In a Labor Day picnic this evening conversation turned - as it often does in our neighborhood of self-employed entrepreneur-types - to "the latest and greatest" projects everyone was working on. But in addition to kvetching about "what's already underway", we spent some time talking about an idea one neighbor had for a particular tangible product.
The discussion stalled until we got a very vivid description of what the product looked like - what it felt like, what materials were used, how big it was, how it fit in with the environment it was meant for.
For a software person used to schlepping around early beta product, the shared experience of visualizing a prototype was a real eye-opener, especially the full scope of senses that everyone needed to satisfy their curiousity. The neighbors - none of whom were in the software business - couldn't go any further until they could see the product in their hands, so to speak.
Having done so, the "what ifs" began. There were potential buyers at the table, and potential suppliers; different perspectives on the use case were vetted, new ideas for directions it could go in volunteered.
At the risk of being oblique, the actual product was not meaningful to me - what was fascinating was the process flow of concept to delivery that was encapsulated in that five-minute discussion. Because after five minutes I could see a few prototypes in my mind's eye, and so could everyone else.
My contribution was more along the lines of "if you start with it in this way, here are all the directions you could go in". The art of the possible comes easily to software people who - as everyone knows - live in a world of possibilities. Unburdened by the rigors of physical protyping, our "what if" loop is orders of magnitude faster than the packaged goods guys enjoy.
In other words, it was a great picnic. Happy Labor Day.