Someone Else Made It: You Monetize It

Wheel_invention-299x300No new invention is completely original and everything stands on the shoulders of what has come before. Why try to come up with an original idea when someone else has already done the hard work for you? Is there a product or process from another industry that you can make disruptive in your market?

Francois Hennebique needed a stronger building material than concrete. While attending the Paris Exhibition of 1867, he found an exhibit for concrete flowerpots that contained a metal mesh. The need for reinforced concrete in the building industry, which made skyscrapers possible, had already been invented in the gardening context by Joseph Monier.

Carbozyme Inc. needed to create an efficient way to remove carbon dioxide from the air so they could make filters for smokestacks. The key solution had been around for millions for years and was used every time anyone took a breath. The human lung efficiently removes carbon dioxide from the bloodstream and Carbozyme adapted this design into an effective smokestack filter.

As high as 90% of the problems we solve today have already been solved in a different context, according to estimates by problem-solving experts. All great innovators cast a wide net to incite creative thought by looking beyond their category and into analogous businesses around the world. The problem: time, effort and often happenstance needed to seek out all those corresponding ideas and technologies.

New software just released finds these solutions from different contexts—also called analogous solutions. Just type in two words (e.g., reinforce concrete or remove carbon) into Analogy Finder and it easily and inexpensively finds solutions to accomplish what you need. Further, it takes into account the many ways that people might express the goal. For example, there are many synonyms of reinforce (strengthen, bolster, enhance, fortify, intensify, etc.) and perhaps a few for concrete (cement, mortar, grout, etc.). Analogy Finder lets you edit the lists that it finds, and then combines all the verbs and nouns into a large set of search phrases. In essence, you type in one goal and Analogy Finder performs many searches, perhaps hundreds, and organizes the results.

Currently, Analogy Finder searches the U.S. Patent database but will continually be expanded to search other patent databases, scientific journals, and other promising online resources. Some companies even want us to search their own corporate data because they cannot find the relevant ideas from their own company’s history of projects.

Analogous solutions are great for businesses because they get stalled projects moving again and decrease time to market. Before analogy-finding software existed, cross-context discoveries happened accidentally. You either had to stumble upon it yourself or know someone who happened to know something about the other crucial context. Too much chance was involved. Analogy Finder makes the accidental discovery a more regular and predictable occurrence. Analogy Finder drastically increases your odds of finding the key idea for your problem. You can now systematically search through the vast number of contexts in the U.S. Patent database and soon you will be able to search through many more contexts in scientific journals and other resources.

So, the next time you have a problem to solve, don’t try to reinvent the wheel and don’t wait for an accidental discovery. Use Analogy Finder to quickly find the thing you need from a distant context. You will smoothly be moving ahead instead of stalling out and wasting time.

For more information and Analogy Finder success stories, contact Tony at

This post is written by Tony McCaffrey, PhD and Debra Kaye.

  • Tony McCaffrey

    Hi Dino. Debra Kaye presented my dissertation research on pages 11-13 of “Red Thread Thinking.” We agreed to write this blog together as a way to introduce my start-up company’s (Innovation Accelerator) first software product, Analogy Finder, which performs a wide-net search to find analogous solutions to your current problem.

    Tony McCaffrey, PhD
    UMass Amherst
    Innovation Accelerator, Inc.

    • RTThinking

      Can you post a couple of quick examples?

      • Tony McCaffrey

        Sure. Currently, I work with engineering companies so the examples can be a bit technical. First, an international materials company needed to adhere a coating to Teflon. They were fixated on chemical solutions, but nothing had worked for months. On the same day they approached me, I e-mailed them back a highly plausible solution they had not considered. Using a magnetic surface, I made the “Teflon Sandwich Solution.” Put a bit of metal in the coating and behind the Teflon place a magnetic surface. The coating sticks through the Teflon to the magnet and covers the Teflon.

        Here’s how Analogy Finder (AF) helped. I typed in “adhere coating” and AF created many nuanced variations (e.g., attach layer, connect surface, fasten surface) to search with. “Adhere coating” brought back many chemical solutions but the others brought back other types–including the crucial use of magnetism.

        • Tony McCaffrey

          Most of my solutions are proprietary to my clients, but here is another example I can share that gives you a feel for the benefits of Analogy Finder.

          A ski company needed to get rid of chatter in their skis so people could turn quickly and safely at high speeds. They eventually stumbled upon a solution from violin construction. A special method reduced the vibrations in the violin to give a purer sound. By entering “reduce vibrations” into Analogy Finder, they could have found the key solution much faster as it searched for many variations (e.g., lessen oscillations, diminish perturbations).

          I will have to ask my clients if I can share any of their proprietary solutions yet.

  • RTThinking


    Your suggestion is a good one and I’ll ask Tony for a few examples. Actually, there is no relationship between Tony and me other than acquaintance.

    A tenet of Red Thread Thinking is that is to mine the past, someone has already developed what you need and Tony’s software now makes it so much easier to find what already exists rather than the laborious and hit and miss process of having to search it out yourself. It’s a time and money saver and my job as a consultant and reporter is to help entrepreneurs get their ideas to market less expensively and faster.

    Sorry about the event. I had a prior commitment. I look forward to the next invite. Thanks.