The Lens of Powers of 10

The key to understanding the impact of immediate and remote stake­holders is to understand the power of product adoption from the smallest (micro) to largest (macro) view—to identify stakeholders affected by each view and to understand the impact of the product based on that view. We developed a technique to identify such a broad range of stakeholders in the context of a product, a technique that we call a “Powers of 10” analysis. The name and inspiration came from the film Powers of 10, produced by Charles and Ray Eames. They were a husband-and-wife team and two of the most influential designers of the twentieth century. Their furniture designs from 50 years ago are still considered some of the best today, from airport seating to the famous Eames lounge chair. They also produced more than 120 films for various companies such as Polaroid and IBM.

Powers of 10 was produced for IBM in 1977 for internal presen­tation to highlight the possibilities of metric scaling. The film is an 8-minute, 47-second summary of the known universe, from the smallest particle to the largest view of the galaxies, looking at what happens every time you magnify or reduce the same view by a power of 10. The film begins with an image of a couple resting in a Chicago park next to Soldier Field after having a picnic. The camera zooms back every 10 seconds, increasing the view of the scene by an order of magnitude. First, the image is of the couple, then the park, then a section of Chicago, then a section of the Great Lakes, and then the country, globe, solar system. Eventually, the earth is viewed from the distance of a light year, and the camera view continues outward through clusters of galaxies until, at 1024 power, the movie stops, showing a macro-cosmic view of the known universe.

From the known universe, the camera begins to quickly zoom back down through each power until the hand resting on the stomach of the man at the picnic is seen. The movie slows, and every 10 sec­onds, the field of view decreases by a power of 10. First, one views the skin on the hand, then the inner layer of cells, on down to mole­cules of neutrons and protons, and finally down to 1016, the smallest known particle in the universe at that time, the nucleus of an atom of a cell on the hand of the man at the picnic.

This vivid film quickly gives us a perspective of our place on the earth and in the universe, raising questions about our own context and role in the universe, questions that we normally might not voice but often ponder. Similarly, insightful product developers understand the role and benefits of developing a product in small-to-large relative contexts. Scientists often focus on their own small piece of the puzzle, understanding the physics and mechanics behind the atomic struc­ture. Meanwhile, technologists focus on the machines, or components of machines, that cause the chemical reaction to take place. Consistently successful product developers understand not only the product’s molecular – and machine-level context, but also the influence of the product on the people who use it and those affected by its use. In that sense, insightful product developers perform a Powers of 10 analysis, from a micro to macro view of stakeholders and the context of product use. A Powers of 10 analysis helps them anticipate where their strategic advantages are and where their potential pitfalls lie.