NASA has done some amazing innovations over the years. But when they tried to create a washing machine in space, it didn’t go too well. But changing the question led to different results.
We are in the “Ask” portion of the FAST Innovation Model (Focus, Ask, Shift, Test)
We are in the “Ask” part of my FAST innovation model, we’ve talked about the Goldilocks principle, and we’ve talked about examples of where the questions were too abstract/too fluffy and invited a lot of noise. We also discussed why asking for ideas is a bad idea.
Today, I want to talk about the flip side which is where questions might be too specific. I want to go to an example that comes from NASA.
NASA has done some fascinating innovations over the years, of course. They are amazing.
They waned to solve a problem. If you take your washing machine from here on Earth and bring it up to space, well, you got a bit of a problem because our washing machines rely on gravity. So they ran the “zero gravity laundry system challenge.” It didn’t work exactly the way that they had hoped. They didn’t get any solutions.
If you come back to the Goldilocks principle, that was probably too specific, too detailed. It was a solution masquerading as a question. It was a past-based answer, a washing machine.
But really the question is, if you use the Goldilocks principle, what would be just right?
Start by asking the question, “How do we get clothes clean?” This moves away from pumps and valves to cleaning solutions and things of that nature. A very different range of answers.
But you could take it a step further. You could change one word in the question. Instead of having, “How do we get clothes clean?” You can ask, “How do we keep clothes clean?”
Now that opens up a different array of different solutions. This moves us from cleaning solutions which is getting clothes clean to a material science problem of antimicrobials, “How do we keep clothes clean?”
Different questions will lead to different solutions. In some cases, you can change just one word to get a fundamentally different answer.