the sit method

Creativity is the holy grail of corporate America – what every business and organization needs in order to survive and thrive. Countless books promise to explain how to make creative thinking part of corporate culture, but nearly all argue that you need to think “outside the box” to be truly original and innovative. Now, acclaimed management experts Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg claim the opposite in INSIDE THE BOX: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results (Simon & Schuster; June 11, 2013; $28.50). Drawing on decades of cutting-edge research and real-world experience, they share the principles and techniques of a method that has worked brilliantly for corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Philips Electronics, Samsonite, Pearson Education, and many others seeking to institute systematic creative thinking, and has been shown to be far superior to “outside the box” methods.

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a method to innovate

The traditional view of creativity is that it’s unstructured and doesn’t follow any rules or patterns. It holds that you should start with a problem and then “brainstorm” ideas without restraint until you find a solution; that you should “go wild” making analogies to things that have nothing to do with your products, services, or processes; that straying as far afield as possible will help you come up with a breakthrough idea. In short, that you need to think “outside the box.”

Drew Boyd & Jacob Goldenberg

Taking a counterintuitive approach, Boyd and Goldenberg show that more innovation – and better and quicker innovation – happens when you work inside your familiar world (yes, inside the box) using what they call templates. They do not make this claim lightly. In fact, they rely on pioneering academic research into the creative process conducted by Goldenberg and his associates, which established that inventive solutions have an underlying logic that can be defined and taught to others. Equally important, they also draw on Boyd’s twenty-five years of hands-on experience in leading successful innovation initiatives in the corporate world.

 

The authors write: “We should warn you: the book takes a different attitude toward creativity from the conventional view. We don’t see a creative act as an extraordinary event. We don’t believe it is a gift that you either have or don’t have from birth. Rather, we believe creativity is a skill that can be learned and mastered by anyone. In that way, creativity is not that different from other skills people acquire in business or in life. Like other skills, the more you practice it, the better you’ll be. In this book, we want to raise the curtain and reveal a fascinating world that hides right in front of you – inside the proverbial box.”

 

Moreover, Goldenberg and his partners studied hundreds of highly innovative products to see what made them different. To their surprise, they discovered that this wide variety of products – which you’d think would be quite different from one another – actually shared common patterns that can be formed into templates. These templates regulate our thinking and channel the creative process in a way that makes us more – not less – creative.

 

Most surprising of all, the research found that the majority of new, inventive, and successful products result from only five templates, which form the basis of the innovation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) – or inside-the-box thinking. In the twenty years since its inception, this method has been expanded to cover a wide range of innovation-related phenomena in a variety of contexts. By using the inside-the-box method, companies have produced breakthrough results in many types of situations and in every part of the world.

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the five techniques

In INSIDE THE BOX, Boyd and Goldenberg focus on the five basic techniques and a set of principles that are at the core of their method and make it unique:

Subtraction

Innovative products and services often have had something removed, usually something that was previously thought to be essential. Discount airlines subtracted the frills. Removing the ear covers from traditional headphones gave us “ear buds.” Subtracting the polymer from permanent markers created the dry-erase marker. Defying all logic, Apple took out the calling feature of its popular iPhone to create the iTouch, and has sold sixty million of them since. Likewise, Philips used SIT’s subtraction technique to create a slimmer, cheaper, and easier-to-use DVD machine by developing a device controlled by a handheld remote rather than by a confusing array of buttons and displays on the front of a bulky box.

DIVISION

Many creative products and services have had a component divided out and placed somewhere else, usually in a way that initially seemed unproductive or unworkable.  Food manufacturers like Kraft Foods offer individually wrapped single-serving portions of popular snacks thanks to the “Division” pattern. Time-share arrangements on condos divide ownership over time, while preserving the characteristics of the entire home.

