Most people in the medical device industry rarely make it through an entire workday without hearing or using the word innovation. It's a term that gets thrown around a lot, and it tends to mean different things to different people.
For some in the industry, like John Crombie, innovation is not a word that should be used lightly. During a presentation at MD&M Minneapolis last week, Crombie, the vice president of ZSX Medical, explained what innovation means to him and the role it plays in his out-of-the-box approach to medical device design.
Crombie used a couple of basic, familiar dental products to illustrate his view of innovation. As a designer, he sees products like toothpaste and toothpicks and challenges himself to alter one of them in an impactful and commercially-viable way.
A new toothpaste that can be swallowed, for example, would be a product that might be effective at cleaning teeth and safe to swallow, but it's not a patentable product, therefore it would have a low chance of commercial success.
So the developer moves on to the next idea, which in Crombie's example was a bioabsorbable toothpick. That's something that would be patentable, and it would have a positive impact on the environment. But is that enough to make it a commercial success? Most likely not, he said, because it doesn't change anyone's behavior. If, however, a designer took the idea of a bioabsorbable toothpick that doubles as a caffeine delivery system, they might be onto something.
So Crombie's definition of innovation is to invent something that changes behavior, reduces risk, and has the potential to be commercially successful.
"People are focused too much on coming to solutions [quickly]," Crombie said. "The solution comes at the end ... you can't schedule it, you can't rush it. You have to let R&D be free.
By keeping this definition of innovation close to mind, Crombie said he has mastered a design process that challenges the standard quo. "You do some research, you go to meetings, you talk to doctors, you put some pieces together and you make some prototypes. At that point, the inventer typically approaches management with the idea and to get either a thumb up or a thumb down.
"In the innovation process that I use there is no 'thumbs down'," Crombie said.