Tools and Toolmakers

Usage of tools brought about a quantum jump in the progress of human race. Tools gave us the ability to influence and shape nature to suit our needs. They gave us an edge in hunting for food and escaping from predators.

In modern history, implementation of complex tools gave considerable advantage to certain countries over others. Steam engines and machines improved productivity of european nations during industrial revolution and some of them still maintain their economic edge. Printing press enabled wider dissemination of knowledge and literacy throughout the socioeconomic classes. Check out top 10 inventions that change the world

In this famous quote, Steve Jobs likened a computer as the bicycle to human mind:

“I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts. And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” — Steve Jobs

A tool is an item used for a specific purpose. This definition allows even conceptual tools in its gamut.

For example, idea hexagon from Ramesh Raskar, MIT Media Lab is a tool used to generate ideas

Products create impact:

As product managers, we are toolmakers. It is important that we understand the impact that a tool has on its users and the responsibility we carry on our shoulders. The success of a product depends a lot on how it makes it users’ lives better.

Users rely on tools to educate them (not just to get a job done)

  • When companies implement business process automation softwares, they rely on the tool to educate them on industry best practices and take them up the maturity curve
  • Marketing and product managers who implement analytics tools or marketing automation tools, do not just automate a process, they also imbibe a framework which has been tried and tested in the industry

Tools influence their users’ thinking

  • A heavy spreadsheet user will most likely use a tabular representation for most problems instead of a flowchart or a state diagram
  • Newly graduated MBA-s make the mistake of using the same set of frameworks to solve all problems, even unrelated ones
  • Mobile, internet, twitter, news snippet applications and the ‘feed’ paradigm train users to skim through information and stay away long form articles which require longer concentration spans
  • With Google available on smartphones, when we have a query, our first impulse is to search on google, even before attempting to retrieve the answer from our brain
  • Richard Feynman, the late Nobel laureate and CalTech physicist, saw that “bulletized” thinking introduced by powerpoint contributed to the Challenger disaster

Learning from other products:

Product managers should make sure that they adopt trending products early in the life cycle with the objective of deliberate learning. By using a product and tracing its release history, a product manager can decipher the thinking and recreate the roadmap of the original product team. The next step is to predict what the team will release next and why. Critical analysis of the product strategy of different product teams is a sure shot method of improving your own product sense.

Creating successful products:

A successful product should have a personality, and should guide the user to do her job much better than any other. Creating successful products depend a lot on understanding behaviours, needs, and motivations of targeted users through detailed user research.

A thorough knowledge on user research is a must for new product managers.

Read more about User Research Resources for Product Managers at

Originally published at IndiPM.