Being able to think like an engineer can be quite a blessing. From hacking your life so it runs like a well-oiled machine, to knowing how to solve personal bombshells when they land in your lap, tackling problems with logical smarts can pay dividends.
When it comes to certain things, though, seeing the world through engineer’s spectacles can get you nowhere. On the startup front, to think like a user — to see things as others do — can be a stretch for some of us.
There’s a tool for that
I like the expression ‘The Theatre of the Mind.’ I’m tempted to say Marvin Minsky or Seymour Papert coined it, but I’m not certain. For me, this phrase reminds me that we all have a perverse version of what reality is, and one man’s perspective of ‘reality’ isn’t shared by anyone else.
For an engineer to see the world through the eyes of others (or a cohort of others) try using Google Image Search to get an idea how the masses — the thumb of the bell curve — perceives a given concept, phrase, or word. The way it works is this: for a given string of text, yield imagery that correlates best, based on popularity. Most non-convoluted searches will give you a consistent theme within the first dozen or so images. This can be a revelation. And anyone curious about how the world at large thinks about a given concept has to keep this handy hack at the top of their playbook.
For example, take the word ‘violinist.’ Now, before I Google Image Searched this word, I had a whole set of ideas how the world saw this concept. It turns out, the thumb of the bell curve sees violinists as ‘young girls’ (save for Jascha Heifetz). If one was in the market serving violinists, one better realize that ‘young girls’ is how the world perceives what a violinist is (on average). Better have a brand with them is mind. I would have been sorely mistaken to develop something in this market given how I initially had perceived the concept. Better to go with how the world sees it if you’re going to capture this market.
Of course, after one gets a sense for how the thumb of the bell curve perceives a concept, one need not pander to those fixed ideas. There are opportunities in unrealized markets when one side-steps the most common perceptions. If the world sees one idea in one fixed way, a ‘Purple Cow’ opportunity resides in breaking form and marrying a completely unexpected angle to a concept. Or, said plainly, there are opportunities by just inventing a whole new category.
But all the same, using Google Image Search as a tool to establish how exactly to nix the established camp of ideas can be a great jumping off place for anyone exploring just what new market to try out.
Tools for the game
The next time you think you know your audience, be sure to take Google Image Search for a spin to verify that you’re not seeing the world through a kaleidoscope. Get on board with how the average Joe perceives it before coming to conclusions. It’s an epiphany for almost anyone who is wired a little differently, and more often than not, it’s a reality check that can save anyone great pains early in the game when trying to develop, design, and market new ideas to users you thought you knew.