Moving at the speed of industry

Faster than a speeding inventor
Faster than a speeding inventor

This month we have left the “golden umbrella” of the Biodesign fellowship here at Stanford University (a team of two physicians and two engineers designing medical devices) to step into industry as interns. I am taking my internship with an inventor who is making a name for himself in this industry. Though I have been working for less than a week, the differences I have noticed between the two are stark. Industry is fast: honesty and simplicity are critical.

In the workplace we (the inventor and I) moved from problem to patent in under a week. That process, in the academic program, took nearly four months. My boss was able to understand the critical issues and to remain focused on these throughout our design process. I read, learned, found new problems and veered. Though the additional issues are valuable to consider and valuable to design for over the long term, my industry experience taught me how fast the process can be if only the immediate and most significant issues are considered.

I also learned a critical skill: how to make a decision. If I don’t really think THAT would work, I shouldn’t dwell there. This lesson brings me to my second point: be honest and simple.

Honesty and simplicity were critical because it ensured that I was not only able to find the critical issue, but I was open to solving that issue in a new way. When I dove deeply into the issue without an idea in mind, I found many more problems that clouded my view of the opportunity. Similarly, I learned that I needed to be honest and simple in my communication of the issue and the idea, both with my colleagues and in the provisional patent we wrote. I found that I am just enough of a lawyer to be dangerous: I appreciate the art of patent writing, but I am not skilled in the art. It took me 20 hours of writing to realize that “half-pipe” was a better word for me to use than “curvelinear, tubular structure.” By employing simplicity and honesty throughout the invention and protection processes we were able to move quickly to get an 80% solution with 20% of the work. More importantly, by remaining clear about what we actually created, and moreso what existed before us, we created something valuable that solved a big problem.

My final take-away for this month is that the invention process really is iterative. We have come away with a patent in four days, which is fast, but it can be that fast because it will have to be done and redone and redone. Though we put in a lot of work, at least we didn’t put in a month’s worth, because I imagine we will have to change some of it.