Dr. Steven Palter’s patient began to cry. Not because of the sharp pain that suddenly shot through her abdomen—after years of suffering she was used to that—but from sheer and utter relief. The Yale University fertility specialist had precisely isolated the physical source of his patient’s chronic pelvic pain (CPP). “We got it!” Dr. Palter said elatedly, and immediately released the pressure he’d put on the spot inside her abdomen. “And we couldn’t have found it without you,” he told the woman. For years, she’d been in constant agony that prevented her from sleeping, holding a job, or maintaining even the semblance of a normal family life.
After the patient and Dr. Palter together had identified the location and source of her pain, the doctor made a “conscious pain map.” Immediately thereafter, Dr. Palter used this map to guide his surgery on his patient, using a laser to precisely remove the diseased tissue he could not see with his naked eye alone, finally relieving the woman from the endless rounds of physician referrals, diagnostic tests, and failed treatments.
Dr. Palter and his patient had embarked on a new kind of surgery called conscious pain mapping. As a member of the surgical team, it was the patient who identified the area of pathology.
This particular patient was extraordinarily lucky to have found Dr. Palter. Although 20 percent of women suffer from CPP at some point in their lives—with one of every ten outpatient referrals to gynecological specialists due to this condition—only 60 percent of cases are diagnosed accurately. Even fewer are treated successfully. Most CPP sufferers find their lives altered irrevocably because of the severity of the pain, and many struggle to cope with depression on top of the physical anguish.
CPP has also long frustrated physicians. Although some doctors have suspected that factors such as endometriosis and irritable bowel syndrome can cause CPP, it has always been difficult to make a definitive diagnosis. Seemingly diseased tissue would prove benign and vice versa. And without such a diagnosis, CPP is nearly impossible to treat.
Or was. Until Dr. Palter had his idea.
Before Dr. Palter’s innovation, the gold standard diagnostic tool had been laparoscopy. This involves inserting a small video camera through a small incision in a patient’s abdominal wall to get an internal view of her ligaments, fallopian tubes, small and large bowels, pelvic sidewalls, and the uppermost portion of the uterus, or fundus. But since CPP pain occurs often in seemingly normal tissue, it frequently can’t be detected using visual clues alone (the wrong color, unusual spots or texture, and so on). Therefore, laparoscopy results are at best ambiguous, can be a waste of time, and, at worst, lead to the removal of normal tissue that isn’t even responsible for the pain.
Dr. Palter decided to systematically map the inside of a patient’s abdomen by physically touching one spot after another until the patient felt pain. Once he isolated the spot, he could surgically remove the problematic tissue—and end the patient’s suffering once and for all.
What makes Dr. Palter’s process remarkable is that he performs it while the patient is awake and alert on the operating table. Laparoscopy is usually performed under general anesthesia, which knocks the patient out, and so the doctor must interpret the findings without her input. Given that CPP is a condition that is felt rather than seen, this has always significantly handicapped physicians. By using the patient’s own feedback to help with the diagnosis, Dr. Palter solved a medical challenge that has baffled doctors for generations.
Why did it take so long for someone to come up with this idea? In hindsight, Dr. Palter’s solution seems almost ludicrously obvious. He didn’t develop any new technologies. Nor did he take advantage of innovative drugs, or apply the findings of recent research studies. Dr. Palter made this creative leap using only existing tools and ideas.
As it turns out, Dr. Palter’s achievement is a perfect example of the creativity tool we call Task Unification. As with the other techniques, Task Unification allows you to routinely and systematically be creative by narrowing—or constraining—your options for solving a problem. You simply force an existing feature (or component) in a process or product to work harder by making it take on additional responsibilities. You unify tasks that previously worked independently of one another. In Dr. Palter’s new CPP treatment, for example, the patient is both patient and diagnostic tool. By unifying two tasks—requiring the patient to undergo the procedure and help detect the source of her abdominal pain—he achieved a creative breakthrough while staying well inside the proverbial box.
Copyright 2015 Drew Boyd
As a teacher, it's always rewarding to see my students create ideas that eventually make it into the marketplace. Here are some great innovations for the kitchen oven that a group of students created last year, January 2014. Later, we'll compare these to the new innovations announced by Whirlpool at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show.
