Human creativity

by Russ Roberts on January 17, 2011

in Innovation

I love it when users discover applications for a product that weren’t intended by the designer. Here’s a good one that was highlighted this past week in the New York Times.

This cheese grater was originally designed as a woodworking tool but the manufacturer discovered that people were using them to grate cheese and zest lemons.

The other example I came across this week, is the IKEA pencil–a pencil that IKEA gives away, apparently. It is proving quite useful in surgery. From the BMJ:

As popular as these pencils are, we were still a little surprised to be handed one halfway through a surgical case. The use of a pencil to mark osteotomy cuts in craniofacial and maxillofacial surgery is well established, proving superior to methylene, Bonney’s blue, and felt tipped skin markers that struggle to transfer an ink mark to bone, or are washed away by irrigation or tissue fluids.4 5Sterilisation, originally achieved with 18 hours of dry heat,6 is now performed by autoclaving, making a pocketful of IKEA pencils from one shopping visit last for many months­­—important in the current financial climate. The only problem is that on repeated sterilisation even the hardiest of pencil splits. Ours proceeded to extrude its graphite core before it was even removed from the protective wrapper. We have solved this problem by wrapping silicon cuffs around the pencil—maybe we could suggest this to the designers at IKEA?

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