Know What to Ask to Keep Your Project on Task
In my last blog, I spoke about troubleshooting and brainstorming when in the discovery phase of engineering design. I talked about finding the fastest path to failure and how effective it is in quickly eliminating—and discovering—what may or may not work, saving time, money, and resources. I posed some basic questioning strategies to apply during this process. You can read about them here.
There are other elements involved with any successful design discovery phase that speak more to the “soft” skills involved when encouraging innovation. All of these variables and considerations are directly related to the interpersonal nature of group dynamics—something as keenly essential to innovation as any engineering credential anyone might bring to the table. I call this the “politics of innovation.” At Enginasion, we have consulted and solved engineering challenges for myriad companies, circumstances, and combinations of solutions. Regardless of the task at hand, the one constant that remains in all projects is the human interaction at the heart of forging any innovation.
This article encapsulates insights we have amassed from many years of working with groups on innovative engineering solutions.
11 Points of the Politics of Innovation
- People naturally want to solve the problems they know how to solve. Go to a podiatrist with a headache, and you’re going to get new inner soles. Nothing against podiatrists here, but you can see that siloed specialties generally garner limited views. Seek outside the status quo, because what has already been done, and the thought process that governs it, may be exactly why it isn’t working anymore.
- Truly elegant solutions are simple and already found in nature. Getting inspiration from nature is called biomimicry, a term and practice generated by biologist Janine Benyus. Benyus poses a directive—one we also employ when searching for solutions—to “make the act of asking nature’s advice a normal part of everyday invention.” One universal example: Velcro. Its inception was inspired by the burdock plant burrs that stick to our clothes on a walk through the woods. Nature self-selects, adapts, and sustains itself (when we aren’t working against it)—and has been doing so for eons. For our children, let us be part of nature’s solution.
- Respect the fact that every person communicates differently.
- Some people think in pictures, talking fast because a picture needs 1,000 words to describe it.
- Other people talk while they are thinking, not before. If you interrupt them, they have to start all over again.
- There are those who are uncomfortable in groups. To find out how a person likes to communicate, ask them about themselves. I've never met anyone who doesn't like to talk about themselves. Me included.
- If the team embraces the individual’s communication styles, people become free to teach and learn from each other. People can work better from their strengths if they can do so within a certain comfort level. Less emotional and mental effort is given to worrying about their discomfort, which frees them up to apply their faculties to the task at hand.
- As I wrote about in my last blog, failure is for learning. “It seemed like a good idea at the time!” is a perfectly acceptable position. Forgive yourself, take what needs to be learned from it, and move on.
- There’s nothing like a good mission to spark energy into a team. Both the vision and message need to be clear so all parties understand what is at stake and what the end goal is. This helps ensure that everyone is working from the same schema and moving into the same future together.
- If a “bully” in the room wins, the team loses. A bully, in this scenario, has preconceived notions that rule out the possibilities of multiple solutions. I've dealt with many wonderful people who were bullies, but didn't know it:
- The life scientist who worked with cells and fluids, but had very little feel for hydraulics
- The mechanical engineer who could only think in two dimensions at a time
- The electronics expert who had already designed something twice—and didn't want to start over
- The CEO who just wanted to catch up to the competition, not lead the market.
- Know who you’re selling to. Talk to the end user. Be the end user. Design it like your livelihood depends on it, literally. After all, it does.
- Invention is an art form. Developing the skills frees you up to be an artist. Step 1 is to remove preconceived notions of what success needs to look like. Begin with the big vision and move forward with small steps. Each one gets you closer.
- You might as well lead the technology. Catching up is just re-inventing what the leaders already discarded.
- Don’t fix symptoms, fix problems. Finding the real problem is the key to innovation. And remember to look to nature for inspiration—think like the preventative health model and avoid the complications that come with not taking care of your problem.
- It’s all about the people. Perhaps this should be number 1 on the list, but it is worth re-asserting here: the politics of innovation are driven by people—the ones who demand it and the ones who create it. We may be designing electromechanical devices, new IoT software, or photo diode technology, but it is ultimately done for people, by people. All considerations in the process forward are gated, ultimately, by human limitation and restrictive rationale. By creating an atmosphere that encourages expansive thinking and open discourse, limitation is, well, limited.
How Does a Fly’s Eye Work?
A fly has compound eyes, which consist of visual receptors called ommatidia. There are thousands of individual visual receptors in a compound eye. Each ommatidium is a functioning eye in itself, and thousands of them together create a broad field of vision for the fly, allowing it to receive information from several different points simultaneously. Why is this relevant here? We were tasked with creating an upgraded solution for a high-speed count verification system that depended on a singular visual point for fact gathering and accuracy. We found inspiration in nature, and created a compound visual approach to recreate a more robust and accurate high-speed count verification system. A real beauty to the compound eye is that if some of the eyes are damaged, the fly can still see. We humans have only two eyes. If one fails, we lose depth perception. If both fail, we can’t see at all.
IMA North America, a large OEM packaging equipment manufacturer, wanted to upgrade the design and capabilities of its count verification system. The goal: 100% accurate counting of tablets, capsules, soft gels, and caplets of all shapes and sizes with a flexible hardware platform that is reconfigured with the touch of a button.
Here are some of the finer design points of the upgrade:
- The new TruCount® machines are 39” and 16” wide—scalable to manage growth
- Built-in redundancy of 40 networked cameras replaced one camera previously tasked with covering 40” of pills dropping. Now if they lose a camera, they’re still in business.
- Photo diodes and detectors scan the product at nearly 2,000 times per second
The biopharma case study offers more information about this remarkable technology solution. Is the solution you need one download away? Download it now to find out.