1. SIT Technique: Task Unification / Multiplication – “A range that is also your recipe”.
Description: A “smart” range provides you access to a database full of real-time digital cooking classes and assists with temperatures and timing to help you master complex recipes. Weight sensors ensure just the right ingredients are taken. Diabetic, healthy, authentic Indian and Italian modes (and countless others) help you master every style! Think you have the chops to create a truly unique recipe? The Kitchen Coach also works in reverse, capturing and recording settings, ingredients, & portions that made your dish amazing. Share your success with your friends through social media, so they to can enjoy your meal
2. SIT Technique: Division - “Divide the control panel off the oven.” Attribute Dependency Change - “As your dinner circumstances change, your cooking mode changes.”
Description: The Masterchef Smart Remote equipped stove features a user interface that can be removed entirely and conveniently relocated to anywhere in your home or kitchen, to help you keep watch of your dish’s vital statistics anywhere you are The Masterchef Social Timer informs Entertainers as to gaps in heating and stirring, to facilitate chef mingling, and allows for oven settings to be defined by a moving-target meal time.
3. SIT Technique: Subtraction – “A range with no grates”
Description: An oven range with no grates or exposed conduits – a large flat surface like any other counter top that, unlike a glass-top oven, can also serve as a kitchen island or bar, even while in use. Non demarcated range space allows for cooled storage bins to live under breaks in the Island’s low profile griddle top. No longer must the range top be a no-mans-land on your counter. No longer must the chef toil tirelessly in the kitchen, alone, while the party keeps its distance. Made for entertainers, this kitchen island-sized griddle top is divided into quadrants. Use all 4 quadrants and you have a Benihana-style theater of stir-fry.
These are just a few of the many in the students' Dream Catalog project for this course. Click to download the entire catalog.
Now let's take a look at what industy giant, Whirlpool, announed at the 2015 CES, a full year after the students developed their ideas using SIT.
Congratulations to my students, Jared Gosnell, Dave Heyne, Qi Jiang, and Eva Lutz for innovating the future!
Combining Systematic Inventive Thinking with Design Thinking yields wonderful innovations. SIT brings a way to create ideas systematically while Design Thinking brings a way to articulate those ideas in an intuitive, appealing way.
Take the Task Unification Technique, for example. It's one of five in the SIT method. Task Unification works by taking an existing resource in the immediate vicinity of where a product is being used and assigning it an additional task. It yields innovative ideas that are clever and deceptively simple. Add Design Thinking to them and you get pure magic. You'll recognize these types of ideas when you find yourself slapping your forehead and saying, "Gee, why didn't I think of that?"
Here are some great examples from the recent Red Dot Awards. See if you can figure out which component has been "unified" with what new "job."
To get the most out of the Task Unification technique, you follow five basic steps:
1. List all of the components, both internal and external, that are part of the Closed World of the product, service, or process.
2. Select a component from the list. Assign it an additional task, using one of three methods:
3. Visualize the new (or changed) products or services.
4. What are the potential benefits, markets, and values? Who would want this, and why would they find it valuable? If you are trying to solve a specific problem, how can it help address that particular challenge?
5. If you decide the new product or service is valuable, then ask: Is it feasible? Can you actually create these new products? Perform these new services? Why or why not? Is there any way to refine or adapt the idea to make it viable?
The economic outlook for 2015 is, by most accounts, "slightly better than 2014." That, of course, depends on what industry you're in. For some, that outlook could be a lot better with an injection of good, old fashioned innovation. Here is my short list of five industries most ripe for innovation in 2015.
1. Commercial Aerospace: I may be biased because I've worked in this industry, but I've always considered the aerospace industry the most complicated and difficult of any. Think about the conditions that airlines, for example, work under. They're heavily regulated, union intensive, recession sensitive, fiercely competitive, fuel price sensitive, and operationally complex. Putting thousands of full airplanes safely in the sky everyday is no small feat. And it's not just the airlines that face challenges. The aircraft and engine manufacturers like Airbus and GE face enormous technology and business risk when building new equipment.
