There is only one female Intel Fellow and, as far as I know, only one Intel Fellow who isn’t an engineer. That one person is Genevieve Bell and she is Intel’s Secret Weapon.
Genevieve is an Ethnologist and she focuses on trying to understand how we would like to use technology rather than tossing technology we don’t want at us at an alarming pace. She not only can see what Steve Jobs does to be successful she is one of the few that understands why and how he succeeds. She was given her own lab this week and the result may not only change Intel it may change the future of technology.
Evolution and Hard Wiring
As you watch Apple, who often seems to magically get what products people don’t yet know they want, few realize that it is less about the product and more about the pitch that makes Apple successful. You see we are hard wired to do things that increase our stature the community and Apple positions its products as a means to improve that stature.
The hard wiring that makes us vulnerable to this approach connected stature to mating. The higher the stature you had the more attractive mates you got and the more children you produced. That’s why reputation is so important to the vast majority of us and Jobs ties his products to the promise that if you buy one your reputation will be enhanced.
However few apply this learning to product offerings outside of Apple and, I’ll bet, even inside of Apple few actually understand this and most think it is only about the products. Folks don’t stand in long lines for gadgets; they stand in long lines to buy things that enhance their position in the community. This is why they stood in long lines for some game consoles and even Windows 95 as the first to get this stuff were envied.
This is only one of a long list of reasons people buy products in large numbers and Genevieve is one of the few people in technology that knows and has studied how this works.
Building for People
If you know how we are wired you can drive products that are more likely to be appealing to both our similarities and differences across sexes and large geographic areas. You can help build campaigns that drive us to adopt these new things more quickly and you can create products that are both unique and uniquely popular.
If you were going to clean slate the PC, for example, you should start with what people want to use and set a higher bar than you would if you started with what they currently are using and worked from that. The PC, for instance was based on the terminal which was based on a paperless typewriter. The typewriter was initially severely limited by the way the key s worked and the fact they could become tangled. Had we not had the typewriter the PCs of today, both Laptop and Desktop, would have likely been vastly different and based on something else.
But we are no longer a typewriter culture and technology has advanced significantly since both the typewriter and the PC were introduced. That suggests it is likely well past time for us to reinvent the PC around how people would like to use them and without the constraints imposed to help those that had gone before.
The same is true for Smartphones which were tied back to PDAs and analog phones, and Tablets which are tied back to pads of paper. The evolutionary path may not have resulted in the ideal product and rather than starting with what we had modifying it to make it better, at some point, it may be better to start from scratch and build the product that interfaces best the technology of today with the people of today.
Intel’s TV Mistake
Originally both Intel and Microsoft looked at the TV as a PC waiting to break out and worked on creating PC like products that would enhance the TV. It didn’t go well. This was because people didn’t want a PC in their living room even though they did apparently want to improve their TV experience. They started from the technology end rather than focusing on what people might actually want to do and the end result was failure. With Genevieve’s help and the Smart TV Intel is now rethinking this approach and the result is far more TV like than PC like though I think, even here, it hasn’t yet gone as far as it should.
Wrapping Up: Intel’s Secret Weapon
While there are other Ethnologists involved in Tech they are generally subordinated to engineers and what they produce is commonly lost in translation. Genevieve Bell has become a power in Intel, a voice that cannot easily be ignored, and the result (which will take a few years) should be products that better work with people. If this is successful we will all likely wonder why it took so long for folks to realize the importance of the human element in a human technology solution, if it fails, we will continue to live in a world where people are subservient to the products they buy rather than the master of them. I’m hoping she doesn’t fail.
Building the capacity for products we don’t even know we want yet is Intel’s secret weapon, oh wait, not so secret anymore huh? Genevieve, you go girl!
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.