during fieldwork.

When did you join Claro and how would you describe your role?

I joined Claro 3.5 years ago and I moved to Barcelona for Claro, I had never been to Spain before! I thought, let’s have an adventure and move to Spain. I was full of enthusiasm to make anthropology useful and learn from being around people with design and innovation backgrounds.

Besides working on projects, designing and running fieldwork and taking part in client workshops, I’m also in charge of three internal Claro teams for social science, marketing and culture. Social science to make sure that we are on track with how social science is being used in the business world and we keep an eye out for new research methods. Marketing, because I was keen on getting Claro’s name out there when I first joined. I just stuck with it.

Being in charge of the culture snowball, how would you describe the Claro culture?

As the head of the culture snowball I am of course totally biased! I would say we are very hospitable, kind and warm. I think there is a special closeness we have as colleagues. A lot of us moved to Barcelona to work for Claro, and are kind of orphaned from our normal family and cultures. It is unusual, but really nice; we give each other practical advice, emotional support when we need it, we go traveling together and get close that way.

What is a memorable project you worked on?

I remember this fast paced 10 week project in the US, to develop new product concepts for an insurer client. We did fieldwork in New York City and Los Angeles, we drove around Hollywood in our hire car with the music up loud, and met some really interesting characters in our interviews. A few weeks after that initial ethnographic research we were able to go back to the people that we’d met before and show them some of the new concepts and the product storyline. It was like greeting old friends, and for the research it was ideal as we could dig a little deeper with them for co-creation, and ask them to reflect on what they had shared with us during the first phase.

What do you find important when working in a team?

I find it important that people feel comfortable, respected and valued in the team. I have learned it’s really important to make sure everybody is on the same page and feels comfortable. People come to the same situation with very different frames of reference and priorities. When things get crazy busy, having a good sense of togetherness helps, having a laugh along the way. Even though I am living in a different culture from the one I grew up, my British cultural influence is not far from the surface. So when things get stressful, I always say lots of Yorkshire tea and biscuits help!

Sep 28, 2017