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White-haired man: Let's apply the task unification technique to a common household appliance: a refrigerator. You begin by listing the product's internal and external components. Then you select one of the comonents and assign it an additional job in some non-obvious, counter-intuitive way. We can force an internal component to steal the job of another internal or external component. We can also force an external component to take on additional functions, or we can imagine any of our components taking on a completely new task in addition to its current one.
Using function follows form, ask yourself 2 questions. The first question is, should we do it? What would be the benefits of a refrigerator with this new configuration? Who would want it and why? If you identify some benefit, you ask yourself the second question, can we do it? Is it feasible to make a refrigerator that delivers this benefit? You try to modify and improve the concept to yield an innovative idea. Here is our component list: compressor, the door, door handle, shelves, drawers, ice maker, light bulb, and temperature control.
We also have added the external components: food, beverages, packaging, water for the ice maker, and family members. Let's try an example. How about the light bulb? Let's imagine our virtual product is a light bulb that has the additional job of food preparation. That's a strange idea, especially since light makes food spoil faster. That's why the light in your refrigerator turns off when the door closes.
But let's stay true to the process and try to break fixedness. Imagine the light bulb having some beneficial effect on food, or perhaps the food packaging. How would this work? Why would it be beneficial? What if the family bought a food item that wasn't ready to consume? Perhaps it needed to thaw or ripen. Certain cheeses, for example, might need a little extra time under a light to make it ready for dinner. Putting certain foods under a light might put it in better condition, not worse, which is our fixed view of light's effect on food.
We could thoroughly research food types to see how different types of light, and amounts of light, might improve the food for the family. What if the light bulb could stay on only in certain compartments? Are there certain types of packaging that could interact with the light to make the food taste better? What if the light could activate the packaging in some way, perhaps to start preparing the food inside of it? Perhaps it could give the homeowner more control of how food is defrosted, but still kept refrigerated while you're at work.
When you come home, the food is ready to cook. What if the light bulb itself could be used to keep the refrigerator clean, perhaps with some different wavelength of light? Could it eliminate certain types of bacteria? Could the light in the refrigerator communicate some useful information? Perhaps it could signal a light on the door when something important is going on inside, perhaps when food is missing or is ready to be used. Could the heat from the light bulb be used for something? Could it keep certain compartments at different temperatures, for example? The key here is to force a component that seems to have only 1 function, and imagine putting it to many more uses.
The task unification technique is so powerful because it forces you to look at non-obvious components, and imagining them creating new value for the consumer. You can imagine how a maker of refrigerators could devote a significant research effort to innovate completely new uses of this innocent little component, the light bulb. Now that's a bright idea.
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