Innovation Sighting: Task Unification in Surgical Procedures

Business Model Innovation
March 7, 2011
Academic Focus: The Rotman Business Design Challenge
March 21, 2011

Innovation Sighting: Task Unification in Surgical Procedures

The Task Unification tool of the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., works by assigning a new task to an existing resource. There are three ways to do it: 1. allocate an internal task to an external component, 2. allocate an external task to an internal component, or 3. an internal component peforms the task of another internal component. It is a great tool to use when you have a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish. It helps you find innovative ways to do it using non-obvious resources. Here is a unique example of Task Unification from the world of surgery:

The Task Unification tool of the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., works by assigning a new task to an existing resource.  There are three ways to do it:  1. allocate an internal task to an external component, 2. allocate an external task to an internal component, or 3. an internal component peforms the task of another internal component.  It is a great tool to use when you have a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish.  It helps you find innovative ways to do it using non-obvious resources.

Here is a unique example of Task Unification from the world of surgery:

While limb-sparing surgery for bone cancer is becoming more common, very young children with bone cancer face significant challenges and have limited surgical options.  Such was the case of a five-year-old girl with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor, behind her left knee.  Surgeons at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used a limb-sparing technique called rotationplasty to remove the diseased portion of bone, turn the shortened portion of the leg bone in a half-circle and reattach it, with the ankle joint functioning as a knee. With a prosthetic attached to the mobile joint, the child, now 13, enjoys gymnastics and cheerleading.

Using the Task Unification tool makes you more aware of the Closed World of the problem and the resources available to you.  The Closed World is an imaginary area in space and time around where the product or service is being used.  It is the collection of components “right under your nose.”  Using these components with the Task Unification tool produces innovations that have the element of surprise – “Gee, I never would have thought of that!”

There is another lesson to be learned from Task Unification.  Instead of innovating the product or service, we can also innovate the way the product or service is used.  Instead of innovating new toys, for example, we focus instead on innovating the way children play.  We then create toys that help them achieve that new activity.  Here is how I do it.  Take a product or service and list out the steps of how the product or service is used (instead of listing the components of the product or service itself).  These steps become your component list to use four of the five S.I.T. tool set.  Apply each tool one by one to create new-to-the-world versions of the process.  Then go back and design products or services that deliver this version.  If you were trying to find a way to merge systematic ideation with design thinking, I believe this approach would give you a good start.

Here is the heart-warming story how this innovative approach transformed a life: