Systematic Inventive Thinking: the Innovation "Algorithm"
Systematic Inventive Thinking, or SIT™ for short, is based on thoughts originally formulated by the Russian marine engineer Genrich Altshuller (1926-1998).
Altshuller compiled common principles for hundreds of thousands of patents and inventions into a method of approaching problems in technology and engineering. These common principles function as an algorithm: decision rules to find better solutions.
SIT™ has later been adapted to the fields of new product development, marketing and advertising.
The effectiveness of SIT™ has been proven in empirical studies. There are hundreds of SIT™ consulting companies in over 20 countries. It is taught in universities and business schools like INSEAD, the London School of Business, and Harvard Business School.
SIT™ is based on three principles:
The SIT™ process has five steps: taking inventory, pattern application, visualizing, testing and iteration.
The steps follow the actions of MacGyver when he tries to escape from prison. Step 1: he takes inventory. What does he have in his cell to play with?(spoiler alert: a bed).
Step 2 and 3. Applying patterns. He remembers the slingshot he had as a boy. He proceeds to make a slingshot out of the bed, by cutting the bed up into parts (cutting pattern). He attaches the spiral bottom to the prison door. This turns the mattress into a spring which force depends on the force the guards apply when they open the door (dependence pattern). The mattress is projectile and airbag at the same time (double pattern).
Step 4. He cobbles the whole thing up, tests its firmness and readjusts here and there. It should work.
1. Taking Inventory
Taking inventory means making a list of a concept's immediate environment. It consists of both internal (to the concept) and external (related to the concept) components. In the next step, the thinking patterns are applied to the components.
2. Thinking Patterns
In SIT™, you're letting the patterns follow their own way. This means that you're letting go of the problem you want to solve until step 4.
So: take your list of components and apply a pattern. What happens to your concept if you cut out an attribute or double its functionality? How can you keep the concept working? Try to visualize it.
- 1Splitting a component into attributes, physically or functionally
- 2Cutting core atttributes from a component, while keeping the concept's function intact somehow
- 3Copying attributes and applying a qualitative change
- 4Doubling the functionalities of attributes by giving them extra functions from the near vicinity
- 5Creating or removing a dependency between functions
Examples of the Thinking Patterns:
3. Define and Visualize
After applying the patterns, you will have a list of possible concept. Do not judge these concepts yet, no matter how strange they seem. Too often, managers quickly filter out concepts because their value to customers isn’t immediately apparent or they seem useless at first. So did a bad superglue, that later became a re-usable glue for sticky notes.
4. Should / Could We?
Once you have consciously visualized possible concepts, and only then, you can begin to think about its potential function. Are there any conceivable customer needs that this form might satisfy? What benefits might it offer that existing products don’t? What drawbacks does it have compared with existing products? What are the challenges to alleviating these shortcomings? If they can be alleviated, what is the market potential of this product? Are we as a company well positioned to take advantage of that potential? Do we even have the capabilities to produce the product?
The best insights occur after say three rounds of step 2, 3 and 4. So go ahead and play with attributes. Have fun with it!
SIT Delivers in Level 4 Situations
I use it for innovation in business contexts of level 4 uncertainty: when you're confronted with disruption and have no clue to overcome it. A level 4 means that there's no data to use for forecasts, experts are disagreeing, and there's nobody within the organization who has experienced this type of disruption before.
In level 4 uncertainty, most managers find it extremely hard to come up with new strategic options. They're fixated on how the disruption is playing out, which can't be done. So: stuck in data gathering.
In my experience, it's better to take disruption as a given and refocus on solutions. This means that you're no longer examining the disruption itself but how you can use your assets to function in the new normal: innovation of products, services, and processes.
Managers can easily come up with innovations when they can apply clear patterns. That makes Systematic Inventive Thinking an excellent tool to get innovative 😉
Anytime you need to innovate, you may want to give this tool a try.