It's these challenges that make the aerospace industry ripe for innovation. Tight constraints are a necessary condition for creativity, and this industry has it more than any. We should expect a significant focus on innovation from this sector next year, especially in creating many small, incremental innovations rather than seeking the big disruptors.
2. Pharmaceutical: The pharma industry has many of the same attributes as aerospace in terms of the regulatory scrutiny and long lead time development risks. But this industry has been turned upside down by a series of independent events. Changes in how new drugs are discovered, the shift to generics, the move to personalized medicine, and the shrinking pipeline have conspired to create the "perfect storm" for this industry. Drug companies are moving past just hoping for a billion dollar, blockbuster drug to save them. They need to find relevance beyond the prescribers and pharmacies that dispense their products.
We should expect to see big pharma companies innovate across the entire value chain, from pill manufacturing all the way into the patient's home. Big brands what to become a household name, not just an clinical industry name.
3. Food: Pressure on this industry isn't just from the FDA and other regulators. Consumers are on high alert like never before about what they put in their mouths. It's not hard to see why. The obesity epidemic has tainted our image of sugar, once thought of as sweet, but now seen as deadly and addictive. Constant media reports about food poisoning and listeria outbreaks make consumers nervous and suspicious. Changing consumer trends in taste and ingredients create a moving target for ingredient makers and food processors. Even Bill Gates has weighed in on the need for innovation in this industry, noting that our approach to food hasn't changed much over the last 100 years. "It's ripe for innovation."
I expect to see the big food companies like Kraft and Cambell's step up their innovation efforts in everything from manufacturing lines, packaging, and retailing. Like the pharma companies, they need to bring more relevance to the consumer once the product reaches the home.
4. Higher Education: Like aerospace, this industry is a hot button for me because I'm in it. Universities are under constant scrutiny, from outside and from within, about the many challenges they face. Type into Google, "the problem with universities" and you'll get 200 million results. What's interesting about this industry is how long it's been around, how well understood the problems are, yet how difficult it is to make progress. The university model faces issues around the tenure system, the role of a university in terms research versus teaching, and most importantly, relevance - are universities producing the right product for our society, or have they become so insular and out of touch in preparing students?
We should expect to see more innovation outside of the university model that will put pressure to change inside. New educational models, social learning, corporate learning resources, and revised expectations of the consumer about college and its costs will isolate universities to the brink of change.
5. Consulting: Consultants can be their own worst enemy in forgetting to take care of their own business model while working to improve their client's. As with the other ripe industries, market forces are causing cracks in the seams of this one, too. The biggest change is transparency. Consulting firms used to live behind a shroud of brand reputation, where executive selected a consultant to reduce risk to their own stock. Now clients want to see more of what goes on inside, and it is changing the way they hire consultant, pay them, and use them. Customers don't want to pay too much for features they don’t value, especially when they have unprecedented access to the same information and Big Data as the consultants.
We should expect consulting firms to innovate new ways to deliver faster results, and to take more accountability for those results.
Bring on 2015!
Copyright 2014 Drew Boyd
This month marks the seven year anniversary of Innovation in Practice. As always, I want to thank my many readers and supporters who follow it.
2014 was an excellent year as our message about systematic creativity continues to be heard. Jacob Goldenberg and I launched our book, Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results last year, and it was nominated for Innovation Book of the Year. We're thrilled that the book is now published in fourteen languages. It is the first detailed description of Systematic Inventive Thinking (the method and the people at SIT LLC that taught it to me.)
Teaching, writing, and speaking continue to be my main focus. Professor Jim Tappel and I co-taught a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at the University of Cincinnati called Innovation and Design Thinking. I've published more courses at Lynda.com on innovation, marketing, and branding. I continue to write articles on creativity for Psychology Today, Industry Week, and Coca-Cola Journey. Staying busy is a good thing.
