Innovation/Global Risk

Wouldn’t It Be Great If….: WIBGI as an Innovation Tool

By Shlomo  Maital     



 Nathan Myhrvold

RCA pioneer David Sarnoff spurred innovation among his talented engineers by building wish lists.  “Would it be great if…  we could produce crisp color television?” he asked, in the days of black-and-white TV.  And they did.  “Wouldn’t it be great if we could amplify light, like we amplify sound?”   Result:  microwave amplification by serial emission of radiation (maser), which ultimately became laser, light amplification by serial emission of radiation. 

   Now, Nathan Myhrvold, who headed R&D at Microsoft, has launched a venture called Intellectual Ventures, which invests in patents.  His company holds invention sessions with experts.  In one such session, Myhrvold reports (in HBR, March 2010), “we brought highly respected heart, chest, bone, and brain surgeons together with many of our staff inventors. We asked the doctors to draft ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ or WIBGI technology wish lists, which generated exceptionally productive discussions. We came up with new designs for surgical tools that are self-sterilizing or that can snake their way around delicate areas of the brain rather than passing through them….”

     This sounds to me like a method.  If you have expertise in some technology or other, find someone ‘in the field’ who provides a service of some kind.  Ask them for WIBGI…wouldn’t it be great if?   See you if can find a way to make the future tense into present—isn’t it great that we can…?    Or, make your own WIBGI list.  I think a great many breakthroughs emerged from individual WIBGI exercises.