Wheels. Levers. Pulleys. Ramps.
These basic machines are profound innovations that form the basis of nearly ever other physical labor-saving technology we have today. They’re also the creation of men with far less technology or understanding of physical science than moderns. They emerged in a time of wood and stone, and they operate with principles just about anyone can understand.
What’s my point? Some of the most important physical science principles are solidly founded (and most heavily used) in blue collar work – house framing, load hauling, even shoveling horse stable stalls (as I did for the last month). And yet they still aren’t appreciated nearly enough.
There is this idea out there that for manual jobs all you have to do is work your muscles hard to be useful. This is not so. All the hard work in the world won’t make up for a loss of speed or a loss of value or a loss of momentum due to inefficiency and unnecessarily hard effort.
A good manual worker knows that he has to use his mind also. Instead of carrying one bale of hay at a time by. hand, a good stablehand knows to load down a wheelbarrow with three. Instead of carrying buckets to a water source, transporting a water source to the buckets (AKA a hose) makes filling those buckets much faster. In cleaning out stalls, a tool with a longer handle will be able to lever more weight.
There’s no escape from the need for efficiency, so there’s no escape from the need for innovation. But this is not so much a burden for the manual worker as it is an opportunity. As an inheritor of repetitive tasks, the manual worker today has the luxury of the mental space needed to imagine paths to automating, simplifying, or reducing effort for work, whether that work is filling water buckets or digging holes.
So pay attention if you’re working hard with your hands. Whether you find a way to replace those hands or just a nice way to fortify their natural strength, you’re in a perfect lab for real physical innovation.