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| On 31, Aug 2007

Jack Hipple

You are probably trying to “innovate” in the context of your organization’s business and product line. I’ll bet you have all kinds of special phrases and jargon that you use to simplify the communication among people working in the same area. I’ve never been on a company tour or attended a meeting when I didn’t have to raise my hand and ask “what does that stand for?”  On a recent tour of a Verizon fiber optic installation training facility here in Tampa, I wrote down 20 “phrases” and acronyms before I ran out of scrap paper. One of my favorites that I have run into in my recent innovation experiences in the human factors and ergonomics areas is “GUI”. You do know what that means, don’t you? If you worked in this area all the time, you’d know that it was an acronym for “Graphical User Interface”. GUI is a lot quicker (3X) to say, isn’t it? But we’re talking in general about how a user of a piece of equipment interacts with graphically displayed information. Now this is semi-important if you’re making copies, but it’s deadly critical if you’re an air traffic controller. Take a minute now and open another browser screen and type “GUI” into the search box. You should see around 50 M hits (that in itself may tell you how important this topic is OR what else this acronym could stand for!). But that’s not as impressive as the 160M hits you’ll get if you type “computer data display” into the search box. The main reason we get more hits is that we are not presuming that the interface has to be graphical. Why is this so? What if we just said “information display”? Well, we’d get 670 M hits! That’s ten times as many as using GUI. Lots more raw material for ideation. Try this on your own and type in your favorite jargon phrase and then a broadened definition of the function (not the process) you want performed. Think of a middle school child vocabulary.

There are lots of examples of this sort I could point to from my own experience. Here are a few:

Industry Specific Parallel Why/Function
Bi-focal contacts Semi-conductors Large functionality/small space
Ball bearings Caviar Separation of hard/soft globes
Baggage handling Groceries Bar coding for inventory and location
Baggage handling Farm processing Large volume, low cost handling
Surgery accuracy Air traffic control Absolutely critical control
Diabetes Acid resistance Edible diabetes drugs
Diamond dust

Agriculture seeds

Dust from large particles

I could go on and on with my own examples, but the message for us is to talk about the innovation you desire in terms of its FUNCTIONALITY. What do you want your miracle thing or process to DO? What is its FUNCTION? Then, in addition to your own internal and industry experts, ask yourselves, “Where else is this FUNCTION performed”? This will take some mental energy, but use the examples above to get you started. Then do two things. First, do a literature/web search using the most generic terms you can think of and see what you find. Second, go to a convention or technical meeting in the parallel universes you identify and just sit in the back of the room and listen. Third, pretend you are a visitor from another planet and had this FUNCTION to do with absolutely no preconceived notion of how you might accomplish it. What are your thoughts?

Love to hear your own examples and stories!