The Wheel of Need, the Landscape of Potential Technology

Consider the following analogy of technology and social evolution. Our desire is a massive wheel who’s various sections represent basic human needs, and who’s surface is complex (each of us has different priorities/expressions of need). The landscape the wheel crosses represents all possible technologies. As the wheel turns, new areas of technology are within reach. Great gaps appear between the rough surface of the wheel and the technologies it touches. By providing just the right effort, researchers, hardware designers, and software developers create the best match for technology to the social surface. The more fluid and adaptive technology, the smoother the motion. You can envision the social adoption of the philosophy of open design, as a choice that changes the direction of the great wheel. Intentionally navigating the wheel is a complex topic, and is beyond the scope of this post (it requires potent and accurate tech forecasting).

Exploration through development

Today’s web software companies are at a point in time where exploration of value spaces is done by developing small application prototypes. The process begins with an idea, a mockup, or even a minimally functional design. Most developers and software designers have little knowledge of how successful an app will be before they release it. The environment changes rapidly, altering the importance of assumptions a design is based on. Enormous advances in manufacturing have made possible much more fluid hardware prototyping as well.

Because of the difficulties of predicting the success of software, research budget expenditures are a challenge for BigCos. This unpredictable space is large enough for small groups of developers and designers to found new businesses. The upfront costs to hack together a working prototype can be anywhere from a few days to a few months. The barrier to entry is within reach of a handful of ambitious folks.

the Source of Ideas

The most common source for my own ideas is awareness of a need I share with others. I search about the Net for tools that can do what is needed. If I can’t find one, it’s ether good or bad news. The bad news is that the service is way too expensive to build or unfeasible. The good news is that there may be only a handful of people in the world working the problem because of it’s novelty. The ability to predict future value is one of the many skills a founder must refine. Building an organization that can transition abstract concepts into practical tools is the true test.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Be Sociable, Share!

  • awaldstein

    Wow. Great post Mark.

    I'm less an abstract thinker than you. And more focused on the changes that the web brings to companies and rollouts and market discovery rather than development, but this spoke to me.

    I actually try to touch on bit of this in my posts and work with clients.


  • David Semeria

    Hi Mark,

    The current focus on lean startups is creating an opportunity for people to work on projects which don't fit this mold.

    The pace of innovation on the net has been stunning – but it has come at a price. We find ourselves with a bag of technologies which all started off as Minimum Viable Products.

    I see a lot of scope for projects which create some order and visibility from this hotch-potch.

  • Mark Essel

    I fluctuate each post. When I'm feeling “far out” I don't restrain myself to more technical posts, I go with the flow. Glad you enjoy the mix Arnold. I get inspiration from all directions, and certainly from your blog.

  • Mark Essel

    Good counter David, LMFramework has taken 4 years of development and is likely to fulfill a very different need. Maybe the short term/fast churning tech is attractive because it's fast to measure and then funnel more resources to. Those types of projects don't negate the needs for longer term work.

    Thanks for the reminder, looking forward to more of your posts on the details.

  • awaldstein


  • David Semeria

    Thanks Mark. I wasn't so much talking up my own book as trying to point out that as pendulums swing, it's often interesting to go in the opposite direction.

    It's true it's never been easier to fund a startup, but I would argue that a lot of the tech that is coming out of these shoestring operations is quite shallow.

    That's ok from an investment perspective. But here's the question: can deep and long lasting tech be created from lots of shallow tech?

  • Mark Essel

    There will be opportunities shallow initial prototypes don't uncover. Some startups burn through many millions of dollars and never go profitable. But cheaper operating costs can allow a slow boil. Take for instance other Jekyll and Hyde founders, we all work day jobs to survive while building something of longer term value.

    If an opportunity does appear, the market may converge and fill the opportunity before a slower moving organization can sieze the moment.

  • Pingback: Motivate the Mean, Empower the Peak, or Support a Social Shift » Victus Spiritus

  • Pingback: The Gilded Cage of Technology « Victus Spiritus