We often talk about diversity in thinking and meeting people who are not like you. Which, in a micro way, gets to the idea of engineers meeting designers or scientists meeting artists. There are many discoveries to be had when such relationships develop, but one common phrase we’ve heard in our mingling is this: “solving a problem.” Like, for example, talking to a bio medical engineer in an innovation lab and a designer in a product development studio. This phrase is one of the strongest tethers connecting two diverse communities.
In its written form, the phrase "solving a problem" is a rational argument with emotional underpinnings. Taking it at face value, one might miss the “E=MC Squared” simplicity embedded in the statement.
Take “Solving:” You have a need to find problems worth solving. In other words, is the market large enough, like Pacemaker’s certainly turned out to be? Is the social need demanding enough, like the need for clean water in developing countries? Does solving this problem contribute to humanity, like landing a space ship on Mars? This single word implies both the need for a solution and the forward momentum—“the -ing”—toward a solution.
Now take “A Problem:” The singular issue that is in need of thoughtful time to solve for a particular population. This word embeds the idea that it is a problem in the first place. Are the three examples above all problems to solve? This is why when we see “design thinking” or “innovation” applied to coffee cup holders or other less than worthy problems worth solving, it dilutes the ideas of innovation and design.
Now, how do Stanford University and a gentleman by the name of John Linehan play into this story?
John is a consulting professor at Stanford University and professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University. He has helped design academic programs to enhance the entrepreneurial vigor, design thinking and bio medical engineering practice. Essentially, John has applied “design thinking” to education in order to inform, educate and inspire our future innovators. This only makes sense if you believe in the team approach, which is best exemplified by Edison.
“Edison wasn’t a narrowly specialized scientist but a broad generalist with a shrewd business sense. In his Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory he surrounded himself with gifted tinkerers, improvisers, and experimenters. Indeed, he broke the mold of the ‘lone genius inventor’ by creating a team-based approach to innovation.” – Tim Brown, IDEO
John Linehan’s approach forms the three essential legs to build teams that are better able to “solve a problem.” As one of the top three decisions for a medical technology facing eventual FDA approval, “If you can't see a clear pathway through the FDA, no reason to spend the money on it.”
“For instance, medical devices solving significant problems like lowering high blood pressure through the use of a catheter to the kidney. This is a technology Medtronic bought from a Silicon Valley venture for 1.2 billion. Solving this problem requires very deep pockets as evidenced by the fact that the technology is still not yet approved by the FDA.”
John’s approach to design an education platform for the next generation of innovators is essential to a formula embedded inside the phrase “solving a problem.” John’s approach is a marvelous example of design and innovation going together so perfectly—like a newspaper full of fish and chips. Thank you John for the insights into solving gargantuan problems.
For a deeper read on this subject area, refer to the paper published by M.S. Bruzzi and J.H. Linehan in Biomedical Engineering Society called Bioinnovate Ireland–Fostering Entrepreneurial Activity Through Medical Device Innovation Training (PDF).