Creativity is considered a gift bestowed upon a selected few. In workplaces, ‘the creatives’ are known to find unusual solutions to some pervasive problems – customer loyalty, product branding, team motivation, etc. The good news is that everyone can do this. And not by thinking outside the box. But by staying inside it. Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg, authors of ‘Inside the Box’, show that better innovation happens when you:

  • Work inside an environment/ world that is familiar.
  • Generate solutions independent of any specific problem.
  • Use simple techniques to generate new solutions.

Together, they created the Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) model, which provides a structure for innovation. SIT recommends five specific techniques that retrain the way our brain thinks about problem solving. These are based on psychologist Robert Finke’s research, who says:

  • People are better at starting with a solution and then finding a problem that fits the solution.
  • Most surprising ideas are right in front of us – unassuming, and connected to our current reality.

With this as a context, let’s look at the five techniques of SIT:

  1. Subtraction refers to removing elements from a process or product, to arrive at a form that is different from the original. It eliminates fixedness, by asking people to imagine their idea/ problem without an essential component, and make do with the remaining. Removing the liquid from soup, to sell soup powder is subtraction. So is D-I-Y Ikea furniture, as well as lean teams.
  2. Task Unification brings together completely unrelated concepts. Using gamification to strengthen healthy habits, is a potent example. Samsonite, the travel-bag company, employed task unification to use the heavy weight of college backpacks to their advantage. The straps of their bags are shaped such that they press into the wearer’s shoulders at strategically located shiatsu points, to provide a soothing massage. The heavier the bag, the deeper the massage!
  3. Multiplication uses modified versions of the same idea to achieve different impact. For example, employee recognition acts as a catalyst for a person’s ‘purpose’. When shared with external stakeholders, it shows a more human face of the company, helping increase market-share and brand loyalty. Another example is of Gillette double blade razors. The first blade pulls up the hair so that it’s unable to retract into the skin before the second blade, set at a slightly different angle, cuts it off.
  4. Division is a practice that separates out elements of a process or idea, and then rearranges them in a way that is thought to be unworkable. Sensor controlled smart TVs are a great example, where the control functions are independent of a remote. In organizations, this could be akin to shuffling of teams, like lateral movements – put a client services person in the programming team, and vice-versa. How would that be?
  5. Attribute Dependency comprises bringing together elements, which change in response to other surrounding elements. An example is photo-chromatic glasses, which become dark when it’s sunny, and lighten up in dark spaces. Crisis Intervention teams comply with this. They have other roles to tend to, but when there is a policy violation like sexual harassment, their role changes.

According to Boyd and Goldenberg, “The key to being consistently innovative is to create a new form for something familiar and then to find a function it can perform.” Ready to tackle something differently now?

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