Now that we’re in the season of barbecues and beer, let’s delve into innovating using constraints. For this post we’ll look at innovating how we eat corn on the cob, so we should probably call them “Cornstraints” (Sorry, couldn’t resist😉 )
Typically, eating corn on the cob is a delicious but messy process because the cob can be slathered with butter, salt, pepper, mayo, pepper sauce, etc. (Corn must be delicious! – User applied constraints). Most people don’t want this on their fingers (Keep fingers clean –A user applied constraint). Not to mention, corn cobs are remarkably efficient at retaining heat (an inherent constraint), so holding them at the ends can be challenge if they were recently plucked out of boiling water.
Doing a quick Google search shows people are pretty much dealing with these constraints already.
Most innovations in this space deal with ways of holding the corn. Inserting sticks or holding the ears of the corn seem to be the most common solutions. Using napkins or some other intermediate device are also ways of minimizing mess, improving grip, and increasing comfort.
How else can we improve the eating experience?
- Who says we have to hold it? It’s a choice – a user applied constraint. We can, as some people with dental work do, cut off the corn and eat it with a fork. We can also use a power drill (as has been done by some folks on YouTube) but this brings up whether we should ignore another user applied constraint: All the kernels need to end up in the mouth . We could also design a corn stand that holds the cob for us; or for that matter, we could ask a friend to hold it for us so we don’t get our own hands gummed up. This then brings up a possible constraint: Eating Corn on the Cob shouldn’t cause us to lose friends.
- Since the center of the cob is often hot, what if we cook the corn without heating the core? Think of ways to do this and have fun with solar heaters or blow torches! For that matter, let’s work with the reverse of the constraint (Corn needs to be served hot) and create a delicious COLD corn dish! What about chemically ‘cooking’ the corn? We can use enzymes or chemicals to convert the corn into something delectable and yet cool. Or what if we slice the corn cob into 1/4″ slices so that corn chips takes on a new meaning?😉 Since they’re thinner, the centers will cool faster and be easier to hold. Plus, the corn can now be dipped into whatever sauce we want! We ignore one user constraint (Corn cob must be whole) and turn another on its head (The entire cob must be slathered with the same substance)
- The center of the cob is typically not edible (Inherent Constraint). So let’s make it edible! Can we inject it with something prior to cooking it so that it softens and tastes good?
I could go on, but let’s take a look at what I’ve done.
At the heart of all the above ideas is a questioning of the constraint. Why do we have to buy in to the constraint? Let’s change it. Who cares if it’s inherent in the product – work around it! Personally I like looking at the opposite of what the constraint implies and then find a way to make that reality. What’s very interesting (and fruitful!) is that as one starts playing with the alteration of constraints, new constraints inevitably pop up. This makes sense because once constraints get changed, the whole context can change. This change in context demands that we ask new questions and probe the new constraints that are formed.
So, the next time you’re eating corn on the cob, think about ways of changing the eating experience. It might make for a great discussion at a party! I’d love to hear your ideas for changing the experience by experimenting with cornstraints.