Why don’t cars use metal wheels instead of rubber?

I asked my Dad this question when I was no older than five or six years. We were standing in a garage and there was a racecar on the lift.

I remember hearing the other men talk about replacing the tires. As a wee lad, it seemed obvious to me: if rubber wears out, just make the tires out of metal…

A good laugh was had over my uninformed question, though no one was unkind. I can’t remember if they tried explaining the realities of rubber tires and asphalt, or if they just moved on.

Now, 20 years later I realize that it wasn’t the stupid question that I thought it was.

Combat vehicles and construction vehicles both utilize articulated metal tracks on metal sprockets. They’re not high speed, but the application has precedent.

It goes to show that an absurd question can point to an unforeseen solution. Obviously, articulated tracks for armored vehicles and bulldozers were invented years before I was born, however, in my young brain there was a non-linear understanding that allowed me to ask the question.

I’m recounting this anecdote to illustrate the value of absurd and seemingly uninformed questions. A child’s question. The sort of inquiry that could lead to a solution too simple for the advanced logic of the expert, but no less useful.

I’m still asking questions like this. And for years I thought that my question about metal tires was silly. Today I realized that metal “tires” exist. I wonder about other questions from my childhood.

What happens after advertising?

A skeletal sign at a defunct self-carwash

A skeletal sign at a defunct self-carwash

To say that advertising is ubiquitous, is equivalent to saying that human beings wear clothing – my mental construct of a human being includes an unconscious acknowledgement of clothing. We cover our bodies, yet the object exists separate from the wrapper.

Advertising is to business as clothes are to human beings.

Business exists without advertising – but it’s awkward to behold.

Yes. I suspect you’re disagreeing with me. Business exists without advertising.

Even if we expand the definition of advertising to encompass word of mouth and any place the business name appears (receipts, legal documents, etc.), the exchange of value exists apart from it.

It is this characteristic of advertising that permits the question I’m asking.

We can’t very well conceive of the next evolution in human skin – because skin is an integral, critical organ.

Advertising is not. Theoretically speaking. Functionally speaking, values like growth, brand awareness, market saturation (as a spectrum, not a state of being), and competitive advantage are compromised in a world without advertising.

Human survival is compromised without clothing to insulate from the elements (hot and cold, light and abrasion). We might find other means to mitigate the elements, but clothing has developed as a practical means and a form of cultural expression.

So also has advertising developed as a practical means and cultural expression.

And where clothing has become highly specialized and effective. Advertising has become highly specialized and marginally more effective than nothing at all.

If you change the terms of what makes a business successful, you would also change the importance of advertising.

An economy could exist without advertising on every unclaimed surface. Advertising is just the best solution we’ve developed for gathering leads and establishing a presence.

If business values change, so will advertising. Human beings may never cease to wear clothing. It is difficult to prevent yourself from believing the same is true of advertising. It isn’t.

Why do human beings want to abdicate their intelligence?

In direct response marketing, the importance of credibility is difficult to overstate. An authoritative quote or endorsement can make or break a piece of sales copy. Find a doctor to quote. Find a scientific study to cite. Find 15 people who agree with your point of view and it’s possible to make it sound like an army.

This important because it assures the reader that the claims being made are substantive.

The first argument to be made is simple and sound: There is more information in the world than any one person can comprehend, let alone use to make an informed decision. People who have spent years in rigorous professional training are more likely to wield a high command of that information, at least in their area of expertise.

The concern comes when you equate a piece of paper (a diploma or license) with an authoritative command of the information.

This isn’t a new dynamic. Examine the history of world religions and you find people desperate to abdicate their decision-making responsibility (i.e. intelligence) to a priest, imam or cult leader.

The second argument to be made is more nuanced: Human beings have a limited amount of decision-making energy. Piggy-backing on the decision “work” of others conserves that energy for other decisions.

We don’t really have metrics for the reserve or expenditure of decision energy. If you don’t pay attention to the types of decisions that deplete your reserves, or the volume of decisions you’re making in a given time frame – you’ll run out.

We use trust in relationships to mitigate the decision “load.” If someone I know makes a decision that turns out well – I see the evidence – my trust in them grows. We begin sharing the decision work.

Again, once I conflate relationship trust and authority conferred by a piece of paper – I’ve abdicated a piece of my own intelligence. Conferred authority begets subsequent layers of authority – in short, bureaucracy (“if you say so”, “it’s the law”, “you’re the boss”, etc.).

Relational trust is more reliable than bureaucracy, but it doesn’t scale as well.

If our cultural focus is on economic growth as the greatest good, than bureaucracy will always win.

What if doors were designed to be opened with your feet?

The first time I saw a door designed this way was in a men’s restroom at a restaurant. A cast iron plate stuck out from the bottom of the door – slip your shoe underneath and pull the door open. Someone decided this would be an improvement on the sanitary technique of grasping the door handle with a paper towel.

I agree.

I don’t think the principle has been taken far enough. Opening a door with an armload of boxes is a trick. Lever-style handles manipulate without too much trouble. But far too often I find myself wedging my load against the doorjamb, slipping a hand out and swinging the door open before gravity yanks its inertial chain.

Imagine a door with a “handle” at foot-level. I suppose that makes it a “footle” or a foot-knob. You could step on the latch to push the door open, or pull it up to operate it in the other direction.

Of course, a door handle of this nature could cause temporary imbalance. However, if you’ve got a balance problem, just use the conventional handle.

It would appear (from page 1 of my Google search) that most design solutions aim at the sanitary benefits. This is such a narrow application, especially because they involve free swinging doors only.

Residential front doors are an obvious next step.

The next time you try to use a door with both hands full, consider how simple it would be if you could just use your foot instead.