How to Make Medical Devices Like a Magician

An R&D professional with tricks up his sleeve showed MD&M West attendees how to apply the art of magical illusion to their next product development project.

John Crombie, Vice President of R&D at Centaur Sports Medical and President of upstart product development, teaches magic tricks during a product development workshop at MD&M West.

MDDI/Amanda Pedersen

John Crombie has a few tricks up his sleeve and this magician isn't afraid to reveal his secrets.

During a product development workshop at MD&M West this week, Crombie explained how to apply the art of magical illusion to your next product development project.

First, Crombie performed what is known as the Penna Coin Trick in which he showed his spectators a glass that had a piece of rubber covering the top and secured with a rubber band a quarter on top. He then asked an audience volunteer to push down on the quarter with his finger, giving the illusion that the coin had passed through the piece of rubber into the sealed glass.

"What happened and what you saw are disconnected. What you saw perceived as a quarter going through this material," Crombie said. 

Of course, that's not actually possible. The quarter was inside the glass the whole time, he admitted.

So just like a product developer is tasked with solving a problem, the magician who invented the trick had to figure out how to make a quarter inside a sealed glass appear to be on the outside of the glass.

Truly amazing medical device inventions can provoke a similar sense of amazement, Crombie said. He used the example of porous-coated hip implants that are designed to allow a patient's bone to grow into a metal implant. Back when that technology was first created, orthopedic surgeons would have found the concept of such a product to be pretty amazing, he said.

Too often product developers today fail to set the bar high enough, Crombie said, which leads to solutions that lack that level of response. To put it into perspective, he equated that approach to if he had simply told the audience to close their eyes while he put a quarter inside the glass and then expected them to be impressed when they opened their eyes and saw the quarter in the glass.

"That wouldn't go over well," he said. 

In another simple trick, Crombie made a quarter appear to disappear as he passed it from one hand into another. To pull it off, he relied on his ability to read the audience while passing a quarter from one hand into the other using a simple, repetitive motion.

"Once i saw everyone was very used to it and you were concentrating on how to figure that out i switched it," Crombie said. "This you can do with products too. You can put out a product and you need to know that your customers, it's going to be phenomenal, and then they're going to expect more. And if you don't plan for that you're going to miss a big opportunity to generate more demand."

Crombie used the example of the barbed suture, which was created to eliminate the need for surgeons to tie knots at the ends of sutures in order to hold the tissue together. The development of that product didn't change anything about the way surgeons suture, he said because they use the same motion they've always used to suture, only without the knots.

"Think about that. It was a blockbuster product and all they had to do was modify the current product," he said and encouraged attendees to start thinking of ways to add that type of high-level value to something that already exists.

One example of such a product, he said, is this human-powered blood centrifuge device that Stanford bioengineers developed using just 20 cents of paper, some twine, and plastic. 


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