Asking a Different Question Leads to Innovation
Across the world millions of babies die within the first week of birth. Most could be saved with the use of incubators, which are widely available in the developed world but not in under-developed countries. Much of the medical equipment that is donated to hospitals in these countries falls into disuse because of the lack of spare parts or shortage of trained technicians. There is also a common problem with interrupted power supply.
The conventional approach to this kind of problem would be design a low-cost robust incubator with some redundancy and some spare parts. However a company called Design That Matters (DTM) took a more lateral approach. Instead of asking the conventional question ‘How can we build a low cost incubator that does not break down?’ they asked ‘What equipment if any is easily maintained in the third world?’ The answer to that question is cars – more specifically Toyota cars. Most towns have garages with mechanics who can service and repair Toyotas. So DTM designed an incubator made out of car parts.
‘Some incubator parts-where the baby lies, casters in the front for braking and steering, and a chrome handrail for carrying – are standard issue’ says Tim Prestero CEO of DTM. ‘But after that, the car parts come in. The incubator prototype functions using electricity, but has a motorcycle battery as a backup in case the lights go out. Car headlights generate heat, and an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) fan blows it around. An engine-intake filter removes dust, bugs and pathogens. Latches and gas springs have been repurposed to open the incubator hood. BMX tires help maneuver the incubator over rough floors (hospitals in developing countries may not have smooth floors), and the bassinet portion is detachable, to transport the baby up the stairs when there are no elevators. Lastly, turn signals function as visual alarms if the baby is in trouble.’
This is a fine example of lateral thinking in business – by taking a different starting point it is possible to come up with a radically different solution.
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, both published by Kogan-Page.