Category Archives: systematic creativity

Solution-to-Problem Innovation

FFFInnovation is the process of taking an idea and putting it into practice. Creativity, on the other hand, is what you do in your head to generate the idea, an idea that meets three criteria. An innovative idea must be new, useful, and surprising.

New means that no one else has done it before. Useful means that it delivers some new value for you or your customers. And surprising? It means that the market will be delighted with your latest innovation.

Most people think the way you create an idea is to start with a well formed problem and then brainstorm a solution to it. What if you turned that around 180 degrees - It sounds counterintuitive, but you really can innovate by starting with a solution and then work backwards to the problem. In the Systematic Inventive Thinking method, we call it the Function Follows Form principle. Here’s how it works.

First, you start with an existing situation. That situation can be a product. It can be a service, or perhaps a process. You take that item and you make a list of its components and attributes. Then, you apply one of the five thinking tools - They’re called Subtraction, Division, Multiplication, Task Unification, and Attribute Dependency. I know some of these sound mathematical, but they’re really not as you’ll see when you start applying them.

When you apply one of the five tools to the existing situation, you artificially change it. It morphs into something that, at first, might seem really weird or absurd. That’s perfectly normal. In fact, as you get more comfortable with this method, you’ll come to expect it. We consider this strange thing a Virtual Product. It doesn't really exist except in one place – right up here in your mind.

This step is really important. Take your time. You have to mentally define and visualize the virtual product. I like to close my eyes at this step and mentally see an image of the item once it’s be manipulated. As you practice the method more, this will get a lot easier.

At this next stage, you ask yourself two questions, and you do it in this specific order. First question is, should we do it? Does this new configuration create any advantage or solve some problem? Is there a target audience who would find this beneficial? Does it deliver an unmet need? We call this step the market filter. It’s a filter because if you cannot identify even the tiniest benefit at this step, you throw the concept out the window. You don’t waste anymore time on it. This is very different than other ideation techniques like Brainstorming where “there’s no bad idea.” Trust me! There are plenty of bad ideas, and if you realize one here, you eject it and you go back and re-apply the tool to generate a different concept.

If you do identify some benefit, then and only then do you ask yourself the second question: Can we do it? Do we have the technical know-how to make this concept? Is it feasible? Do we have the intellectual property? Are there regulatory or legal barriers? This step is the Implementation Filter, because, once again, if you have a great idea in theory but you have no way to make it, don't waste anymore time on it.

If you pass through both filters, you move to the Adaptations step where you allow yourself some degree of freedom to modify the concept to make it even stronger and deliver even more value. You may have to iterate through these steps several times before you end up with what I would consider an idea.

The Principle of Function Follows Form - innovating from the Solution to the Problem.

Breaking the Barriers to Creative Thinking

Intro-erase-boardWhat holds people back from being creative? Is it a lack of time? Do you not have a budget for doing creative work? Perhaps you work in an industry where there are lots of regulatory or legal barriers that seem to make it hard to generate novel ideas.

For many people, these types of constraints seem frustrating and overwhelming. They appear to be strict boundaries that seem to limit your ability to be creative.

But guess what? Surprisingly, constraints are not a barrier to creativity. In fact, constraints are a necessary condition for creativity to occur. Your brain works harder and smarter when given tight boundaries. The more constrained you are, the more creative you’ll be.

So what is it that seems to limit our creativity? The answer is a condition known as fixedness. Fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits our ability to see the world around us differently than what we’re used to. There are at least three types.

First is functional fixedness. Functional fixedness makes it hard for you to consider an object doing a job other than what it you know it to do. When you see a dry erase marker, for example, you instantly relegate it to the job of...well...marking. If you could force it in your mind to be available to do another job, you end up with a creative idea.

One of my pet peeves is when someone takes a permanent marker and writes on a white board. Okay, maybe I’ve done it once or twice. When that happens, take a regular dry erase marker and write over it. Voila! Permanent marks are gone! Now that’s creative.

The second type is structural fixedness. This type makes it really hard to imagine objects having a different structure than what we’re used to. Let’s go back to our dry erase marker. Why are these markers always straight? That’s fixedness. What if we could imagine a curved marker or perhaps one with a grip. Instead of holding it like a pencil, we can bend it so it fits in our hand better. Again, that’s creative.

