So how does the notion that the use of a tool is a mechanical operation help drive better products and innovation? Once the purpose is clearly identified, the tools operation is defined by interaction of a set of forces to achieve the goal. The set of operations or interactions to achieve the purpose is in some sense a function of technology that is available today or needs to be invented in order to execute the steps. For example, assume that two human beings are physically apart, but need to interact with each other. The mechanical operations available to them to close this physical gap have changed dramatically over the ages – legs (walking), horses, carriages, cars, post, phones, email and so forth. This in some sense is one fundamental basis of innovation – the purpose stays constant – however the mechanical operations needed to achieve that purpose are subject to technical changes and disruptions.
What exactly is ‘mechanical’? Based on Dr. Paul Carus, “The Philosophy of the Tool”,
“The mechanical is, as it were, mathematics in motion, and the mechanical in nature is the raison d’être of its own glorious order, its wonderful regularity and systematic constitution that allows us to trace its uniformities and to formulate them into natural laws.”
In essence thinking of the tool in terms of a set of mechanical operations helps put a strong analytical framework to characterize how the purpose is achieved. Since ‘mechanical’ implies both regular and systematic, it allows us to think about the discrete set of operations that the user needs to initiate. This analytical framework can be instrumental in designing a product.
In effect, here is a possible framework to model products on the basis of ‘tools’:
- Crisp understanding of the purpose of the user. The purpose is different than a need or a desire. The purpose is the articulation of a particular state of end results. For example, a user may ask for water. However the purpose (or the end result desired) could be that they would like to quench their thirst. There may be more than one way to achieve that purpose.
- A deep understanding of how the user achieves the purpose today. This involves analysis of the mechanical operations the user undertakes today to achieve the purpose. This analysis is important to know where the inefficiencies are, where the user’s frustrations are, where there is scope for disruptive changes, where differentiation can happen.
- Creative application of current technology or research into new technologies to provide a more efficient, easier, and more approachable construction of a new set of mechanical operations to achieve the same purpose.
This framework in some sense opens up the world to never ending innovation. People’s goals evolve very slowly over the millennium – however technology does change very rapidly – and that should have a huge impact on how people achieve their goals. This framework can allow for the rapid application of new technologies in creative ways to design innovative products.