Multiplication

When using this technique, a component has been copied but changed in some way, usually in a way that initially seemed unnecessary or odd.  For instance, children’s bicycles have regular wheels plus two smaller “training wheels” attached to the rear wheel to keep the bicycle steady while the child learns how to ride.  “Picture-in-picture” TVs were a big hit because they allowed people to watch one show while keeping track of what was happening on another channel.

task unification

Certain tasks can be brought together and unified within one component of a product or service – usually a component that was previously thought to be unrelated to that task.  Odor-Eaters socks keep you warm and deodorize your feet. Facial moisturizers now have the additional task of providing sunscreen protection. Advertisers have used this technique for years, placing ads on moving objects such as taxis and buses.

attribute dependency

In many innovative products and services, two or more attributes that previously seemed unrelated now correlate with one another.  As one thing changes, something else changes. Cars use this pattern a lot: windshield wipers that change speed as the amount of rain changes, radio volume that adjusts according to the speed of the car, and headlights that dim automatically for oncoming cars, for instance.  Smart phones provide information about restaurants, locations of nearby friends, and shopping preferences depending on your current location.

two key principles

According to Boyd and Goldenberg, using the Five Templates correctly relies on two key principles. The first is the Closed World Principle – the notion that the best and fastest way to innovate is to look at resources close at hand. The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright followed this principle when he created the spectacularly beautiful and unique home in Pennsylvania called Fallingwater. He used existing rocks, streams, and elements around the home as part of the building, visualizing all of the environmental components as part of the Closed World.

 

The second principle requires retraining how your brain thinks about problem solving. Most people think the way to innovate is to start with a well-defined problem and then try to think of solutions. In the inside-the-box approach, it is just the opposite. You start with an abstract, conceptual solution and then work back to the problem that it solves. This is called the Function Follows Form Principle (the opposite of the famous “form follows function” principle, which dates back to 1896 and architect Louis Sullivan).

As the authors report, researchers have found that people are better at searching for benefits for given configurations (starting with a solution) than they are at finding the best configuration for a given benefit (starting with the problem). For example, imagine being shown a baby’s milk bottle and being told that it changes color as the temperature of the milk changes. Like most people, you would instantly grasp that it would help to make sure you didn’t burn the baby with milk that is too hot. Now imagine you were asked the opposite question: How can we make sure we don’t burn a baby with milk that is too hot? How long would it take you to come up with a color-changing milk bottle? Without being guided by the Function Follows Form Principle in the application of one of the Five Templates (in this case Attribute Dependency), you might never arrive at such an idea.

a practical guide to innovation

Inside the Box provides corporate executives, engineers, marketing professionals, organizational leaders, and creative people of all types with a practical, working guide to begin innovating in everyday life. You no longer need to wait for a crisis to consider creative solutions. You don’t have to wait for inspiration, for the muse to descend, or otherwise depend on some sort of unusual spark of brilliance to create something. By following Boyd and Goldenberg’s inside-the-box method, you can create new and exciting things – or conceive new and exciting ideas – on demand.

 

To encourage readers to begin using the method right away, the authors present scores of examples where these techniques have been used across a wide range of industries, products, services, and activities. Many are real-life cases from Goldenberg’s international consulting and training company, also called Systematic Inventive Thinking. Boyd and Goldenberg write:

“Our goal for this book is to make the inside-the box approach accessible to anyone in any field and in any part of life, personal or professional. Together we hope to show you how to work inside the box to use your brain in a different way, and produce innovations that you would never have imagined otherwise. And here’s the almost magical thing about inside-the-box thinking: the more you learn about the method, the more you will start to see how it can be applied to solve tough problems and create all sorts of breakthroughs in the world around you. You’ll find your eyes open to a whole new world of innovation.”
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SUBTRACTION

Despite a seemingly worldwide push for “more, more, more,” the SIT method shows that sometimes more comes from less. The Subtraction Technique encourages innovators to remove something from an existing product or service. This is often something that was previously thought to be essential to the product or service, but removing it could help removing the ear covers from traditional headphones gave us “ear buds” placed inside one’s ear. Subtracting the polymer from permanent markers created the dry-erase marker. Defying all logic, Apple took out the calling feature of its popular iPhone to create the iTouch and has sold sixty million iTouches since.

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DIVISION

You’ve heard the phrase “divide and conquer.” We like to say “divide and innovate.”Using the Division Technique, many creative products and services have had a component divided out of them and placed somewhere else in the usage situation, usually in a way that initially seemed unproductive or unworkable. Computer printers allow you to separate the ink cartridge for easy replacement. Remote controllers for products provide more convenience thanks to the division pattern.

multiplication-mobile

MULTIPLICATION

If one is good, two is better. It’s not always true, but as a technique for innovation, it certainly is the bill. With the Multiplication Technique, a component has been copied but changed in some way, usually in a way that initially seemed unnecessary or odd.For instance, children’s bicycles have regular wheels plus two smaller “training wheels” attached to the rear wheel to keep the bicycle steady while the child learns how to ride. The two wheels were multiplied (and changed slightly) to create a new product that appeals to a different audience.