Finally is what we call relational fixedness. This type of fixedness makes it very hard to imagine two objects having a relationship that wasn’t there before. As one object changes, the other object changes. Our mind doesn’t form these connections naturally because of relational fixedness.

Let’s go back to our marker example. What if it could change colors automatically when writing on different areas of the white board? Are there certain applications where that would be more convenient. When we find that application, we’ve generated a creative idea. We’ve broken through our fixedness to create new value.

We all have all three types of fixedness, and they hold back our ability to generate new possibilities. The good news is that you can break all three types. Learn more here.

 

 

Breaking the Barriers to Creative Thinking

Intro-erase-boardWhat holds people back from being creative? Is it a lack of time? Do you not have a budget for doing creative work? Perhaps you work in an industry where there are lots of regulatory or legal barriers that seem to make it hard to generate novel ideas.

For many people, these types of constraints seem frustrating and overwhelming. They appear to be strict boundaries that seem to limit your ability to be creative.

But guess what? Surprisingly, constraints are not a barrier to creativity. In fact, constraints are a necessary condition for creativity to occur. Your brain works harder and smarter when given tight boundaries. The more constrained you are, the more creative you’ll be.

So what is it that seems to limit our creativity? The answer is a condition known as fixedness. Fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits our ability to see the world around us differently than what we’re used to. There are at least three types.

First is functional fixedness. Functional fixedness makes it hard for you to consider an object doing a job other than what it you know it to do. When you see a dry erase marker, for example, you instantly relegate it to the job of...well...marking. If you could force it in your mind to be available to do another job, you end up with a creative idea.

One of my pet peeves is when someone takes a permanent marker and writes on a white board. Okay, maybe I’ve done it once or twice. When that happens, take a regular dry erase marker and write over it. Voila! Permanent marks are gone! Now that’s creative.

The second type is structural fixedness. This type makes it really hard to imagine objects having a different structure than what we’re used to. Let’s go back to our dry erase marker. Why are these markers always straight? That’s fixedness. What if we could imagine a curved marker or perhaps one with a grip. Instead of holding it like a pencil, we can bend it so it fits in our hand better. Again, that’s creative.

Finally is what we call relational fixedness. This type of fixedness makes it very hard to imagine two objects having a relationship that wasn’t there before. As one object changes, the other object changes. Our mind doesn’t form these connections naturally because of relational fixedness.

Let’s go back to our marker example. What if it could change colors automatically when writing on different areas of the white board? Are there certain applications where that would be more convenient. When we find that application, we’ve generated a creative idea. We’ve broken through our fixedness to create new value.

We all have all three types of fixedness, and they hold back our ability to generate new possibilities. The good news is that you can break all three types. Learn more here.

 

 

The SIT Patterns in Thanksgiving Cooking Gadgets

by Darla Wilkinson (darla@drewboyd.com)

 

For many people this week’s Thanksgiving celebration will mean endless shopping, prepping, and cooking in anticipation of the big feast. The hours of slaving away in the kitchen usually seem worth it all once you sit and savor the joy shared by family and friends. And though every dish sprinkled with a pinch of love is the tastiest, none of us would slight a little help in the kitchen in order to make this one-day-a-year dinner a little less stressful for the chef.

So in the spirit of lending a helping hand, I’ve found 5 kitchen gadgets that can easily assist you this Thanksgiving holiday. And it just so happens they demonstrate the five patterns of the innovation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT).

