There are parts of the world where incubators work fine, and they have enough incubators to meet the needs — of the newborns at the hospital. But without cars, without roads, with everyone walking to wherever they go, it is simply not possible for countless babies to be born in the hospital, or to be treated at a hospital after their birth. And, the incubators are only available at the hospital.
So, this challenge was given to one of those “you have to come up with an innovative solution by the end of the semester” classes at a major university. One team tackled the “incubator challenge.”
And, they did what the best problem solvers do. They kept refining, and re-defining the problem. They decided that the challenge was not “to come up with a more workable incubator.” The problem was “how do we keep a newborn baby warm enough when there is no incubator available?”
This re-defining of the problem launched them into pursuing other ideas. You know, the kind of “out-of-the-box” thinking that people have to have to make it to creative breakthrough solutions.
Their solution – forget the incubator. Let’s develop a new kind of blanket that keeps a baby warm, for hours at a time. Their solution: what I think of as the “incubator blanket,” after reading the story in the book Creative Confidence by the Kelley brothers. From the book:
The Embrace Infant Warmer contains an inner heating pouch that keeps a baby warm for up to four hours.
No matter how inexpensive or well designed the incubator, life- and-death battles were being fought in the mother’s home, not the hospital.
So, here’s the formula:
Step 1 – Agree on the assignment
Step 2 – Refine and Redefine the problem
Step 3 – Look at all sorts of solutions, inside and outside of “the box”
Step 4 – Pick the solution that actually works
That seems to be the lesson of the Incubator Blanket.
And… here’s a helpful reminder, from Twyla Tharp. In The Creative Habit, she wrote that for each new dance she designed, she would fill a box with ideas: images, jotted notes, music cds… and then, she would spread it all out on the floor in a dance rehearsal studio. And then she wrote:
Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.
In other words, you fill a box (a real box, or a “virtual” box) with all the ideas and products and solutions you have – and you then sift through the box. Once you exhaust all the items and pieces and ideas that you already have in your box, you can then begin to “think outside of the box.”