The days of designing a product so that “even a kid can use it” are long gone.
Now, products must be designed so that “even an adult could use it, provided a kid around to demonstrate”.
We adults can learn a lot from kids, especially 15 year old Jack Andraka.
The high school sophomore enjoys mountain biking, kayaking and doing experiments with his dad screening compounds in water from the Chesapeake Bay.
One day, he was sitting in Biology class secretly reading a Science journal about new carbon nanotube applications. He heard his teacher discussing antibodies that bind to proteins in the blood. Then, the ah-ha moment came (see story).
A close friend of Jack’s family had recently died of pancreatic cancer. Jack imagined that he could lace a nanotube network with mesothelin-specific antibodies. If successful, he could introduce it to a drop of a blood from a pancreatic cancer patient to possibly determine mesothelin protein levels (indicates cancer).
Jack, now 15, imagined right. He perfected a new dipstick type diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a novel paper sensor (only 30 cents per test). The test is 168 times faster and over 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests. It is also effective in detecting ovarian and lung cancer. Other scientists recently designed similar tests for breast and prostate cancers, but nobody addressed pancreatic cancer until Jack.
Now the lessons from the kid:
1. Grown-ups don’t have it covered – Most grown-ups with Jack’s ah-ha moment would think that billion dollar life science corporations have this covered. They didn’t. Even if they had it covered, it’s unlikely they would invent a test that costs 30 cents. Today’s adult generation grew up thinking the grown-ups have it covered. Fortunately for us, today’s kids recognize we adults do not have it all covered as they see us struggle when adopting new technology.
2. Enablement Intersection – This is using knowledge, creativity, realities aptitude and people skills to determine a way to make almost anything happen. It’s synthesizing, connecting the dots and finding the win-win for many people. It’s convincing enough to believe and earning their acceptance. Jack applied the new detection methods used for breast cancer with the emerging realities of carbon nanotubes (1/50,000 the diameter of a human hair). He worked around the clock for 7 months. He was able to convince just one John’s Hopkins professor from the list of 200 experts he contacted.
It may be too late to change the stories of hardship today’s kids will one day tell their kids. The stories will not be about walking to school both ways uphill, they will be about showing their parents how to use new technology.
It’s not too late for adults to leverage their enablement intersection abilities. First, we must recognize how we have become brilliant masters of finding the enablement intersection.
In 1900, 90% of people worked in a factory or on a farm. The workers were told exactly what to do, had no customer interaction and knew little about the company finances. Today, over 85% of workers are in service jobs. These jobs require judgment and creativity, engaging customers and ensuring the organization is successful. It is now about making things happen without a manual.
These jobs continue to become more complex. They are what remain after less complex jobs are eliminated by robotics or computers. We are now paid to find the enablement intersection of a happy customer, company profitability and mission as well as our personal work/life balance. A waiter must satisfy an unhappy customer. A company CEO must grow sales. A teacher must inspire a student. They then may need to coordinate overlapping kid activities before they get home.
Our prosperity growth comes from the pursuit of our dreams, big ideas and breakthrough innovation. The enablement intersection is the recipe to make them happen. If we leverage our enablement intersection brilliance and start believing grown-ups don’t have it covered, the period of great prosperity growth that is coming will be here even sooner.