It is amazing just how many new things can be devised, simply by thinking about them. I was staggered, recently, when I asked several groups of teenage students to think up ways to measure the speed of a Vacuum Bazooka. After a slow start, the students got into the swing of things. Several times we ran out of space on the whiteboard, with a couple of hundred contributions. Even after removing duplicated ideas, and a few that clearly weren’t going to work, we had 40 ideas with a goodly fraction things which probably haven’t been tried before. Watch this website for developments are we try some of them out !
If you want to discover or invent something entirely new, or even if you just want to improve something in a new way, then most of it down to you. But there are some things that can help. If you are working with others, then it may be useful to look at simple approaches like Six Hats, which ingeniously encourages everyone to contribute. If you are unsure where to look for inspiration, then patents and other internet resources are enormously important. You’ll even find some of my work – 30 odd patents and a sprinkling of contributions to obscure corners of Wikipedia. And I have often found ideas which have sparked further ideas by simply looking in old science books. As a part-time professor, I gave an annual lecture on Innovation – which I called the Five and Half Laws of Innovation – to fourth/fifth year engineering students. One thing I talked about in that is the brainstorming procedure invented by Trevor Kletz. It was intended for solving safety conundrums in the chemical engineering industry. Actually with just a few tweaks it can be enormously useful in taking brainstorming beyond Six Hats. Finally, if your inner geek is driving you to go beyond HAZOP, take a look at TRIZ. It isn’t for everyone, but it has led me to the occasional breakthrough.
- Six Hats and Team Brainstorming #sixhats
- Resources: Patents, Papers, Internet and Old Science Books #patents
- The Five Laws of Innovation #fivelaws
- HAZOP and Inventing Safety #hazop
- TRIZ : moving a level beyond HAZOP #triz
- Random Guide Words – beyond TRIZ !
UNDER CONSTRUCTION… Lots more to go in here… but take a look if you like…
Six Hats and Team Brainstorming
An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea. Edward de Bono
There is nothing quite like having an idea and then testing it out in practice, building in the real world what you have thought about in your mind. You often find that real world experiments work out a little differently to your mind’s gedanken experiments, your own thought experiments. And those differences will teach you, make your next thought experiment, and your next real experiment better. Think ! But don’t just think, make it real !
It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all . Edward de Bono
To be creative, you need to have a license to get things wrong – maybe get things wrong several times over.
Creativity is a great motivator because it makes people interested in what they are doing… …Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting. Edward de Bono
Someone who learns because they are trying to create something new has fun, find learning more interesting, is more motivated, and ends up learning more. Learning is generally a bit of a ‘push’ process – having ideas pushed over to you. Learning alongside creation is ‘pull’ learning – pulling the learning in, which is far more effective.
The playful approach is essential…
- Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking
- Edward de Bono, Six Thinking Hats
- James L Adams, The Care and Feeding of Ideas
- Doodle Revolution
- Sergio Pellis & Viven Pellis, The Playful Brain
- Stuart Brown, Play
- Patrick Bateson & Paul Martin, Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation
Resources: Patents, Papers, Internet and Old Science Books
Espacenet and USPTO
Wikipedia: the Modern World’s Great Library of Alexandria
Old science books are a treasure…
The Five Laws of Innovation
- Oth Law THINK ! (think laterally, think w. trigger words, think w. contradictions etc, think with HAZOP or TRIZ, keep a notebook of your thoughts)
- 1st Law: Copy when you can, innovate when you can’t
- 2nd Law: Surprises = Patents, & Patents–>Monopolies–>Profits
- 3rd Law: Don’t miss your market window
- 4th Law: Don’t overdeliver (don’t innovate beyond the market)
- 5th Law: Every Problem contains an opportunity – (but watch out: maybe it’s an opportunity for someone else)
HAZOP and Inventing Safety
A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. Douglas Adams
Trevor Kletz was motivated by the need to prevent horrible accidents in the chemical engineering industry, but also to do so in a way which did not stop the industry making useful products.
His basic idea was convene a team look at the potential hazards of a plant and at the same time, look at the operability of the plant. He came up with a method which directs the imagination of the participants towards a useful end. They have to imagine what physical happens, but also imagine what the human operators might react. This is a creative process !
His basic to split up complex and potentially dangerous large chemical plant into manageable units, called ‘nodes’. A node is then examined for what happens as a consequence when something not intended by the designers occurs at that node. Suppose a node has an inflow of water, for example (perhaps water for cooling or diluting). Kletz then applies a series of simple guide words. In our example, what happens when that flow is:
- stopped completely
- has something else in it…
For more on guide words, see below, where we look at the creativity that can be generated using more random guide words.
