Have you ever learned something and wondered, how did I get this far in my life without knowing that? I think we all do it. We have different “wow” moments based on different new nuggets of knowledge.
Until a recent episode of our podcast, Gracefully and Frankly, I had no idea how puppies were conceived. I thought I knew, but I was wrong. (Thank you, Erin, for the PG-rated tutorial via doggie Dottie!)
I also recently learned that bonsai isn’t a kind of tree. It’s the process one uses to artificially dwarf a tree into an ornamental tree. Virtually any tree can be subjected to it. Pine, elm, redwood, etc. Then it is called a bonsai.
A friend of mine was amazed to discover a beautiful walking trail near her home. She grew up in the area and didn’t know the trail existed. She wondered how that could happen!
Maybe you already know the particular things I didn’t know. I guarantee that there’s also something I know that you don’t. And so goes the circle of life!
The Spaceman Cometh
I recently read Spaceman, the 2016 autobiography of former astronaut Mike Massimino. I’d never heard of him until he appeared on the Big Bang Theory more than a decade ago. But in addition to learning about his unusual path to space, his book taught me about something I’d never given any thought: “human factors”.
Have you ever wondered why the accelerator in your car is on the right and the brake on the left? Or how airplane designers decided where all of the gauges, gizmos, and levers should go in a cockpit? Experts in human factors figured that stuff out. Human factors is an aspect of engineering. Mike is one of those engineers who determine how humans will interact with a design. It’s partly ergonomics but it’s more than that.
The Five Human Factors method is about studying the physical, cognitive, social, cultural and emotional factors that make up a complete customer experience.Innovation Wiki
You could invent something useful but if it’s not easy to operate, it will flop. Someone along the way has to think about how a real human will approach your “thing” and whether they’ll be able to figure it out.
Exploiting Human Intuition
In a more sinister approach, the nerds at Facebook studied the human brain so that they could design their platform to appeal to its pleasure and addiction areas. When your Facebook post gets likes, your brain lights up. Their algorithms keep you coming back for more. After all, the only other human factors on Facebook involve clicking a mouse. This is also why a toddler can pick up a smartphone and know how to use it. Designers have studied the way little humans interact with things. It’s no wonder so many of us are addicted to technology.
Mike and his colleagues were more interested in making sure things were intuitive and accessible for the astronauts. When you’re facing 100 gauges, how does the human brain know where to go for the one you want? You can’t simply put a big red arrow beside each one. These are things that must be sorted out long before anyone considers counting down to a launch.
Massimino was an astronaut for 8 years. He flew on two shuttle missions, did spacewalks, worked on the Hubble telescope, and sent the first tweet from space. He prioritized family over longer stints in space and retired as an astronaut in 2014. His route to becoming a spaceman was unconventional. Most astronauts have been elite pilots. Mike became a pilot after NASA chose him for the space program. And his account of failing his first attempt at earning a PhD is excruciating but ultimately inspiring. Because he went back and nailed it the second time.
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to become an astronaut, albeit not in the usual way, read this book. Sure, I’m a few years late, but what else is new? I’d love to spend more time learning about things I don’t know but, well, I don’t know what those things are!