Humanities mindset at heart of Silicon Valley disruption

8 November 2016

Leaders from the Business Council of Australia, Intel, and the CSIRO share insights into the humanities' competitive edge. 

Intel VP and Senior Fellow Genevieve Bell addresses A Conversation on Business and Humanities. Image: Sharon Hickey/University of Sydney

Intel VP and Senior Fellow Genevieve Bell addresses the forum. Bell applies expertise in anthropology to solve technical problems. Image: Sharon Hickey/University of Sydney

Silicon Valley’s major companies have turned to the humanities and social sciences for its valuable way of thinking, Intel’s resident anthropologist and futurist has told a forum co-hosted by the University of Sydney and ANU.

Intel Senior Fellow and Vice-President Genevieve Bell is an anthropologist who came from Stanford University to join the technology company and lead a cross-disciplinary team that delivers insights into societal, technical and global trends.

Human touch helps technology tick

“It became clear quickly that my job was quite simple. It was about advocating aggressively, constantly and tirelessly for humans inside the building of new technology. How do you not just ask what do people want but what are people doing that might inspire the next generation of technology development?”

“There are people like me in every major technology company in Silicon Valley and in most major companies in America. Technology companies have research social scientists, because we know something that is valuable, we have a way of thinking that is valuable,” said Bell.

Embedding innovation and celebrating success

Co-hosted by The University of Sydney and ANU, a Conversation on Business and Humanities also featured leading speakers from the CSIRO, the Business Council of Australia, and Second Road Management Consultancy.

CSIRO chairman David Thodey told the forum that Australia must be better at celebrating its successes, to nurture a culture of innovation.

“Without innovation and creativity within the very fabric of your workforce, you can never progress,” said Thodey.

“You need to create a process where innovative and creative ideas can come up, but you need to celebrate it as well.”

Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott. Image: Sharon Hickey/University of Sydney

A humanities mindset is critical, BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott told the forum. Image: Sharon Hickey/University of Sydney

Providing a competitive edge

Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said successful leaders of the 21st century will need a humanities perspective and education.

“If we are to steer our global community to be a prosperous and peaceful one, we should demand this from our leaders,” said Westacott.

Professor Allan McConnell, Pro-Dean Research, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, at the University of Sydney, said:  “The dynamism of Australian business, coupled with the knowledge, skills and values stemming from HASS, holds promise for a new generation of leaders. I am excited about the role HASS can play in meeting our collective needs for the future.”