The Art of Building Whatever

Dead air, or air that does not move, provides the same or perhaps nearly the same insulating characteristics of a vacuum. This is the reason why Styrofoam is such a good insulator: it’s not the material, but the dead air that the material traps, that produces excellent insulation. This is the same principle being exploited in glazed windows wherein two glass panes are installed parallel to each other as closely as possible, just enough to produce dead air between them.

Now, this post is not an attempt to change the focus of this blog to something more technical or scientific. Neither is this meant to show off my intellectual prowess in the realm of physics (I am almost certain I am missing a couple of scientifically critical facts in the above paragraph). Rather, it’s an attempt at being creative in introducing a couple of questions that I had in my head early this morning: What do I do with facts like this hanging around in the drawers of my memory such that it contributes to my productivity as a product manager (or more generally, an entrepreneur in training)? How do entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs manage their general knowledge in such a way that it produces innovations out of seemingly disparate areas of thought?

Let me put it this way: the first time a carpenter in training encounters a tool as simple as a hammer, there is this certain period where that person needs to familiarize himself with the tool. How to hit the nail in such a way that the nail doesn’t bend. How to pull nails out of the wood. How to hold the hammer properly such that it gives just the right amount of force on impact. There’s a wide array of techniques that one needs to learn to effectively use a tool as seemingly simple as a hammer. Now, during this period of familiarization with the tool, the person’s main concern probably isn’t so much on, let’s say, the art of building a house, a chair, or any object for that matter. That’s intermediate to advanced stuff. At this point in time, anything that this person builds will probably mostly suck or at least look amateurish. But given time, he should be able to produce works of art that everyone will be more than willing to buy. And yet, it is also probably critical at such a point in time for this person to look ahead a little bit. To concern himself, at least partially, with the art of building a house, chair, or whatever because it helps to give him focus or a sort of objective in learning his new tool. Looking ahead allows him to put emphasis on the techniques that are more important to what he wants to build eventually and thus, prevents him from allocating time on learning things that will be of no use at the end of the day.

At this point in time, I feel I am a lot like that neophyte carpenter. I’m at this stage where I’m still trying to familiarize myself with the tools available to a product manager. At the same time, I want to try and look ahead and do some mini-exercises on the art of building a product rather than just focus on the art of using this or that tool. True, I am already building a product in my present day work  which really puts me at the tail end of the technique learning phase and into the building-an-actual-object phase. But all the same, I want to step back a bit and ask the question so that I can form a solid mental model of it and re-use it in the future.

I’m probably sounding like I’m blabbering aimlessly now but that’s alright. This post was never meant to be instructive, just inquisitive. I don’t expect to find the answers to my questions at this exact hour, but I’m hoping that, as time passes, I will have learned enough to form and share such a model with everyone else.

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