Assumption Storming for Better Medical Design

“If you want to jump out of the box, you have to know where it is.”

MD&M West attendees participate in Craig Lauchner's conference session on Assumption Storming. 

With those words, Craig Lauchner, innovation project manager at Medtronic, made the case for using “Assumption Storming” during his session on concept ideation at MD&M West in Anaheim, CA, this morning.

Every design project, every medical device, starts from a set of assumptions, he told the assembled crowd. Listing the assumptions—just making them apparent—is the first step in designing a breakthrough product. “Once you write down the assumptions that are blocking you, once you identify them, you can question them,” Lauchner, who focuses on spinal and biologic products for Medtronic, promised.

His example: Take three pieces of paper and a pack of sticky notes. Create the tallest tower you can. You have three minutes.

Set to this task, most of the design mavens in his class at MD&M West set to building rolled-up stacks of paper on their tables. But the builders of the tallest towers questioned assumptions and so built epic projects. They questioned the assumptions that:

  • The tower had to be 3-D,
  • The tower had to be literal, and
  • The tower had to be vertical.

One participant simply drew a picture of a tower touching the moon. Now that’s a tall tower. Another ripped her paper and simply lined it flat along the floor.

It can be hard to make these conceptual leaps just by sitting and trying to think of them. Writing down assumptions, then changing them, is an indirect—but still creative—approach that can get your brain to open up, Lauchner said.

Pamela L. Moore is the senior vice president of content and strategy at UBM Canon.

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