Solgun Drevik – a woman’s best friend

Her name on 45 patents secures her a position as Sweden’s most recognized and prolific female inventor. How does Solgun Drevik manage to keep the creative fires burning? By wearing coloured hats!

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Six Thinking Hats is the title of a book by Edward de Bono, published in 1985, which describes a process of deliberately adopting a particular approach to a problem as an aid to lateral thinking. Six different approaches are described – each symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat (real or imagined). He suggests it may be done by individuals as well as groups.
The six hats are:

  • White for facts and simple observations.
  • Red for emotional reactions.
  • Black when examining negative aspects.
  • Yellow for reviewing positive aspects.
  • Green for creative approaches.
  • Blue for “meta” thinking.

Her name on 45 patents secures her a position as Sweden’s most recognized and prolific female inventor. How does Solgun Drevik manage to keep the creative fires burning? By wearing coloured hats!

Solgun Drevik’s office is adorned with plaster models of the female abdomen. She probably knows everything worth knowing about female anatomy, bodily fluids and the absorptive properties of cellulose. Drevik holds 45 patents, more than any other woman in Sweden, and is the longest-serving member of the Feminine Research and Development team at the international hygiene company SCA Personal Care.

Drevik explains that her choice of profession came naturally to her. “I am a very curious person, and I’ve always had a very inventive turn of mind,” she says. Drevik joined SCA’s development team straight out of engineering college, and after 18 years with the same company, she still loves her job, which she says “always lets me learn new things and solve new problems.”

One of her first breakthrough development projects was Libresse String, a complement to the thong. The new panty liner, launched at the end of the 1990s, proved an instant success – a phenomenon that Drevik attributes to a change in women’s attitudes. “The string underpant went from being regarded as a sort of erotic accessory to an alternative that was OK for everyday use by any woman.”

Drevik has had an interest in technical things from the time she was quite young. She remembers visiting the Haunted Mansion at Gothenburg’s Liseberg fun fair as a child. “I was too preoccupied in studying the technical solutions behind the scenes” to be afraid, she recalls. This technical interest was given an additional push during a two-week session at a helicopter squadron where her brother worked.

Drevik believes that the tendency to pick jobs that offer scope for creativity and problem-solving in the field of manufacturing may be something that runs in her family – her father, her grandfather, both her uncles and her husband have all worked for SKF at some point in their lives. Back in high school, she herself spent a summer at an SKF laboratory. And the family flair for problem-solving continues: “I’ve noticed that my two sons, 11 and 13, have a natural flair for finding new solutions to difficult situations,” she adds.

For inventors, the magic of creativity is as sought-after as it is exclusive. Drevik explains that some of her best ideas pop up at unexpected moments. “I sometimes wake up at 4 on a Saturday morning with an idea in my head. I can’t get back to sleep, so I sit down with pen and paper and jot down my thoughts. In general, I have found the best time for generating ideas is when you’re feeling a bit drowsy.”

But she renounces the myth of the genius, isolated and shut away from the world. “At work, I belong to a team. Tossing ideas back and forth is an active and very quick way to develop my ideas and to build on others.”

Teamwork is, in fact, crucial in Drevik’s unit. Most of the development work takes place in teams, which precludes proprietary thinking and prestige hang-ups if the process of collective idea-development work is to be successful. “You have to allow other people to grow and to enjoy watching it,” she says.

Brainstorming and tossing ideas around can be fine, but such sessions usually require a bit of structure to be really productive. One technique that Drevik and her colleagues have found very useful to stimulate parallel thinking and control the flow of ideas within a group is called “Six Thinking Hats” (see sidebar). The technique was developed by scholar Edward de Bono, who also coined the term “lateral thinking.”
Drevik exemplifies the technique: “During a brief period of, say, one minute we’re all wearing yellow hats, which means only positive aspects of a new idea are allowed to be voiced. When we change to white hats, only neutral facts are welcomed.” 

New ideas are necessary for a company to survive in the competitive global village. How can an organization encourage and follow up on idea generation and creativity amongst all staffers – irrespective of gender, education or formal position? Drevik says SCA runs an organized forum for ideas called Idéum, which welcomes suggestions from all employees. Every idea is evaluated by a committee of specialists – which also recommends possible further action – and all “inventors” receive a token of appreciation in the form of money or a small present.

Drevik uses many methods to keep her own creative fires burning. “Stimulation and inspiration from the outside are very important,” she says. “Spending time at our subsidiaries in other cultures has been very rewarding.”

The thing not to do, she says, is to keep your chal-lenges to yourself. “Sharing your thoughts and problems with others is important,” Drevik says. “If your coffee-break colleagues know what you’re mulling over, there is a good chance someone might come up with something useful back in his or her office.”

The word “problem” stirs negative connotations with many people, but for Drevik, it’s her lifeblood. “I constantly need new problems to work on, whether they are technical issues or marketing matters such as advertising,” she says. “And I always need feedback on how I managed to solve them.”

And, she says, sanitary pads continue to offer a range of challenges. Shifting consumer tastes and technological advances have turned the industry into a battlefield for inventors and patent professionals.  Tomorrow’s products may well include pads with sensors that send SMS to users when it’s time to change. It would seem Drevik’s thirst for problem-solving could remain unquenched for the foreseeable future.


Name: Solgun Drevik
Born: 1966 in Gothenburg, Sweden
Family: Married, with two children
Career: Joined SCA in 1986, will soon hold 45 patents
Slogan: “Go for it!”






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