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I think one of my favorite experiences with innovation teams came when we were working with a large global company that made big capital equipment. I won't tell you the name of the company but just say it's a complex piece of capital equipment. What the company was trying to do was take data that came out of this piece of equipment and they were trying to feed it to their customers in a way that would help them maintain the equipment better, and service it.
We got a team of people together, a cross functional team, and we started to apply systematic methods to the problem. What was happening is the team had it set in their mind, it's a condition we call fixedness. The fixedness in this situation is what blocks you from seeing configurations that you're not used to. Fixedness means we have a difficult time imagining different configurations than what we're used to.
In this team's mind it was you've got this machine, you've got these sensors on it, the sensors transmit into an iPhone app or into a computer and then you display the information and voila. That fixedness is what was holding us back, and we had to apply, in this case it's a technique called the subtraction technique. To use subtraction you take aspects of the problem and you remove an essential one. Well guess what we removed? When we made the list of components I forced the team to subtract the data that comes off the piece of capital equipment.
You should have seen the looks on their faces. These engineers are looking at us like, "You have to be kidding. That's the whole point. "How can you remove the data from the piece of equipment? "That's why we're doing this project." You've got to stay true to the process when you use these tools. What the team then had to do is say, "We subtracted the data coming off this machine. "Now what are we going to do? "Now how can we cobble together data, "perhaps from other sources.
"What else is going along with this data? "What's going on around it, or in different venues, "or in different systems that is different data "than just the sensor data coming off the machine?" As they started to work on it step-by-step what they started to realize was, my God, there's tons of other kinds of data. There's weather data. There are data about the people who use the equipment. There are maintenance records. There are government data.
There are things that they can all of a sudden pull into the problem. Now take the sensor data from the equipment back into the middle and the whole exercise became clear to them. Now what the project was about was not getting the data from here and putting it there but rather taking this data off the equipment and correlating it to the other kinds of information that they now can see, because the fixedness is broken, now they can see that what they're taking as data and turning in to information, turning it in to insights.
That is really where they unlocked the value and man, the energy in the room just changed like that. (snap) All of a sudden it became so clear to them. They just got on it. You could see the energy level rise. I recognize it because I can see in their minds they're starting to build it. That's when I know we've hit a real gem of an idea. It was a really defining moment for that team and for me.
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