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Hammers and Nails: Technology Push Design

"We need to refine our requirements first, before we look at tools." This is a common phrase that I hear. While I sympathize with the sentiment, I think it is frequently wasteful. I suspect that we'd get to the right requirements faster by looking at tools already available in a given problem space.

Pushing the concept further, is it foolish to find a cool technology and then look for ways that that technology can apply to current problem spaces? 

What if you don't even recognize you have a problem space? Without a constant search and openness, we'll miss many serendipitous opportunities.

Here is BYU professor Larry Howell discussing this issue.

I often enjoy doing something ... that is sometimes controversial. In this approach, rather than starting with a need, you start with a new technology and you search to identify a need that it can fulfill. This second more controversial approach is called "technology push design."  
You can imagine the criticisms of this approach. It is sometimes referred as "a solution looking for a problem" or "when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." And there's definitely some truth to this criticism. But there are also some amazing opportunities.  
When you looks at the history of technologies that has made a significant impact on society, many of them did not start with a need. They preceded or even created the need.
For example, before smart phones, I never thought, "Gee, wouldn't it be cool to carry a powerful computer in my pocket that could make phone calls, provide hourly weather predictions, be my navigation system, carry all my scriptures, be my alarm clock and my calculator, and have access to limitless information?" Before microwave ovens no one was sitting around thinking, "Oh! Wouldn't it be convenient if I could nuke my leftovers and heat them up in 30 seconds?" No one thought that because it didn't occur to us that such a thing could even be possible. 
Many great inventions are entirely unanticipated before their creation. 


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