How to innovate – part one: combine tasks

A suitcase with a built-in scale, a watch that measures your heart rate or a toilet that medically analyses your stool. These are only a few examples of the many products and services that combine tasks. 

In this short blog series, I will share some of the most powerful thinking techniques to develop new products and services. In this first article: the combining-technique. 

How to combine tasks

Usually, you want a well-defined problem before you start generating ideas. Sometimes, however, it pays off to simply look for opportunities. After all, there is always a better way.

Step 1. List all elements of your subject

Make a list of all the parts that form your product, process or problem. These can be internal parts like a button, a sensor or a screen, but also external parts like the user, a gas station or a wall socket. List all internal and external elements. 

Step 2. Select one element and give it a new task

Pick one listed element and assign it the task currently linked to another element. 

There are three ways to do this:

1. Make an external part take over the task of an internal part

Example: a hand-crank flashlight. The flashlight is one with the user. An internal part (the battery) has been replaced by an external part (the squeezing movement of the user).

2. Make an internal part take over the task of another internal part

Example: the Copenhagen Wheel, an electric motor and bicycle wheel combined.

3. Make an internal part take over the task of an external part

Example: the Spinwood garden-bench that can transform into a picnic table. The bench can still be used to sit on, but now also fulfils the task of a table.

Step 3. Visualise what it would look like

Imagine how the new situation could look, no matter how strange it may seem. Sketch your solution to get a better understanding of what might or might not work.

Step 4. Identify potential user-needs 

Ask yourself: what might be the benefits of this? Who would be interested in this? In which situations would this be useful? How could this help me to solve a problem? 

Have you discovered value? Great! Proceed to step 5.

Can’t you see any benefits to your crazy new idea? Don’t worry. Simply choose a different element and follow the previous steps again. 

Step 5. Develop the idea and find a way to make it work

How can you make your idea a reality? Can you implement the idea directly? Or does the idea need to be tweaked. If your idea isn’t feasible in its current form, are there ways to simplify it or make it easier to build? 


Innovative examples of combined tasks: 

 Tattoo artist + skin cancer check

Door handle + hand sanitiser

Lamp + Speaker




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