As a designer or change agent, if you experience resistance to change brought about by innovation, think about the function that people are asking for, not the thing.

When I talk about dMASS examples, about new innovations that reduce or eliminate mass while delivering more benefit, I sometimes hear resistance.  Resistance to change.  We tend to get attached to the way things are - with the emphasis here on things.

Have you tried typing on a hard, flat touchscreen keyboard like an Apple iPad?  A lot of my friends who have miss the feel of a traditional keyboard.  They make too many errors on a touchscreen, where it's easy to stray from the right keys.

If you're a designer, there are two ways to look at this.  You could conclude that people will not give up certain things that have mass and then design something that's more familiar to people.  Or, you could create something that delivers the function people are looking for without the mass.

Chris Harrison, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, has developed an ingenious way to deliver all the functions that people want from a keyboard without the keyboard.  The invention is called Tesla Touch, after the Serbian electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla.  The screen uses variable static electricity on its surface to trick the nerves in your fingers (and your brain) into thinking they're touching material surfaces like sandpaper or rubber, or performing a variety of work tasks, like pressing keys on a mechanical keyboard.  When you drag a data folder from one place to another on the screen, you can feel how large the file is by sensing its imagined weight or mass - even though the contents are completely invisible and weightless, big files feel heavy.

The connection to Tesla is a reference to the inventor's belief that all matter can be reduced to specific electromagnetic frequencies, which are tuned by our senses.  Our eyes are receivers that tune what we call the visible light frequencies, our ears tune in to the so-called sound frequencies, and our tactile touch and taste sensors are tuned to frequencies in the materials we contact.  Harrison uses those frequencies to trick the senses into believing they are making contact with things that are not really there.

Harrison has shown that it's possible to recreate the experience of mass, to deliver the same function, and successfully eliminate the mass.  As a designer or change agent, if you experience resistance to change brought about by innovation, think about the function that people are asking for, not the thing.

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