The Archeologist Technologist

The Archeologist TechnologistArcheologists look back to see what was; they scratch the ground to find what the past left behind; then they study their bounty and speculate backward in time.

But what makes a good archeologist? In a word – belief. Archeologists must believe there’s something out there, something under the dirt waiting for them. Sure, they use their smarts to choose the best place to dig and dig with the best tools, but they know something’s out there and have a burning desire to find it. The first rule of archeology – don’t dig, don’t find.

There’s almost direct overlap between archeologists and technologists, with one difference – where archeologists dig to define the past and technologists dig to define the future.

Technologists must use their knowledge and experience to dig in the right place and must use the best analytical digging tools. Creativity and knowledge are required to decide where to dig, and once unearthed the technologist must interpret the fragments and decide how to knit together the skeleton. But to me, the most important part of the analogy is belief – for the archeologist belief that fossils are buried under the dirt waiting to be discovered and for the technologist belief that technology is buried and waiting to be discovered.

Before powered flight, the Wright brothers believed technology was out there waiting for them. Their first flight was a monumental achievement, and I don’t want to devalue their work, but think about it – what did they create that wasn’t already there? Yes, they knit together technologies in new ways, but they didn’t create the laws of aerodynamics used for the wings (neither did the earliest aerodynamicists); they did not create the laws of thermodynamics behind the gasoline engine (neither did the early thermodynamicists who measured existing phenomena to make the laws); and they didn’t create the wood for the structure. But what they did do is dig for technology.

Space travel – for most of our history just a dream. But decades before rocket technology, it was all there waiting – the periodic table to make the fuel, the physics to make thrust, and the mechanics to create the structure. Natural resources and technologies were quilted together and processed in new ways, yes. But the technologies, or the rules to create them, were already there waiting to be discovered. And what Goddard did was dig.

The archeologist-technologist analogy can be helpful, but the notion of preexisting technology is way out there – it smacks of predestination in which I don’t believe.

But what I do believe in is belief – belief you have the capability to discover a forward-looking fossil – a future genus that others thought impossible. But only if you dig.

The first rule of technology – don’t dig, don’t find.

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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski brings together the best of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, Axiomatic Design, TRIZ, and lean to develop innovative products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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