Any of all of these could be a problem: increased flow might lead to increased pressure and a burst pipe or vessel. Decreased flow might allow heat to build up. Flow reversal might put process chemicals in the water supply.
You then go around the plant, looking at all the nodes, at what can happen at them all, pursuing consequences. One node’s problem can of course quickly become another node’s problem.
After all this, if there are serious problems, then further brainpower needs to be applied to fix up nodes until they don’t create problems.
After all this, you may be wondering what this has go to do with inventing and innovation. First HAZOP is a team process, it is a form of brainstorming. Second, it can be applied much more widely than chemical plant. Take our example of a water flow node to be in a vehicle engine, for example. Suppose that you had a reduced water flow, the engine might overheat. But maybe you could design the engine to work even under those conditions – a handy innovation for keeping vehicles going. Suppose you had no water flow, the engine would for sure overheat. Or would it ? Could you arrange that the oil in the engine would be cooled sufficiently that the engine would be OK ?
- Trevor Kletz, HAZOP and HAZAN
- Doerner, The Logic of Failure
- R R Whyte, Engineering Through Trouble
TRIZ : moving a level beyond HAZOP
Genrich Altschuller generated his system for generating new ideas from looking at thousands and thousands of patents. His basic premise is that you can take an idea and treat in different ways to arrive at new ideas. Some of the treatments will remind you very much of HAZOP. For example, the treatment ‘Reverse’ sounds a bit like ‘reverse flow’ in HAZOP.
He has the concept of the ‘Contradiction Matrix’, Sorry, mean to finish more on this soon – but you can look it up – eg. in the first reference below.
- Genrich S Altshuller, And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared
- Gordon Cameron, TRIZICS
- Karen Gadd, TRIZ for Engineers
- Dewulf, Mann, Zlotin & Zusman, Matrix 2003 Updating the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix
Random Guide Words can lead to Surprises – some of them useful !
I hope that you are by now convinced that guide words can be useful. The team behind the QI (Quite Interesting) TV program, claim that they get great ideas just by reading random books but only writing down things which you find personally find interesting. Victorian megastar scientist Michael Faraday pretty much did this too (he had ready access to random books at the bookbinding company where he worked in his early careers), reading every book he saw, but noting down only what he found ‘singular or clever’. I do the same myself, often noting down a dozen or two things that I think are really good on those blank pages that most publishers provide at the back of books (if you ever borrow a book from me, you’ll find lots of these !). In essence, this method amounts to taking random guide words. There are lots of other good reasons to read lots of books. But you don’t have to actually read lots of books to do generate new ideas. Surprisingly, it is in fact enough to simply take random words in some form and use them to spark new innovations.
One curious theme that Edward de Bono once pursued was the use of guide words that are themselves random. Words that don’t exist like ‘relk’ or ‘ogzinablatt’ or even ‘supercallifragilisticexpialidotious’ were intended to jolt your mind out of the ruts that it normally runs in, therefore leading to the creation of surprising, inventive, and potentially useful new ideas.
I am studying the use of guide words with a random components too. I think the random new words are not the best thing however. One thing I have tried and works well is the creation of two word pairs – hyphenated pairs if you like – which might act in a similar way to de Bono’s random words. Once thing I tried is simply taking the top 100 words in USA use, filtering out only verbs and nouns, and then adding in 10% terms that I thought might be useful, like ‘string’ or ‘friction’, words that are not quite as common in everyday usage.
I then put the words together in pairs, ignoring repeats and reverses of the pairs, giving a total of 1/2 x 112 x 111 = 6216 pairs. I then took a look at a few pages of the dozens of pages that this makes. Remarkably, each page gave rise to ideas: many of them ideas that are already around in some form, but some seem, at least at first glance, to be entirely new.
One page, with only 32 x 8 = 256 pairs gave, for example, 14 things that seemed to make sense. Here are four of them:
- beat-safe: a safe opened by tapping in a secret rhythm motif with your finger. Could this work ? Yup. Anyone fancy putting something like this into the program of a Microbit-operated safe ?
- down-wind and ahead-wind: a system for measuring the drag coefficient of buildings by noting wind direction and speed before and after the building. Could this work ? Maybe.
- Conduct wind: could wind speed be measure by measuring changes in the conductivity lent to a stream of air by injecting ions. This has been done, in special circumstances. But could it be used somewhere else ?
- Corner-key: Could a standard tumbler lock key be expanded to more combinations by adding a another set at right angles: like two keys welded together along their straight edges. Could this work. Yup. Useful ? Hmmmm. Maybe.