My goal is to make this blog different from other innovation blogs and websites. Instead of focusing on why innovation is important, I focus on how innovation happens. The themes of this blog are:
2015 will be an explosive year in terms of more keynotes, workshops, and training programs. I plan to collaborate with my various business partners and colleagues at the University on making SIT the dominant form of ideation. Since learning it in 2002, I've not found anything that surpasses it. Both Jacob and I are "open source" in terms of helping anyone who wants to learn or teach the method. Our slides, Syllabi, and training materials are available to all. Just ask.
I want to thank Jacob, as well as Amnon Levav, Yoni Stern, and the entire team at SIT LLC. I thank Marta Dapena-Baron at Big Picture Partners, Bob Cialdini and the team at Influence at Work, Yury Boshyk at Global Executive Learning, the Washington Speakers Bureau, the team at Lynda.com, Jim Levine, Emilie D'Agostino, Shelley Bamburger, the team at Innovation Excellence (Braden, Julie, Rowan), and my fellow faculty at the UC Lindner College of Business.
Special thanks to my family, Wendy and Ryan, for all their love and support.
On December 3, 2014, the first session of the Entrepreneurship Educators Forum Webinar Series took place. The vision for the project is to create a meeting place for the community to discuss the challenges of teaching entrepreneurship, and to build an open-source platform that will enable us to collect, curate and share knowledge, teaching materials and tools that will help us guide our students effectively. Bill Aulet opened the session with a review of a roadmap for entrepreneurship education at MIT that divides the process into three main stages – nucleation, product definition and venture development.
According to the plan, entrepreneurship education should be structured as a set of modular “buckets” or “tiles” of knowledge, skills and tools that are grouped under the three above mentioned stages. Having identified four student personas with different interests, motivation and needs we are able to recommend a pathway of learning through the tiles that will best meet their aspirations. For example, a “ready to go” entrepreneur who has an idea and a strong team does not need to go through ideation and team-building activities, but needs to dive deeply into product-market fit and primary market research, and then also acquire the knowledge for “Venture Development”.
After discussing MIT’s overarching program, it was time to start our deep dive into the different topics. Each session, we plan to do that with one or two. The goal is to identify the thought leaders and experts in each area beforehand, so they can share their knowledge and initiate a discussion through the webinar series. In this first session, naturally, we started with ideation.
Here is a replay of the session.
Drew Boyd, a 30-year industry veteran who is now Executive Director of the MS-Marketing Program at the University of Cincinnati and co-author of the book “Inside the Box” joined us to present the Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) approach to creativity. The methodology is based on academic research in creativity carried out by Prof. Jacob Goldenberg, Drew’s co-author.
The main pillars of the approach are five techniques that can be applied to existing products/services, to produce new forms that may become valuable inventions. In this case, it is “Function follows form” – we do not start by looking for a problem, but rather find a solution, then look for problems that it may help solve and assess the feasibility of actually developing it. The techniques are based on specific, common patterns that Prof. Goldenberg identified by studying innovative products. Moreover, his research showed these patterns to be quite reliable predictors of market success.
The basic notion is that systematically and intentionally applying the patterns as structured templates to existing products and services will produce a multitude of potential innovative products. The techniques are: Subtraction, Division, Multiplication, Task unification, and Attribute dependency. Drew provided a couple of examples for “task unification”: a barcode sticker for fruit that dissolves in water releasing a special fruit washing detergent, and a baby pacifier that is also a thermometer.
The webinar series is targeted at educators at universities with programs in the innovation, design, and entrepreneurship spaces.
Philips North America announced VoiceItt, developer of the voice recognition software TalkItt, as the grand prize winner of the second annual Philips Innovation Fellows competition, in partnership with global web-based crowd funding site Indiegogo, recognizing the company and technology as the next meaningful innovation in health and well-being.
According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 7.5 million people in the United States alone have trouble using their own voices. TalkItt empowers people with motor, speech or language disorders to easily communicate. By recognizing the user’s vocal patterns, the app will translate unintelligible pronunciation from any language into understandable speech via a smartphone, tablet or computer.
“We are honored that Philips and its employees – who strive to create meaningful innovations in the area of health and technology every day – have recognized our efforts to help people live more fulfilling lives,” said Jessica Eisenberg, Marketing Manager, VoiceItt. “Winning Philips Innovation Fellows will help us change the lives of individuals living with speech disabilities caused by medical conditions, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Cerebral Palsy, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, as well as their family members, caregivers and friends, who communicate with them daily.”