  1. Infrared thermometerSUBTRACTION: The Subtraction Technique works by removing a component, preferably an essential one, then working backwards to imagine what benefits are created by just the remaining components. By removing the standard probe from the thermometer and adding an infrared device, this tool will allow you to see if your turkey is, in fact, ready while keeping your fingertips unburned and agile for other culinary tasks. The thermometer featured is the ThermoHAWK 420 Touchless thermometer.
  1. Triple timerMULTIPLICATION: The Multiplication Technique works by taking a component of the system, copying it, but changing it in some qualitative way. Like Subtraction, you take this new configuration and imagine benefits that it could deliver. The OXO Good Grips Triple Timer has multiplied the time-keeping feature by displaying not one but three timers on the screen. Each timer works independently from the other enabling you to make sure the turkey, potatoes, and pumpkin pie all finish right on time.
  1. Fat separatorTASK UNIFICATION: The Task Unification Technique works by taking an existing component and assigning it an additional job (that of another component or some new task). Holiday gravy demands only the best turkey broth. And thanks to the fat separator a standard liquid measuring cup has been turned into so much more. By adding a stopper to the spout and a filter to the top of the cup, turkey drippings are not only measured, but the fat and skin are filtered, leaving only the luscious broth to be poured out. The OXO Good Grips Fat Separator is featured.
  1. Divided rackDIVISION: The Division Technique works by taking a component of the product or the product itself, then dividing it physically or functionally. You re-arrange the parts to seek new benefits. Nothing spells disaster quite like seeing the Thanksgiving bird tumble to the ground when transferring it from your roasting pan to the cutting board. Thanks to the application of the division technique to the roasting rack, such tragedy can be avoided. By dividing the roasting rack in half lengthwise and attaching them with a pin, a chef can now pull the pen and slip both halves out from under the bird. The rack featured is the Cuisipro Roasting Rack.
  1. Voice activiated listATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY: The Attribute Dependency Technique works by creating (or breaking) a dependency between two attributes of the product or its environment. As one thing changes, another thing changes. This kitchen gadget can put an end to forgetting that one essential ingredient you remembered while washing the dishes. By pressing the button and speaking into your wall-mounted Smart Shopper, the gadget records each item on the display screen for you. You can later print out a list in a simple receipt form, saving you time from stopping to write down items or typing them in your phone.

Holiday meals will always be a labor of love. But thanks to the timeless templates used by innovators, these gadgets can be handy companions to preparing the best Thanksgiving feast yet.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers!

 

 

Breaking the Barriers of Creativity

Break_the_barriersWhat holds people back from being creative? Is it a lack of time? Do you not have a budget for doing creative work? Perhaps you work in an industry where there are lots of regulatory or legal barriers that seem to make it hard to generate novel ideas.

For many people, these types of constraints seem frustrating and overwhelming. They appear to be strict boundaries that seem to limit your ability to be creative.

But guess what? Surprisingly, constraints are not a barrier to creativity. In fact, constraints are a necessary condition for creativity to occur. Your brain works harder and smarter when given tight boundaries. The more constrained you are, the more creative you’ll be.

So what is it that seems to limit our creativity? The answer is a condition known as fixedness. Fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits our ability to see the world around us differently than what we’re used to. There are at least three types.

First is functional fixedness. Functional fixedness makes it hard for you to consider an object doing a job other than what it you know it to do. When you see a dry erase marker, for example, you instantly relegate it to the job of...well...marking. If you could force it in your mind to be available to do another job, you end up with a creative idea.

One of my pet peeves is when someone takes a permanent marker and writes on a white board. Okay, maybe I’ve done it once or twice.  When that happens, take a regular dry erase marker and write over it. Voila! Permanent marks are gone! Now that’s creative.

The second type is structural fixedness. This type makes it really hard to imagine objects having a different structure than what we’re used to. Let’s go back to our dry erase marker. Why are these markers always straight? That’s fixedness. What if we could imagine a curved marker or perhaps one with a grip. Instead of holding it like a pencil, we can bend it so it fits in our hand better. Again, that’s creative.

Finally is what we call relational fixedness. This type of fixedness makes it very hard to imagine two objects having a relationship that wasn’t there before. As one object changes, the other object changes. Our mind doesn’t form these connections naturally because of relational fixedness.

Look at our simple whiteboard marker. What if it could change colors automatically when writing on different areas of the white board? Are there certain applications where that would be more convenient. When we find that application, we’ve generated a creative idea. We’ve broken through our fixedness to create new value.

We all have all three types of fixedness, and they hold back our ability to generate new possibilities. The good news is that you can break all three types. But you need a set of cognitive tools to do it.

