Remember the Sony Walkman? While it may seem quaint now, the Walkman was a revolutionary innovation in 1980—one with many skeptics. Even Sony’s chairman at the time, Akio Morita, was surprised by the market’s enthusiasm. With no recording function, the Walkman defied the idea of a “tape recorder.”
The Walkman demonstrates an innovation technique called Subtraction—one of five simple techniques anyone can use to produce new ideas. These methods trump brainstorming in generating more innovations in less time.
The traditional view of creativity requires thinking “outside the box.” Starting with the problem and then brainstorming without restraint. Stretching far afield to find that breakthrough idea.
Headed by one of the most prolific researchers in marketing and my co-author, Jacob Goldenberg, our study of the most successful innovations proves just the opposite. Published in the elite journal, Creativity and Innovation Management, the study finds that, more innovation—and better and quicker innovation—comes when you: work inside your familiar world; generate solutions independent of any specific problem; and use five simple techniques to generate solutions.
These five techniques are the heart of Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) and are based on patterns used for centuries to create new solutions. With SIT, you can extract those patterns and reapply them to anything:
Use of these patterns relies on two key ideas. First, you must re-frame how you generate ideas. People think the way to innovate is to start with a well-defined problem and then think of solutions. Our method reverses that belief. We start with a conceptual solution and then work back to the problem it solves.
The second key idea is called “The Closed World.” We tend to be most surprised with ideas “right under our noses,” and that are deceptively simple. While people think you need to go outside your current domain to innovate, the opposite is true. The most surprising ideas (“Gee, I never would have thought of that!”) are right nearby.
We have a nickname for “The Closed World”…we call it “Inside the Box.”
Drew Boyd is a 30-year industry veteran. He spent 17 years at Johnson & Johnson in marketing, mergers and acquisitions, and international development. Today, he trains, consults and speaks widely in the fields of innovation, persuasion and social media. He is the executive director of the Master of Science in Marketing Program and assistant professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati. Drew’s work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Industry Week, Psychology Today and Strategy+Business. Visit his blog, Inside the Box Innovation.
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