Are you a Taskmaster or a McLuhanatic?

taskmasterThe product designer was insistent, nearly pounding the desk while making the point.


The designer proclaims that there is a new piece of tech being shilled by our suppliers that everyone knows will be the next best thing! It will change society! It has to be incorporated into future Taskmaster Enterprises widgets!


Now, as Taskmaster readers will know, I’m certainly no Ned Ludd. There is no army of Luddites who will ever be incited to battle the evils of industrialised machinery and destroy knitting mills in Nottinghamshire by reading this collumn. But I remained unpersuaded by the designer.


“What problem are we solving for our consumers by including this new piece of tech?” I calmly ask the designer.


The question is met with a blank stare from the engineer, who had long ago bought into one of the great misconceptions about technology: That technology changes society.


The most ardent adherent of this view was a guy named Marshall McLuhan, who once proclaimed the “medium is the message”. To people who buy into this worldview, from tools made of stone, to the trebuchet, to the telegram and finally the touchscreen tablet, technology has guided human history.


Of course, the whole thing is McLuhan-acy. Smart businesspeople don’t sell a use for a new piece of technology, they create and develop technologies that serve a need that consumers in society have. Needs create successful new technologies, not the other way around.


With apologies to the Mac fans out there, Apple hasn’t always had the best tech, but they have generally been the best at anticipating their customers’ needs and creating products that fulfil them. That’s why Steve Jobs died a billionaire.


And it comes as no surprise to read that Google recently conducted a study investigating when people need a piece of information but don’t search for it online. In the real world, the survey will prove invaluable to the company in directing its R&D resources. It’s needs driving innovation, not the other way around.


The message is simple: Don’t ask what you can do for your tech. Ask what your tech can do for you.


Get it done – today!


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