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Field Notes – November 2008

It has been a very busy month. The economic climate is heating up activity in the innovation space. I am heads down preparing a new development plan responding to the feedback from clients who attended an Advisory Council meeting, and working with others who are accelerating their visions for innovation. Have you noticed that you never have to look long or far to find examples of professionals getting stuck in their mental models when faced with challenging problems? I am renovating a New England cape style house currently.

It has been a very busy month. The economic climate is heating up activity in the innovation space. I am heads down preparing a new development plan responding to the feedback from clients who attended an Advisory Council meeting, and working with others who are accelerating their visions for innovation. Have you noticed that you never have to look long or far to find examples of professionals getting stuck in their mental models when faced with challenging problems? I am renovating a New England cape style house currently. Part of the renovation incorporates an expansion of the kitchen and dining rooms that required pulling the back of the house a few feet. In order to keep the new space open, a rather large beam was required to both span the long space and bear the load of the upper floor where the previously load-bearing wall had been removed. The architect produced a plan that called for a drop beam that would be visible within the new space. The beam would have been very unattractive. When I asked the architect if the beam could be concealed, he said it couldn’t be done without resorting to a very costly steel beam installation. Well needless to say, whenever someone tells me “It can’t be done,” that’s when the fun begins. I asked my architect to explain what he viewed as the problem, and once the parameters of the situation were understood, I explained to him how to resolve the problem and the method of installation that would be required. (For those of you who like to think about this stuff, I applied the TRIZ Inventive principles 6 – multifunctionality, 11 – pre-compensation, and 27 – cheap disposables to solve the problem.) After a few moments of thought, he agreed that the proposed solution would work. As a result I now have a beautifully open space in my new country kitchen area. The solution was actually very simple and elegant. But the architect never considered it because it did not fit into his patterns of thinking about such problems. He simply saw two objects that could not occupy the same space. It never occurred to him to ask, “Do I really need both of these components?” This is why we all need occasional help in considering problems. We need to be able to break free of our preconceived models of thinking and consider things with that fresh eye. We also need to be able to leverage experience beyond our own. These concepts are at the core of systematic innovation methodology and a prerequisite for sustainable innovation.

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