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Use this new technique to become an ideas machine

Think like an engineer and watch your creative problem-solving abilities soar. So say researchers in Singapore and Oxford, who have adapted a technique typically used by engineers to successfully solve different types of abstract problems, specifically in healthcare and biomedicine.

Dr Tony McCaffrey, an AI researcher and cognitive psychologist, took what’s called Innovation Enhancing Techniques (IETs), a favourite in the engineer’s problem-solving toolbox to develop all sorts of structures – like bridges, and created new IETs built on the back of his Obscure Features Hypothesis.

What this ‘new cognitive theory of innovation’ says, is there are two important steps when it comes to generating innovative ideas. The first, the obscure bit, is finding something in the problem that hasn’t been noticed before; and then, secondly, developing a solution for this obscure element.

Bioethical goals

What the new study, led by teams from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS Medicine) and the University of Oxford did, was explore how the new techniques performed at the job of ‘generating solutions for problems with abstract goals using intangible resources’.

Taking blockchain as the resource, and ethical goals in biomedicine as the abstract goal, 100 solutions were identified using two IETs: BrainSwarming and the Generic Parts Technique (GPT).

BrainSwarming takes the objective, in this case bioethical goals, and positions it at the top of a two-dimensional graph; while blockchain, the resource, is placed at the bottom. The primary goal is then broken down into sub-goals. From here, GPT ‘systematically breaks down the resource into its components’ in a move designed to produce new information or to ‘help re-interpret existing information’.

The researchers say the success they enjoyed creating 100 solutions doing this could be replicated across different sectors and problem types.

“The successful application of these techniques has vast potential to enable individuals to generate innovative ideas across disciplines. These techniques can act as force multipliers for the creative efforts of researchers, entrepreneurs, and other innovators, with significant downstream benefits for individuals and society,” said Professor Julian Savulescu from the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at NUS Medicine.


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Written By

Susan is the co-founder of Innovators Magazine and a consultant for OnePoint5Media. Susan is also a member of the UNFCCC-led Resilience Frontiers Nexus group and the Chair of the APOPO Foundation UK board.


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