Inventors Who Solve For Complexity


“Have you broken this thing yet? No? Well, then, you are running behind schedule.”

That’s what Peter Janicki, founding engineer of Janicki Industries and a speaker in our Back to Basics session, asks himself when he’s tackling each of the large and complex challenges his 600-person family-operated engineering firm specializes in solving. With a portfolio that includes major architectural projects, transportation, and now sanitation, they’ve created an ecologically sound, inexpensive toilet to help improve conditions in developing countries. Requiring no electricity, plumbing or even water, the toilet is self-contained, derives all of its energy from fecal matter input, and produces only a bit of ash. “It does seem almost too good to be true. That was the only way it was going to work economically,” says Peter.

Peter Janicki, Founding Engineer of Janicki Industries
Peter Janicki, Founding Engineer of Janicki Industries

Peter’s working philosophy – which has contributed to his company’s unique innovations – was shaped at an early age. Peter recalls being 12 years old and spending the day at work with his father in the family logging business. It was a long slog, and the kind of day when many things went wrong. It was also Friday – pay day.

“The entire crew, about 120 employees, were in the shop when my dad walked in. Right there were our own two dump trucks, completely smashed, from crashing into each other. There was dead silence as my dad walked over and inspected the trucks. The radiator and engine block on both engines were cracked. Without saying a word he walked out to his pickup truck and grabbed two cases of beer, set it on the workbench in the middle of the shop and said, ‘Boys, tonight the beer is on the house.’ And he sat and drank and visited with the crew for more than an hour. My dad never got mad at the crew when things went badly.

“This had a profound impact on how I interact with my crew today. I strive to create an environment where the penalty for failure is very small. This creates freedom because people are not scared. Freedom promotes innovation and innovation promotes rapid technology advancement.”

Optimizing for freedom to innovate is the principle that also powers MakerNurse, where co-founder Anna Young (another Back to Basics speaker and a Hive 2015 innovator) operates from a fundamental belief that nurses (and other healthcare providers) can create innovations that improve patient care when empowered with the right tools and unafraid to try. “The everyday ingenuity of people will solve many of the health technology challenges in healthcare today,” Anna shares.

Anna Young, Co-Founder of MakerNurse
Anna Young, Co-Founder of MakerNurse

MakerNurse creates Medical Maker Spaces with tool kits that are, essentially, “miniaturized” world-class medical device R&D facilities to create affordable DIY health technology solutions to customize care.

“The history of medical making runs deep through every part of the healthcare system,” Anna says. “We appreciate the end result, the life-saving technologies, but rarely acknowledge the 15 iterations of prototypes that were developed to get there.” She notes, for example, the balloon catheter, prototyped by Dr. Andreas Gruentzig on his kitchen counter in Switzerland, which led to the development of the interventional radiology department at Emory University. The technology and technique spread and today treats 500,000 people in the US each year.

“Our MIT lab was in the field looking for user innovators in hospitals around the world,” she says, adding that what they found, instead, was that “stealth health makers” were the ones adding the most value to the healthcare system.

“We found stealth medical making in hospitals all over… a stethoscope repaired with overhead transparencies, custom phototherapy masks for NICU patients and a DIY ambulance to transport patients in remote areas,” Anna tells us, noting that “healthcare is better when everyone is empowered to create devices.”