TASK
UNIFICATION

The Task Unification technique takes multitasking to a whole new level. With some creative products and services, certain tasks have been brought together and united within one component of the product or service usually a component that was previously thought to be unrelated to that task. Facial moisturizers now have the additional task of providing sunscreen protection. Odor-Eaters socks keep you warm and have the additional job of deodorizing.

ATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY

Many work flow models are based on the premise of “if this, then that.” The Attribute Dependency Technique applies this line of thinking to creativity and innovation.In many innovative products and services, two or more attributes that previously seemed unrelated now correlate with one another. As one thing changes, something else changes. Today’s automobiles often use this pattern: windshield wipers that change speed as the amount of rain changes and radio volume that adjusts according to the speed of a car.

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a practical guide to innovation

Inside the Box provides corporate executives, engineers, marketing professionals, organizational leaders, and creative people of all types with a practical, working guide to begin innovating in everyday life. You no longer need to wait for a crisis to consider creative solutions. You don’t have to wait for inspiration, for the muse to descend, or otherwise depend on some sort of unusual spark of brilliance to create something. By following Boyd and Goldenberg’s inside-the-box method, you can create new and exciting things – or conceive new and exciting ideas – on demand.

 

To encourage readers to begin using the method right away, the authors present scores of examples where these techniques have been used across a wide range of industries, products, services, and activities. Many are real-life cases from Goldenberg’s international consulting and training company, also called Systematic Inventive Thinking. Boyd and Goldenberg write:

“Our goal for this book is to make the inside-the box approach accessible to anyone in any field and in any part of life, personal or professional. Together we hope to show you how to work inside the box to use your brain in a different way, and produce innovations that you would never have imagined otherwise. And here’s the almost magical thing about inside-the-box thinking: the more you learn about the method, the more you will start to see how it can be applied to solve tough problems and create all sorts of breakthroughs in the world around you. You’ll find your eyes open to a whole new world of innovation.”

Subtraction
Despite a seemingly worldwide push for “more, more, more,” the SIT method shows that sometimes more comes from less. The Subtraction Technique encourages innovators to remove something from an existing product or service. This is often something that was previously thought to be essential to the product or service, but removing it could help removing the ear covers from traditional headphones gave us “ear buds” placed inside one’s ear. Subtracting the polymer from permanent markers created the dry-erase marker. Defying all logic, Apple took out the calling feature of its popular iPhone to create the iTouch and has sold sixty million iTouches since.

Division

You’ve heard the phrase “divide and conquer.” We like to say “divide and innovate.”Using the Division Technique, many creative products and services have had a component divided out of them and placed somewhere else in the usage situation, usually in a way that initially seemed unproductive or unworkable. Computer printers allow you to separate the ink cartridge for easy replacement. Remote controllers for products provide more convenience thanks to the division pattern.

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Multiplication
If one is good, two is better. It’s not always true, but as a technique for innovation, it certainly ts the bill.With the Multiplication Technique, a component has been copied but changed in some way, usually in a way that initially seemed unnecessary or odd.For instance, children’s bicycles have regular wheels plus two smaller “training wheels” attached to the rear wheel to keep the bicycle steady while the child learns how to ride. The two wheels were multiplied (and changed slightly) to create a new product that appeals to a different audience.

Task Unification

The Task Unification technique takes multitasking to a whole new level. With some creative products and services, certain tasks have been brought together and united within one component of the product or service usually a component that was previously thought to be unrelated to that task.Facial moisturizers now have the additional task of providing sunscreen protection. Odor-Eaters socks keep you warm and have the additional job of deodorizing.

Attribute Dependency

Many work flow models are based on the premise of “if this, then that.” The Attribute Dependency Technique applies this line of thinking to creativity and innovation.In many innovative products and services, two or more attributes that previously seemed unrelated now correlate with one another. As one thing changes, something else changes.Today’s automobiles often use this pattern: windshield wipers that change speed as the amount of rain changes and radio volume that adjusts according to the speed of a car.