Powers of 10 One: Molecular

The most micro view of the PuriNOx technology is the chemistry on the molecular level—the creation of water molecules that can be sus­pended in the oil. The way to mix water and oil is to shred or shear the water into droplets so small that they can be “hidden” in the fuel molecules. The water is actually suspended inside the diesel fuel. The people who concern themselves with the chemistry are the technolo­gists at Lubrizol, the ones who actually invented the technology. But there are other concerned parties (for starters, the Lubrizol execu­tives who invest in the technology and envision the product’s com­mercial success). As mentioned earlier, historically Lubrizol has not been a marketing-focused company. It has been driven by chemical innovation and technical development. Marketing and brand identity took a backseat to the technology. Not in the case of PuriNOx or EHF, however. Lubrizols traditional approach needed to change. The company hired an advertising agency to promote this wonderful new innovation. The first problem came when the ad agency, anoth­er stakeholder at the most micro level, looked at the molecule that was formed around water droplets, the chemistry that allowed the water to be suspended in the diesel fuel. The agency reaction was that the new molecular structure looked like one of the early sex-educa­tion movies used to show an egg being impregnated by sperm. In the agency’s opinion, the smaller molecules that encapsulated the water droplets looked a lot like sperm cells! It was a toss-up as to who was more concerned about this potential comparison—the upper man­agement of a conservative company or the ad agency afraid of the jokes that their ads might provoke. So they did what any self-respect­ing agency would do: They found another way to visualize the new miracle molecule.

They ended up making it look like a new type of candy with a chocolate center, a caramel second coating, and an outer coating of chocolate. It turned out to be an interesting collaboration. The ad agency was not used to promoting micro-level molecules as a prod­uct, and the company was not used to promoting itself. To make things even more interesting, the original team of chemists and inventors were not happy that their innovative complex molecule now looked like a new type of junk food. This was the first Powers of 10 challenge. Another challenge was a concern about showing too much detail regarding the construction of the molecule and the chemistry. Reveal too much, and Lubrizol could be giving away valuable trade secrets. The ad firm and technologists should have worked to tell the story about the insight that led to the innovation rather than focus on the look of the molecule itself. The answer from the Powers of 10 analysis was not to corrupt the way the molecule works but to talk about the innovation and its potential impact.

Updated: October 3, 2015 — 4:36 pm