Anthropology & Innovation in the High Tech Sector

Anthropology & Innovation in the High Tech Sector

Paper Abstract

I work as a Program Manager for a large, multi-national software company.  My responsibilities include organizational planning & design; I consult with different parts of the organization to help them work more effectively together.  My anthropological perspective has served me well in these endeavors, though I am not on staff as an anthropologist.  The company’s Board of Directors recognizes that they must assure the future growth of the company in a planful way – they want to harness innovation and the potential revenue it represents.  As a result, they are putting pressure on the R&D teams to articulate and execute plans which will keep the company competitive.  In addition to regular R&D activities, the company has undertaken several programs to funnel and evaluate employee ideas. However, these have not been sustainable, and are thus not an integral part of the employee’s experience of the organization. The R&D teams would like to establish & diffuse a process to make the gathering and assessment of employee ideas standard organizational practice.  I hope to present a case study describing these activities.

This panel seeks to explore the opportunities and challenges for anthropologists participating in research and development in the high tech sector.

Session Abstract

Although I served as Organizer and Chair, this panel was prepared in collaboration with:

  • Tom Foth & Jill Boncek, Pitney Bowes
  • Nelle Steele, Microsoft
  • Patricia Sachs, Social Solutions, Inc.

This panel seeks to explore the opportunities and challenges for anthropologists participating in research and development in the high tech sector.

In order to remain competitive and retain market share, high tech companies have to figure out how to marry the needs of consumers with a lucrative business model.  Corporations are striving to understand how to wring the creative genius out of the marketplace, their employees, and anthropologists, in the hope that it will provide the key to survival in a do-or-die market.  Thus, ‘innovation’ has become a key focus, and is appearing more frequently now in popular literature, propaganda, and discussion, of corporations, particularly those in the high tech sector.

At the same time, opportunities for academic employment remain sparse, and anthropologists are increasingly seeking employment in non-academic realms.  As a result, anthropologists are engaged in marketing research, business development (for both products and services), as well as product design, development, and enhancements.

Anthropologists are engaged to understand the consumers and/or create more appealing and useful products.  They run a fine line between consumer focus and using their skills for the betterment of business.  On one hand, positions are often lucrative, and social science expertise is valued for the insights it brings to the ever-elusive consumer.  On the other hand, anthropologists are challenged by isolation, co-workers who do not understand or value their perspective, or, alternatively, those who seek to co-opt it.  They also face the challenge of identifying appropriate methodologies for their work, and the responsibility for educating their colleagues about the nature of anthropological work.


1 Comments on “Anthropology & Innovation in the High Tech Sector”

  1. Pingback: Origins of anthrodesign | Natalie Hanson

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