'Why didn't I think of that?'

March 18, 2009
By: Vicki Bell

When you think about it, we all have the ability to innovate. Our innovations can be as simple as coming up with a temporary "fix" for a problem until it can be handled properly. Those of us who work with computers are very familiar with this type of innovation; we call it a workaround.

Sometimes, innovations we read about make us stop and ask, "Why didn't I think of that?" These are the innovations that create new products and processes and launch new businesses. They can spring up anywhere—from the slopes to the operating table.

An article published last month in the Denver Post chronicled the rise of custom ski manufacturing and described one skimaker's epiphany that launched an innovative thought and a new business.

"After spending his mornings designing custom shafts and heads for a high-tech golf-club maker, Pete Wagner used to wander to the gondola and go skiing.

"Somewhere in the middle of a Telluride powder field several years ago, the young engineer had an epiphany as he wrestled with a pair of mass-produced skis: Why can't that same process that works for customized golf clubs be used for designing skis?

"'Everyone skis differently so . . . why not make skis differently?' said Wagner, whose Wagner Custom Skis shop downstream from Telluride is in its fourth year."

According to the article, the supply of exclusive skis has ballooned in the past five years, with almost two dozen boutique skimakers opening shops in the U.S. More than half of those are in Colorado.

"'It's the way it used to be. Over in Europe, there used to be hundreds of regional skimakers making skis tuned to their particular mountains. Then it went down to four or five major companies and now it's coming back, just like the microbreweries flourishing in the U.S.,' said Eric Edelstein, owner of the Web site exoticskis.com, which tracks boutique ski builders around the globe."

Instead of buying equipment that could only make a certain shape of ski, Wagner bought a computer-controlled milling machine, which eliminated the need for ski molds. Rather than rely on overseas labor, he assembled a team of skier pals who take an artist's pride in each pair of skis they make. A photo in the article shows a worker cutting through metal as he crafts a ski at the Wagner shop.

Yesterday, I read about actress Natasha Richardson being seriously injured during a ski lesson in Canada. While skiing injuries reportedly are on the decline, snowboarding injuries are rising as the sport becomes more popular. Some of these injuries affect ankles, and as some who've had an ankle injury can attest, they can lead to chronic ankle instability, particularly if untreated initially.

This is where operating table innovation comes into play. In February, suburban Chicago's Daily Herald published an article about Dr. Robert Lim's exclusive fix for chronically injured ankles.

According to the article, "traditional surgical procedures for ankle instability call for either sewing together a torn ligament, or taking a tendon from elsewhere in the body to fix the ligament.

"The methods were developed in the 1950s and '60s, and can take half a year or more for recovery that may leave people able to walk, but not play sports.

"Lim thought there had to be a better way. Ten years ago, he came up with an idea to create an artificial ligament. He uses tiny screws with metal eyelets to anchor suture material from the fibula, the bony bump on the outside of the ankle, to the talus, the joint on which the ankle pivots. Collagen or scar tissue can form along the new ligament and reinforce it."

Lim, who is a team podiatrist for the Chicago Fire professional soccer team and U.S. National soccer teams, said he has performed the procedure successfully on 252 patients, but he has not published a peer-reviewed study of its results.

Working within their areas of interest and expertise, Wagner and Lim came up with innovative ideas and acted on them. You can do the same. Pay closer attention to those sometimes fleeting thoughts that occur as you perform your job or go about your daily life. They just might hold the key to your own great, marketable idea.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209