28 April 2006

The Power of the Sticky

One of the nice things about working at Microsoft is the cool speakers that come to visit. I remember a few years ago when a 12 year old prodigy (I don't remember his name) visited Microsoft to discuss his vision of the tech world and where it was going. After a 1 hour lecture, with slides and a small tailored suit, he opened up the floor to questions and answers. With around 100 Microsoft employees attending, there were lots of questions. He had interesting answers all around. His youthful ambivalence to difficult technical challenges was refreshing. Someone asked a question, and I don't remember what it was, but I'll never forget his answer, or at least the beginning of it: "Well, I'm a technologist, so I try to solve every problem with technology..." That introspective understanding of how he attacked problems was very insightful. I began to wonder if I was the same way. Certainly, since that discussion I've noticed my tendency to solve everything with technology, but as I get more experience working with different teams I am more and more persuaded, that technology is the least of our challenges. All around us are routines and tools that everyday people use to solve everyday problems, most of which are not technological solutions. Preeminent among these today are 3M's humble product the Sticky. People use these so consistently that I am now persuaded that for all of America's economy to collapse, we need only see 3M stop production of the humble sticky. ;) There are plenty of solutions to be had and lots of simple problems to be solved, but not all need to, or should be solved with technology. The problem I am now faced with is, how do you distinguish between the two?

3 comments:

Darcy said...

Paper is a technology.The definition is, "the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry." Science and engineering manufactures paper.

Just as tree pulp is the natural enabler in paper, so is the electricity the natural enabler in computers. You could argue the same for ink or carbon for pen/pencil that writes on paper, but this could get too long.

I don't see the difference. If it was intended that you talk about 'electrical technology' or 'computer technology' then we can have a different discussion. ;)

David Weiss said...

Excellent point Darcy! What I meant was the application of computer technology, specifically software technology. I should have been more specific. Using the right tool for the job is always a good idea. The problem that am now considering is this: When and under what circumstances is software not the correct tool for the job? Or better what criteria define problems that computer software has the best chance of solving?

gorgeoux said...

Greatest question in months (counting my microcosm). I believe that any tech-savvy would turn to technology for most complex problems, by default; so ask a non-tech-savvy and if you get a good common sense answer, no need for software. Then again, if your question is number of stars in the sky, no common sense brain will have enough processing power to answer soon enough, so common sense points you to software, and hardware. I may be simplistic, but if one can forget tech-knowledge for a minute and think common sense, common sense will call in software. Or not. Does it make sense?

Simplistic again: if you are skilled enough to put together a contact report, a Word template won't make it much better or much worse. If you can't, no Word template will help you enough. If you have the mind to manage a project with pencil and paper, software may not make a huge difference. It is with the brain--practice and knowledge--to decide whether software would add value to a solution. Or, better said, whether your choice of technology makes a relevant difference.

Criteria=common sense, as long as it stays within time and budget.