The Basics of Efficient Innovation

Innovation doesn’t need to be complex. There is no magic. You don’t have to wait for your flash of brilliance. And it doesn’t have to cost a dime.

Innovation practices are easy to internalize, to share, and to implement by anyone in your organization.

Research has shown that the ways in which new products and ideas are generated happen in countably few ways. One example, TRIZ, employs about 40 different techniques, and a widely published distillation or synthesis of TRIZ, called Systematic Inventive Thinking (Note 1), demonstrates that a significant number of innovations occur through just five paths. (See this document for a conversions between TRIZ and SIT.)

While we invite you to explore many ways for innovation, we want to focus on those five pathways since they represent an excellent start for conversations around innovation and product development.

But first…

Before we dive into the five techniques, let’s frame the process a bit. In general we want to start with an existing product or service or process, break it down into its components or functions, apply some change that creates a gap between capability and performance, and then assess the means by which we will restore the capability or performance through creativity repurposing other elements of the product or service or inserting better technology into the product to service. Often times technology might not have been known or existed at the time of an original products definition, so creating a gap can often provide the impetus but behind driving creativity.

Common Sequence of Steps for Idea Generation or Ideation — Here with the SIT changes (but they could be any changes)

We note briefly that applying a change to the product or service is intended to create a problem. Solving that problem can bring about new thinking, drive insertion of new or better technology, or drive new ways of using or manufacturing/providing that product or service. Making a change also promotes deep thinking into what it would take for the product or service to still perform as originally defined without that change.

As you can see, the SIT methods do not include “addition”, but the addition of newer or better technology is clearly top of mind in resolving the gap created by the change.

Subtraction

The first of the five techniques is called subtraction. In this technique we remove or subtract a key component of a product or service or process in order to examine the effect that this subtraction has on the product’s performance.

Multiplication

In this method, we multiply (once or more times) a key component (process step) while making a noticeable change. This method creates alternative pathways, flows, or additional and possible more diverse capacity to the original object.

Division

Division takes one element of the object and divides it (equally or unequally) in a manner similar to multiplication, but without adding any material or resources. Again, each new portion takes on its part of the total task while providing some opportunity to differentiate.

Task Unification

Here, we examine our product or service for ways in which one component can perform the same roles as another component, thus eliminating one component. We ask how component A might also perform the role of component B, and see what happens.

Attribute Dependency

In this final technique, we go back to the original product or service, examine the environment it lives in and assess how the product or service might react to external changes in that environment. Could the object respond to heat, light, gravity, movement, sound, chemical environment, or any of an almost infinite number of possible environmental factors?

Some Concluding Thoughts

It’s important to note that these methods can be combined and also applied recursively (repeatedly) to generate more complex deviations from the original object. This is a critical feature of the method since it may not make sense or add sufficient benefit or value to make one change alone.

The great news about any structured innovation system such as this is that ideas can be systematically logged, tracked, evaluated, and otherwise recorded for an historical record of both progress and pathways of success.

Finally, we can start with ANY product or service available. They don’t have to be your own. And each object embeds within it the sequence of changes from its predecessors to today, thus illustrating possible additional paths or paths with little hope of success.

Obviously, this is just a brief introduction, and it would benefit from some great examples, so watch this page for more updates. We’ll be adding examples of the five SIT methods so you can see how each method works, and see how they interact. Leave a comment with examples of your own!

Notes:

  1. It would be wrong not to credit Jacob Goldenberg and Drew Boyd for their excellent text, Inside the Box, covering the SIT methods. We didn’t invent it, but we sure like it for its simplicity and ease of explanation to folks of all ages.