University of Minnesota hosts an Innovation Workshop that asks participants to come up with the most unsafe medical devices ever.

April 10, 2013

9 Min Read
Atypical Brainstorming Session Yields the Worst Medical Devices. Ever.

This was not your typical brainstorming session (and thankfully these ideas will never see the light of day).

Sure our leader was a design expert at the University of Minnesota wearing yellow pants and talking and walking feverishly, explaining to us the rules about brainstorming, a fundamental tool of innovation. But he had just given us a weird task: We had to come up with ideas for the most unsafe medical devices the world has ever seen.

Who's "we"? 

I was a part of a group of people who attended the Innovation Workshop Monday hosted by the University of Minnesota as part of its annual four-day Design of Medical Devices Conference.

The goal of the workshop - and I attended only part of it - was to teach attendees about global markets, take part in some brainstorming, design prototyping exercises as well as understand what it takes to come up with a viable business plan for the device you invent.

After some warm up exercises designed to loosen us up, Barry Kudrowitz, PhD, School of Design, University of Minnesota, split us into groups of five or six, had us select a facilitator and then gave us 10 minutes to come up with as many examples as possible of the worst medical devices ever and draw them on blank index cards. Volume was the most important goal and not the quality of our ideas. At the end of 10 minutes, the facilitator of each group - my group chose me to play this role - would stand up and pitch that horror in 30 seconds.

After 10 minutes, my group of five had 35 ideas, which is .7 ideas per person per minute, which isn't half bad. Apparently you want to get close to one idea per person per minute, Kudrowitz said.

These were what we came up with - Grant Adams with Smiths Medical had an idea for "bullet-powered implants," Ashish Singal,


a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering from the Univesity of Minnesota and a graduate of its Innovation Fellows program thought of the "Knife for self fat-cutting," Christopher Linton, a sales engineer for Jordi Labs, though of "toxic tubing," and I came up with "hearing aids that play loud music." But our group chose to pitch the best idea of all - "anesthesia with hammer." That particular jewel was the brain child of Torsten Scheuermann with Admedes Schuesller from Germany.

When it came to pitch time, I stood up to tout the benefits of the product: that it is cost-effective, requires absolutely no R&D, no training manuals, can be globalized easily, be made in different sizes and is called Ham-It.

I got a few laughs, but the most important thing was we really did have some magnificently bad ideas. And other groups had their own versions of medical device monstrosities such as a kit for liposuction at home.

The point, I think, was that if negative brainstorming is this amazing, how many good ideas can a positive brainstorming session where people have fun minus any performace anxities, yield?

Thanks to the University of Minnesota for educating and entertaning us thoroughly.

 -- By Arundhati Parmar, Senior Editor, MD+DI

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