Where Great Ideas Come From

CuttingBoardTemplate

So where do great ideas come from? The answer might surprise you. Let’s look at the most successful rock band in history, The Beatles. In a biography of Paul McCartney  he shared his secret: “As usual for these co-written things, John often had just the first verse which was always enough. It was the direction it was the signpost and it was the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word, but it was the template”

Paul and John used a formula early in their careers to create many blockbuster songs. They’re not the only ones. Many artists, authors, songwriters, and composers also use templates of some form.

Agatha Christie, for example, wrote over 60 novels and has sold more books than anyone. She did it by using a very familiar template in each of her books. That template helped structure her thinking in a way that made her more creative. Interestingly, most creative people don't want you to know they use templates. It seems to take away from their creative genius, when in fact templates make them more creative.

Highly creative people aren't the only ones that use patterns. Innovators for thousands of years have used patterns into their inventions usually without realizing it. Those patterns are now embedded into the products and services you see around you. Think of them almost as the DNA of a product or service. Imagine if there was a way for you to extract that DNA and reapply it to the products and services that are important to you. This is the essence of a method called Systematic Inventive Thinking. We call it SIT for short.

With SIT, innovation follows a set of patterns that can be reapplied to any product, service, or process. What these patterns do is channel your ideation process. They regulate your thinking so that you can innovate in a systematic way on demand. Let’s learn more about these patterns.

Surprisingly, the majority of innovative products and services can be explained by just five patterns.

First is subtraction: this is the elimination of a core component - something that seemed essential at first.

Next is task unification: where a component of a product has been assigned an additional job. One that it wasn’t designed to do.  

Then there is multiplication: many innovative products have taken a component and copied it, but change the component in some counterintuitive way.

Then we have division: where you take a component, or the product itself and divide it along some physical or functional line and then rearrange it back into the product.

And finally attribute dependency: this is where a product has a correlation between two attributes of the product and its environment. As one thing changes, another thing changes.

These five patterns are a crucial foundation to driving innovation in your business. Learn how to use these patterns to help you invent new products, services, and processes here: Business Innovation at Lynda.com.

The Subtraction Technique: When Less is More

UntitledTake a look at these four items and tell me – what do they have in common? Here, you see an exercise bicycle, a package of powdered soup, a contact lens, and a child’s high chair, the kind that slips over the edge of the table.

Do you see it? Most people would answer that they're all consumer goods, or that they all provide convenience to the consumer. And while that’s true, that’s not what I’m looking for. Take a look at how they were constructed? Compare them to an early form of the product. Now do you see it?

Each of the items has had something subtracted from an original form of a product. The exercise bike has had the rear wheel removed. The powdered soup has had the water removed. What about the contact lens? It’s had the frame removed. And the child’s highchair has had the legs removed. All four of these products are examples of what can be created using the Subtraction Technique. Let me show you how to use it.

First, we define Subtraction as the elimination of an essential component rather than an addition of new systems and functions. To use the technique, follow the steps of the Function Follows Form principle. First, list the internal components. The internal components are those that are directly on or connected to the product.

Then, apply Subtraction by removing a component. Don't be bashful here – pick something that you think is essential to the product or service. Next, you visualize the resulting virtual product. Remember that the virtual product is an abstract configuration at this point and it may seem rather odd, and even absurd.

At this next stage, you ask yourself two questions, and you do it in this specific order. First question is, should we do it? Does this new configuration create any advantage or solve some problem? Is there a target audience who would find this beneficial? Does it deliver an unmet need?

If you identify some benefit, then you ask yourself the second question: Can we do it? Do we have the technical know-how to make this concept? Is it feasible? Do we have the intellectual property. Are there regulatory or legal barriers?

Once you complete this first round, the Subtraction Technique allows you to replace the function of the missing component. We first try to replace it with something from the Closed World, something in the immediate vicinity of the where the consumer uses the product. If not, we think of how we could import some technology or other component from outside the closed world.

Subtraction is a powerful technique because it breaks fixedness and forces you to mentally imagine all the remaining components delivering some new benefit.

