Innovation Through Task Unification

by Drew Boyd

Innovation Through Task UnificationThe famous inventor, Thomas Edison, lived in a beautiful home. But something was unusual about the gate that led into his house. His visitors had to push the gate very hard to open it, and then again very hard to close it. It seemed odd that such a successful inventor like Thomas Edison wouldn’t fix his gate. Rumor has it that Thomas had attached a pump to his gate so that every time someone opened or closed it, they were pumping fresh water into the plumbing system of the house.

This is a great example of the innovation technique called Task Unification. Task Unification is defined as the assignment of additional tasks to an existing resource. That resource can be a component of a product or service. Or it can be something in the immediate vicinity of the product or service.

Think back to the story of Thomas’s gate. The gate has its primary job of letting visitors through, but it also has the additional job of pumping water. That’s not all to the story. The guests coming to visit Thomas are also a resource. They have their primary job of being friends of Thomas. But now they have the additional job of activating the gate to open and close it.

To use Task Unification, begin by listing the product’s internal components as well as the external components, the things right around where the product is being used. You select a component and assign it an additional task. That creates the virtual product. Using Function Follows Form, you look for potential benefits, and you modify or adapt the concept to improve it.

There are three ways to apply Task Unification:

One way is to have an internal component take a job of another internal component. Think of it as that component is stealing the function of the other component. Here is an example.

  • Innovation Through Task UnificationWhat you see here looks like an ordinary coffee maker. In fact,this product has a clever little innovation inside. The coffee maker’s filter has the additional job of measuring just the right amount of coffee to use given how much water was put in. It gives you the perfect brew every time.

You could also have an internal component take the job of an external component.

  • Innovation Through Task UnificationNissan, the Japanese auto maker, has a nifty idea to make it easier to fill your tires with air. The car’s horn will beep to let you know when you’ve reached the right tire pressure. It’s called the Easy Fill Tire Alert. In this example, the car horn steals the job of the tire pressure gauge.

You could also have an external component steal the job of an internal component.

  • Innovation Through Task UnificationHere’s an example from a grocery store in Korea. They placed billboards in train and subway stations that show their products on the shelves just the way you would see it in a store. Commuters use their smartphones to scan the products they need. That shopping list is sent to the grocery store so the commuter can stop by on the way home to pick up the groceries. In this example, they assigned the subway billboards the additional task of becoming the point-of-sale. Very convenient and it saves times.

Here’s another example of an external component being assigned the additional job of an internal component. It’s a concept called Play Pump. It’s a child’s merry-go-round, the kind you would see on a playground. They don’t know it, but as they play on it, they’re also turning a pump to pump fresh water out of a well and into a holding tank. It’s used in small villages in sub Sahara Africa where finding and pumping water is difficult. The kids of the village have the additional job of providing water to the community.

That almost sounds a lot like Thomas Edison and his water pumping gate! And that’s why Task Unification can lead you to some pretty clever ideas.

image credit: hand pushing image from bigstock

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Drew Boyd is co-author of “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results.” Follow him at and at @DrewBoyd/drewboyd