VoiceItt, which was selected from among five finalists as the contest winner by Philips employees, will receive $60,000 in prize money, in addition to the $25,235 it raised through the contest’s presence on Indiegogo during the crowdsourcing phase of the competition. Along with the monetary prize, VoiceItt will receive mentoring from Philips executives and relevant business leaders.
“VoiceItt’s mission to give a voice to those who struggle to speak because of a medical condition embodies our vision for meaningful innovation,” said Brent Shafer, CEO of Philips North America. “The potential of TalkItt to improve so many lives resonated with our judging panel and our employees, and we’re honored to name them the winner of our second annual Innovation Fellows competition.”
Last year, Philips named Fosmo Med the grand prize winner of the inaugural Philips Innovation Fellows competition. Fosmo Med’s Maji Intravenous (IV) saline bag creates a sterile solution through reverse osmosis from any water, clean or dirty. The product has currently completed the R&D phase and request for determination has been submitted to the FDA. Once approved, Maji could be used for treating diseases, such as cholera, in disaster regions and developing countries worldwide.
Philips practices what it preaches. It is featured in Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results for its use of the Subtraction Technique in creating the Slimline DVD player.
“The Philips Innovation Fellows competition has provided credibility for our cause, ultimately raising our profile among investors,” said Ben Park, CEO and founder of Fosmo Med. “After working closely with Philips executives, it became clear that we shared the same goal: creating technology that saves and improves lives. This competition equipped us with the resources needed to finish our R&D efforts and prepare for the FDA phase of the project, which will bring us one step closer to market.”
Could creativity be as simple as following templates? In 1914 psychologist Wolfgang Köhler embarked on a series of studies about chimpanzees and their ability to solve problems. He documented the research in his book The Mentality of Apes. In one experiment, he took a newborn chimp and placed it in an isolated cage, before the newborn saw or made contact with other chimps. He named her Nueva.
Three days later, researchers placed a small stick in the cage. Curious, Nueva picked up the stick, scraped the ground, and played with it briefly. She lost interest and dropped the stick.
Ten minutes later, a bowl of fruit was placed outside of her cage, just out of Nueva’s reach. She reached out between the bars of the cage as far as she could, but to no avail. She tried and tried, whimpering and uttering cries of despair. Finally, she gave up and threw herself on her back, frustrated and despondent.
Seven minutes later, Nueva suddenly stopped moaning. She sat up and looked at the stick. She then grabbed it and, extending her arm outside of the cage, placed the end of the stick directly behind the bowl of fruit. She drew in the bowl just close enough to reach the fruit with her hand.
Köhler described her behavior as “unwaveringly purposeful.” Köhler repeated the test an hour later. On the second trial, Nueva went through the same cycle as before—displaying eagerness to reach the fruit, frustration when she couldn’t, and despair that caused her to give up temporarily—but took much less time to use the stick. On all subsequent tests, she didn’t get frustrated and didn’t hesitate. She just waited eagerly with her little innovation in hand.
Three-day-old Nueva created a tool using a time-honored creativity template, one of many used by primates—including man—for thousands of years. That template: use objects close by to solve problems. Once she saw the value in this approach, Nueva began using it over and over again.
Patterns play a vital role in our everyday lives. We call them habits, and, as the saying goes, we are indeed creatures of them. Habits simplify our lives by triggering familiar thoughts and actions in response to familiar information and situations. This is the way our brains process the world: by organizing it into recognizable patterns. These habits or patterns get us through the day—getting up, showering, eating breakfast, going to work. Because of them, we don’t have to spend as much effort the next time we encounter that same information or find ourselves in a similar situation.
Mostly, without even thinking about them, we apply patterns to our everyday conventions and routines. But certain patterns lead to unconventional and surprising outcomes. We especially remember those patterns that help us solve problems. Patterns that help us do something different are valuable. We don’t want to forget those, so we identify them and “codify” them into repeatable patterns called templates. You could say that a template is a pattern consciously used over and over to achieve results that are as new and unconventional as the first time you used it.
