Jorge Odon owned a garage in Buenos Aires.
In 2006, one of his mechanics was demonstrating a trick he’d seen on YouTube.
How to extract a cork that was rolling around inside an empty wine bottle.
The other mechanics tried shaking the bottle, spearing the cork, nothing worked.
So he showed them how it was done: twist a plastic bag until it’s long and thin, then thread it into the neck of the bottle and blow into the bag so that, as it inflates, it traps the cork against the glass side.
Then slowly pull the bag out, the bag holds the cork and the cork pops out.
For a mechanic like Jorge, this was counter-intuitive, it shouldn’t work but it did.
It had to be useful for something more than a party trick.
And it stayed with him, nagging at him, what could it be used for?
Until one night he sat up in bed and he thought of women giving birth.
At the time Jorge didn’t know the exact numbers, but he knew there was a problem.
The numbers actually are: 13.7 million women a year suffer birth complications.
5.6 million babies are stillborn, or die soon after – 260,000 women die in childbirth.
In the developed world, for an obstructed labour, the safe answer is a caesarean section.
But in most of the world the only resort is forceps or a suction cup.
Forceps are large, rounded pincers, unchanged for four hundred years.
Wrongly used, they can result in a haemorrhage, crushed skull, or twisted spine.
Jorge got a jar from the kitchen and his daughter’s doll and began to experiment.
Eventually he developed a way to insert a polythene bag until it surrounded the baby’s head then gently pulled it out.
(The baby didn’t need to breath, it got oxygen via the umbilical cord.)
A friend introduced him to an obstetrician, who was sceptical about listening to a car mechanic but arranged a meeting with the chief obstetrician at Buenos Aires hospital.
He was also sceptical about listening to a car mechanic, but arranged for him to meet the head of the World Health Organisation, who was lecturing in Buenos Aires.
Dr. Merialdi was sceptical about listening to a car mechanic, but agreed to ten minutes.
Ten minutes became two hours, then he arranged research at Des Moines University.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Becton Dickinson & Co invested $20 million in producing the design.
Now it’s in development and Jorge has already witnessed it deliver 30 healthy babies.
It will sell to the developing world for 25% of the price it sells for in the developed world.
All because Jorge, a mechanic, came up with the solution before the problem.
As Dr. Merialdi said: “An obstetrician would have tried to improve the forceps or the vacuum extractor, but obstructed labour needed a mechanic. And ten years ago this would not have been possible, without YouTube, he would not have seen the video.”
Sometimes the answer comes before the question.
John Webster’s office always had a wall full of great techniques that he knew he was going to use one day, and he always did.
Charles Saatchi would say to creatives: “Don’t throw that away” when he rejected something, knowing it would be useful later.
Ron Collins had a collection of post cards and books he knew he would use one day.
At GGT, we had a bookcase full of video techniques waiting for anyone to use if they fitted an idea.
We had a motto I learned from working with John Webster: “The best time to look for an idea is before you need it.”
Or, as Helmut Krone said: “Sometimes you make the revolution, then you decide what it’s for.”