February 25, 2015

Build a phantom


Say you invent a new x-ray machine. (No, really.) How do you test it? If you point it at a human – and these things end in human trials – it damages them. That’s what x-rays do. In an ideal world, every time you tweaked a setting, you’d point it at the same human, lying in the same position, with the same amount of air in their lungs – every variable controlled out of existence.

With something as complex as x-rays, there’d be a lot to tweak. And that’s a lot of tests and a lot of damaging x-rays. The very act of testing changes the subject, and they don’t like sitting still in the first place.

Handily, there’s an engineering answer to this deeply human problem.

An industry has evolved to build phantoms – facsimiles of human tissue that behave like the real thing but that don’t wriggle around, breath, or get damaged in a way that affects the test or bothers the … um … host.

In the world of x-rays, phantoms are substantive thinking tools.

Build a phantom

I’m not particularly risk averse but when I only have one shot and the stakes are high, I build phantoms.

As simple as role playing a key presentation – where the phantom is a candid friend – or as complex as running a manufacturing order through a new line whilst still having the time and capacity to do it the traditional way. Phantoms test thinking and stretch systems before anything gets critical. Before it counts.

In the chasm between bet-the-farm decisions that are put under the microscope, and the day-to-day don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff, there’s a place to fire x-rays at phantoms. Where a simple test will light up the sensors and show you the cracks – before you put any weight on it, and before you fall on your face.

Skippy Strategy: What are you doing or changing in the next few months that’s high stakes? Anything critical to revenue or customers or morale or regulators? How could you test it out of the spotlight? Who would help?