Innovation Sighting: Task Unification and Drug Dispensing Contact Lenses


Contact-lens-dispenses-drug-lowers-eye-pressure-in-glaucoma-patientsMedical device makers have been trying for years to replicate the success of drug-eluting stents - devices that do a particular job while at the same time, delivering a therapeutic drug. Here's a new one that demonstrates the Task Unification pattern. Task Unification is defined as: assigning an additional task to an existing resource. That resource should be in the immediate vicinity of the problem, or what we call The Closed World. In essence, it's taking something that is already around you and giving it an additional job.

From UPI:

After 50 years of trying, researchers may have found an effective way to use contact lenses to deliver drugs for conditions treated with eye drops.

Glaucoma patients may soon be able to treat the condition using a lens that slowly releases medication to the eye, with some tests with monkeys suggesting the treatment method could be more effective than the standard eye drops, researchers at Harvard Medical School report in a new study.

The leading cause of irreversible blindness, glaucoma has no cure but doctors attempt to slow its development by prescribing drops for patients. The drops, however, often cause stinging and burning, and may be difficult for some patients to use, if they try to use them at all.

"If we can address the problem of compliance, we may help patients adhere to the therapy necessary to maintain vision in diseases like glaucoma, saving millions from preventable blindness," Dr. Joseph Ciolino, an ophthalmologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and an assistant professor at Harvard, said in a press release. "This study also raises the possibility that we may have an option for glaucoma that's more effective than what we have today."

Using a novel design, researchers created a contact lens with a thin film of drug-encapsulated polymers around its edges. The polymer film slows release of the drug -- previous attempts at a drug-eluting lens released medications far too fast -- while remaining on the side of the lens so its center remains clear for vision.

To get the most out of the Task Unification technique, you follow five basic steps:

1. List all of the components, both internal and external, that are part of the Closed World of the product, service, or process.

2. Select a component from the list. Assign it an additional task, using one of three methods:

  • Choose an external component and use it to perform a task that the product accomplishes already
  • Choose an internal component and make it do something new or extra
  • Choose an internal component and make it perform the function of an external component, effectively “stealing” the external component’s function

3. Visualize the new (or changed) products or services.

4. What are the potential benefits, markets, and values? Who would want this, and why would they find it valuable? If you are trying to solve a specific problem, how can it help address that particular challenge?

5. If you decide the new product or service is valuable, then ask: Is it feasible? Can you actually create these new products? Perform these new services? Why or why not? Is there any way to refine or adapt the idea to make it viable?

 

 

 

New: Innovate! App Brings Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) to Your Computer and Tablet


App-CoverWant innovation at your fingertips? Consider the Innovate! Inside the Box web application, which acts as a digital sherpa for Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT).

This web app (available for an annual subscription of $12) takes you inside the box and into the world of creativity. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can generate thoughtful, fresh ideas to solve a problem or improve a product.

For those who have yet to read “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results,” the SIT method uses techniques that evolved through research that examined thousands of innovative products, demonstrating that innovation is teachable and accessible to anyone. SIT refutes the traditional view of creativity, which is typically considered as thinking “outside the box” to find big ideas. The app harnesses this method to help you generate ideas digitally.

How to use the web app:

  • First register and create log-in credentials.
  • Once logged in (and paid), review the five techniques to understand how each one works and how to apply them.
  • View the sample project, Refrigerator, under My Projects. Review the Ideas List for examples of ideas generated with each technique. You may recognize some of these already from reading the book.
  • Create your own new project and follow the instructions on how to apply the SIT method techniques.
  • After applying the method(s), see the idea(s) you’ve generated. If you’re happy with your idea, the tool will allow you to write a more detailed description, get a new virtual product and share your breakthrough innovation via email, Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #InnovateInsidetheBox.

Tips to help you navigate the tool:

  • If you’re not sure where to start, you can always reference previous blogs and categories to view real life examples of each technique. Typically, I recommend starting a new project with subtraction because it helps address fixedness.
  • Remember the difference between a component and an attribute because you will kick your project off by listing both.
  • Don’t go outside of the Closed World. The Closed World includes only the resources available in the immediate area.
  • You have the ability to create groups and add others to your projects.

Professors and instructors who are interested in teaching a course about innovation may want to consider using the Innovate! Inside the Box web app as a supplement. Download the faculty instruction manual, which includes a course guide and suggested materials.