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Freelance consultant, learning facilitator, and writer, founder of extreme-inventing.com, ooleee.net (with artist Gary King), knowledgecafe0151. Teach technology entrepreneurship at School of Engineering at University of Liverpool, UK. I have a longstanding and avid interest in Technology as a unique human phenomenon. I'm actively engaged in research on how enterprising individuals shape material culture through inventing and innovating, with palaeoanthropologists at the Dept. of Archaeology, Egyptology and Classics, also at University of Liverpool.

Nail-hammer combo

nailholdingcombDIYers will appreciate this one, even it its application is limited to flatter surfaces. However, it could be adapted, and then it would be an extreme innovation-maybe? I’m putting it forward as an example of emergent functionality, because the comb is being used for something it wasn’t originally designed for. Emergent properties present an opportunity to innovate, by, for example, redesigning the comb with this nail holding function in mind. I think its also interesting to think about this one a bit harder. Where could the idea have come from? What extreme inventing is encouraging you to think about is how a property of an object, natural or human-made, is first recognised and then captured in what then becomes a new and useful system. A system is a sequence or a network of operations which results in something useful. New systems invariably come into existence because an individual (the inventor or innovator) is dissatisfied with an existing system. A system could also be classified as a technique. The nail-hammer-hammerer (you)- and the comb represent a new technique of holding a nail so it can be hammered in, or you might use the description ‘nailed in,’ without doing damage to your hand. The new technique (system) exists to replace one that comes with a high risk of hurting your fingers when they are used to hold the nail steady before hammering. The property of the comb that is being captured is, I would say, one of pinching. But pinching is an action, a process that is enabled, in this case, by the close proximity of  two plastic and slightly elastic teeth. It’s the inherent elasticity of the teeth that does the pinching. Would it be better with a metal comb?  Pinching is the same property as your hand affords. Thus, pinching, we might say, is an affordance. The idea of affordance was conceived by the psychologist J.J. Gibson. The entry in wikipedia says an affordance is a quality of an object that allows an individual to perform an action. I would call that a property. But again we are back to the question, how do you recognise a useful property, how do we seem to know intuitively that it will afford functionality. If we recognised the comb as being similar in shape to a hand, the idea for its use as a nail-holder is not too big a jump. So recognising an affordance has something to do with prior experience of something similar. All for now on this one. I may return to affordance and also function at some point in the future.


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