Even chimpanzees like baby Nueva can follow templates once they see the value. She used the stick to retrieve the fruit. Her template became “use objects close by for new tasks.” In fact, apes are quite good at this particular template; as Nueva did intuitively, they constantly use objects in their environment for unconventional ends. For example, they place sticks inside anthills so that ants crawl onto the stick for easy eating. Dr. Köhler’s research showed that apes not only find indirect, novel solutions but also overcome their habitual tendency to use direct approaches. They “repattern” their thinking. They generalize the pattern so that it becomes usable in a variety of scenarios.
Patterns boost our creative output no matter where we are starting from on the creativity scale.
'Tis the season for catalogs, and my favorite is Hammacher Schlemmer, America's longest running catalog, "Offering the Best, the Only and the Unexpected for 166 Years." I was curious to see if I could spot any of the five patterns of the innovation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). With eighty seven pages of cool gifts in the catalog, it wasn't hard at all. The hard part was deciding which ones to choose. Here are my favorites:
The Gentleman's Faceless Watch (page 56)
This is the watch that tells time with LEDs built into the band. Blending seamlessly into the watch's stainless steel links, the four disguised LED sets are only detected when they illuminate to form 1/2" H digital numbers at the press of a button. The top row displays the hour and the lower row the minute; the press of a button switches the view to month and day. The stainless steel band features a durable electroplated finish. Includes two additional links.
2. MULTIPLICATION: The Multiplication Technique works by taking a component of the system, copying it, but changing it in some qualitative way. Like Subtraction, you take this new configuration and imagine benefits that it could deliver.
The Table Tennis Hands (page 80)
These are the table tennis paddles that are worn like mittens, effectively turning your hand into a paddle. The mitt’s unconventional design eliminates the handle and spreads apart the front and back of the paddles, allowing your hand to slip between them. The paddle becomes a natural extension of your arm, resulting in greater ball control, faster volleys, an improved backhand, and more spin.
The Call Me Gloves (page 37)
These touchscreen winter gloves allow the wearer to wirelessly conduct cell phone calls by assuming the universal “call me” gesture. With a speaker inside the left thumb and a microphone inside the left pinkie, wearers simply hold the thumb to the ear and the pinkie to the mouth for convenient “two-digit” calling. The gloves pair wirelessly with a cell phone via Bluetooth technology and provide clear sound even 39’ from the phone. Buttons on the left cuff, easily maneuvered while wearing the right glove, answer or disconnect a call. To ensure users don’t have to choose between connectivity and warmth, conductive fibers woven into both thumbs and index fingers allow easy operation of a touchscreen while the gloves remain on.
The Customizable LEGO Timepiece (page 16)
This is the watch that incorporates the iconic universality of the LEGO system into its design using interchangeable bezels, straps, and multi-color links. The watch’s face pays homage to the classic building block with yellow and blue 2x2 brick façades that serve as subdials for displaying the day of the week and date. Red tick marks denote each hour and a yellow rim has an inscribed tachymeter for precise calculation of speed. The classic primary colors that have become synonymous with LEGO’s legacy are manifested in black, blue, and yellow bezel options and eight interchangeable red, yellow, blue, and green strap links.
5. ATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY: The Attribute Dependency Technique works by creating (or breaking) a dependency between two attributes of the product or its environment. As one thing changes, another thing changes.
The Adjustable Focus Reading Glasses (page 9)
Unlike common reading glasses with one fixed magnification, this pair lets you adjust the focus of each lens with the simple turn of a dial. Using patented fluid-injection technology developed by a physicist at Oxford, the lenses comprise an elastic membrane held between rigid polycarbonate plates. As the dial on either side of the frame is turned, the elastic membrane bows inwards or outwards, subtly changing the magnification from -4.5 diopters to +3.5 diopters. Users can adjust each lens independently, and if their vision changes they can simply give the side dials another twist. The flexible nose pads ensure a comfortable fit, and the side knobs can be twisted off to lock in the magnification permanently.