In a previous post titled One size doesn’t fit all, I mentioned about thermoplastic microspheres to adjust shoe size. I did a web search for thermoplastic microsphere and found that it has many other applications. In fact, DuPont is actively trying to research different places where they can use thermoplastic microspheres, along with adjusting shoe size for which it was primarily developed. The basic property of this material is it widens in width on applying heat, never to compress again. That means it can solve problem where you want to adjust the width and then keep that width constant. DuPont came up with some very interesting “problems” for which this is acting like a good solution. They are trying to use this as a solution for cancerous tumors in blood vessels. Thermoplastic microspheres can be injected in blood vessels having cancerous tumors, it will expand on applying heat and the tumor will compress and die (this is in clinical tests at this time). Another interesting use of this material is to inject it in wood floors to act like a foaming agent. Yet another use of it is to mix it with concrete to yield more consistent thickness in finished products. This is fascinating. Something that was developed to adjust shoe size has found application in fields as far as healthcare and construction.
This is a perfect example of how innovation can be used to reach to problems from a solution. There are lot of positives for such an approach. It distributes the cost of research and development amongst different problems, hence putting the cost down for each individual solution. This kind of applications prove that creativity has no limits. By applying creativity and looking at something from a completely different perspective, you can find different applications for it.
Thermoplastic microsphere is not a one-off thing where such innovations are possible. This kind of innovative approach has lead to great corporate successes as well. Take Google for example. The basic problem they addressed was finding information on the Internet. They defined the solution in form of a search engine that arranged the findings in an order defined by their page rank algorithm. Now they are applying the same solution to problems like finding stuff on Intranet, finding an email from years back, locating items on your desktop and so on. Another problem they faced was monetizing search. They found a solution in form of advertisement based revenue. This led to another “search” for problems on the web where applications can be monetized by serving relevant ads next to the content.
The Fast Company magazine recently had a story about a Chicago based design company, Inventables, that uses each of its solutions to solve more than one problems. This company has clients of the likes of Boeing, Motorola and Nike. They design solution for a particular problem and then look around for problems where the same solution can be applied. For example, they developed Impact-Absorbing Silicon for General Motors to create safer and more efficient car bumpers. This inch thick silicon absorbs the shock, even microvibration. So if you drop an egg on it, the egg doesn’t break. Now they started looking for more applications for this material. Some applications they found for the silicon were flooring under the baby crib and shatterproof flooring in a restaurant where every dish is breakable.
Looking at these examples, an algorithm seems to evolve for this problem search mechanism (yeah, I know it’s not a technical space, but can’t help!). Here’s the pseudo code:
WHILE a Problem [P0]
Research and development
Find Solution [S]
PROPERTY [UVP] = Uniqueness about [S] isolated from [P0]
Problems [P1…Pn] = Set of Problems
COUNT [c] = 1
IF [Pc] can be addressed by [UVP]
Develop a solution for the problem using [S]
[c] = [c] + 1
RESULT [R] = [P0…Pc]
WHERE Solution = [S]