To show you more clearly how this can work, here is a panel of word pairs which I did some work on, and what I came up with on reading them – but they are not just below – they are on saturdayscience.org , but you’ll have to search for them. But before you do that, try them out yourself – see what your mind fixes on when you read them.
|mountain test||mountain coach||mountain yard||mountain beat||mountain finger|
|survey test||survey coach||survey yard||survey beat||survey finger|
|winter test||winter coach||winter yard||winter beat||winter finger|
|refuse test||refuse coach||refuse yard||refuse beat||refuse finger|
|roll test||roll coach||roll yard||roll beat||roll finger|
|comms test||comms coach||comms yard||comms beat||comms finger|
|run test||run coach||run yard||run beat||run finger|
|screen test||screen coach||screen yard||screen beat||screen finger|
|gain test||gain coach||gain yard||gain beat||gain finger|
|hide test||hide coach||hide yard||hide beat||hide finger|
|gold test||gold coach||gold yard||gold beat||gold finger|
|club test||club coach||club yard||club beat||club finger|
|future test||future coach||future yard||future beat||future finger|
|farm test||farm coach||farm yard||farm beat||farm finger|
|potential test||potential coach||potential yard||potential beat||potential finger|
|increase test||increase coach||increase yard||increase beat||increase finger|
|middle test||middle coach||middle yard||middle beat||middle finger|
|shape test||shape coach||shape yard||shape beat||shape finger|
|reader test||reader coach||reader yard||reader beat||reader finger|
|contract test||contract coach||contract yard||contract beat||contract finger|
|crowd test||crowd coach||crowd yard||crowd beat||crowd finger|
|strength test||strength coach||strength yard||strength beat||strength finger|
|band test||band coach||band yard||band beat||band finger|
|air test||air coach||air yard||air beat||air finger|
|water test||water coach||water yard||water beat||water finger|
|steam test||steam coach||steam yard||steam beat||steam finger|
|gas test||gas coach||gas yard||gas beat||gas finger|
|liquid test||liquid coach||liquid yard||liquid beat||liquid finger|
|solid test||solid coach||solid yard||solid beat||solid finger|
|vacuum test||vacuum coach||vacuum yard||vacuum beat||vacuum finger|
|electron test||electron coach||electron yard||electron beat||electron finger|
|friction test||friction coach||friction yard||friction beat||friction finger|
|vehicle test||vehicle coach||vehicle yard||vehicle beat||vehicle finger|
|light test||light coach||light yard||light beat||light finger|
|string test||string coach||string yard||string beat||string finger|
|sheet test||sheet coach||sheet yard||sheet beat||sheet finger|
Here are some of the word pairs to ponder yourself (no ‘answers’ this time – just do your own thing !)
|screen pattern||screen machine||screen gas||screen down||screen ahead|
|gain pattern||gain machine||gain gas||gain down||gain ahead|
|hide pattern||hide machine||hide gas||hide down||hide ahead|
|gold pattern||gold machine||gold gas||gold down||gold ahead|
|club pattern||club machine||club gas||club down||club ahead|
|future pattern||future machine||future gas||future down||future ahead|
|farm pattern||farm machine||farm gas||farm down||farm ahead|
|potential pattern||potential machine||potential gas||potential down||potential ahead|
|increase pattern||increase machine||increase gas||increase down||increase ahead|
|middle pattern||middle machine||middle gas||middle down||middle ahead|
|shape pattern||shape machine||shape gas||shape down||shape ahead|
|reader pattern||reader machine||reader gas||reader down||reader ahead|
|contract pattern||contract machine||contract gas||contract down||contract ahead|
|crowd pattern||crowd machine||crowd gas||crowd down||crowd ahead|
|strength pattern||strength machine||strength gas||strength down||strength ahead|
|band pattern||band machine||band gas||band down||band ahead|
|air pattern||air machine||air gas||air down||air ahead|
|water pattern||water machine||water gas||water down||water ahead|
|steam pattern||steam machine||steam gas||steam down||steam ahead|
|gas pattern||gas machine||gas gas||gas down||gas ahead|
|liquid pattern||liquid machine||liquid gas||liquid down||liquid ahead|
|solid pattern||solid machine||solid gas||solid down||solid ahead|
|vacuum pattern||vacuum machine||vacuum gas||vacuum down||vacuum ahead|
|electron pattern||electron machine||electron gas||electron down||electron ahead|
|friction pattern||friction machine||friction gas||friction down||friction ahead|
1,227 QI FACTS to blow your socks off, by the QI team, compiled by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin.