A beautiful, versatile material, but humans aren’t the only ones who like it.
Bugs like it.
Fungi like it,
Fire destroys it.
So how do we make it more robust?
Typical approaches are to chemically treat the wood. Soak it, coat it. But, some of those chemicals are downright nasty to humans and nature. Plus, they often need to be re-applied frequently to keep the wood in its peak resistant form.
Turns out there’s a simpler, more effective way of making wood resistant to fire, and to critters of all sizes.
In Japanese the technique is called Shou-Sugi-Ban. It’s been practiced there for at least 300 years, probably longer.
In English it’s called: Fire.
Yes, that’s correct. Burn the wood. Char it. The process destroys the cellulose and leaves charred lignin behind which is much harder to ignite. (Ever try starting a fire with cold charred wood? It’s possible but not easy)
From an innovation standpoint, I love the fact that Shou-Sugi-Ban is so counter-intuitive.
Often when people encounter a weakness in a material or design, the reflexive response is to avoid it. Design around it. This innovation hack embraces the weakness and capitalizes on it.
The technique is simple. Look at the negatives and see if you can control and/or exaggerate them in time or space to create a solution that renders the negatives powerless at a later time or place. In this case, fire is typically the end of wood. However, by putting fire at the beginning of the wood treating process, the wood becomes resistant to fire down the line.
Another example from the world of fire?
For years oil rig fires have been extinguished by using explosions, and now a similar technique is being explored to put out wildfires.
Other examples of this contradiction based technique have directly impacted the lives of millions.
Vaccines for one. By taking a pathogen and exposing the body to it in a controlled manner – Voila! Immunity!
There’s also Desensitization.
It’s used to cure people of allergies. A psychological version of desensitization is used to cure people of phobias. In both cases, people are exposed to the problem causing agent in a controlled manner. Like the wood of Shou-Sugi-Ban, they become resistant to the very things that made them miserable.
So, next time you have a product that has an Achilles heel, see if you can use that weakness as a strength by applying the weakness in a preemptive manner. The results could surprise you.