From the Wilder archives because since this interview was with a rockstar and about the future of work. Who knew a trend would start here. This discussion happened in 2010 and since then many have asked Ms. Bell about the future of work. Just Google Genevieve Bell and the Future of Work. You will see more than 570,000 results. Most of them from the past few years. Although I have focused more these days on the Partner Economy than the future of work, it’s definitely worth going back in time and reading and listening to this interview.

I decided to kick off my Future of Work (Work’s Future) research by interviewing Genevieve Bell, who is an Intel fellow director of Intel Corporations Interaction and Experience Research.

Bell was once named as one of the top 25 women in technology to watch by AlwaysOn. I was fascinated by some of her previous interviews (see below for a list) and wanted to talk to someone from Intel, a company that is obviously going to play a big role in the future.

When Genevieve told me that she found her job when she met a man in a bar in Palo Alto, I knew I was in for a great discussion. She said, “He (the man in the bar) challenged me to think about how to make what I did more accessible to a wider group of people and introduced me to the people who would become my colleagues at Intel.”

She said Intel realized that her coworkers knew that the people using their products would not look like them in the future; (This made me wonder if other companies have really embraced this), so they hired cognitive psychologists, social scientists, and cultural anthropologists.

While other companies have hired these sorts of individuals, they tend to hit a glass ceiling, or some sort of ceiling, in the company where they cannot influence the final decisions about a product.

This hasn’t been an issue, however, at Intel, where she has a seat at the table with the company’s key decision makers. (I have to say that most of the company’s I have worked at have excluded the researchers and the ethnographers from important product related discussions).

The conversation was especially interesting when we looked at the role of women in technology. While I knew the prevalence of women in technology is staggering, I was amazed at some of the statistics she recited. They each indicated that companies, especially technology companies, need to really to pay attention to women.

Genevieve believes that even though companies have done a decent job in developing products for women, there has been a real disconnect that has been taking place. When women take over certain areas of technology, those areas become devalued.

I think where the disconnect exists and where I think there is great reason to have urgency and attention is that while it is certainly the case that women have achieved parity and in some place dominance of the use of certain kinds of new information and communication technologies, they are nowhere as well represented in the places of the people who make them and design them.

I think those are places that companies reasonably should pay attention, because there becomes a much more interesting question about, “What would it look like if you actually pushed on those spaces and said it’s probably not good enough that women are 17% to 20% of people getting graduate degrees in computer science?”  That’s kind of a shame.

I then asked if she thought it was true that even though men seems to be early adopters of new technology, (think Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations  or Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, women tend to later adopters to new technologies. (Men start using smart phones before women for example, but then women seem to be impact the market more).

Genevieve cited three reasons:

  1. Women will not use technology unless it saves time, labor, space, or money.
  2. It has to be neutral or subtractive to whatever they carry around with them (think handbag).
  3.  The product has to work perfectly the first time out of the box (think about when you use an Apple product).

According to her, Men in the West are proud of when they can master technology, even if it takes an extensive period of time. Women, on the other hand, want it to work right away and work flawlessly. For women, the stories of mastery don’t exist.

We then discussed the importance of taking a holistic approach in developing products (I think most companies talk about understanding the customer, but they attempt to do this from a product perspective and not from a customer service perspective for example).

Genevieve explained why it is important to measure in terms of its “service infrastructure.”  What she meant by this phrase was that “It doesn’t just mean that the screen turns on.” “It means that there’s content.”

Again, I think this is a place where Amazon and Apple, in very different ways, have understood the market well.  They’ve understood that devices are really front ends to services. It the same way, people buy televisions because they may esthetically be appealing? Ultimately what makes a television a good thing is that it’s got content.

Although part of my Future of Work research is looking at the differences between multiple generations, Genevieve recommended that it might be better to look at individuals from a life stage lens or lenses, like when how people change before and after they have kids.
Probably the most fascinating comment of the interview was when I asked Genevieve about what countries are providing the most insight into the future of technology.

I asked this because the US is not always ahead of other countries as illustrated in the case of mobile technology. It was very much to my surprise when she said “Indonesia.”

Interestingly enough Indonesia is Facebook’s second biggest market and was once Blackberry’s second biggest market. It has nearly 300 million people and has an 85% literary and long tradition of adapting technology

Talking to Genevieve Bell was an amazing experience and was a great way to kick off the Future of Work series. The only disappointment of our discussion is when Genevieve told me that I would probably still be creating PowerPoint slides in 2012.