System Inventive Thinking(SIT) is a structured method towards creativity and innovation.
The method exists of five ‘templates’ for innovation. Each template exists of five steps. The steps differ slightly per template.
SIT was ‘invented’ in Israel. If you want to know the full background of SIT you need to read the disertation paper by Roni Horowitz. In the acknowledgement Horowitz thanks his colleague, Dr. Jacob Goldenberg, who is one of the authors of Inside the Box (2013). That book also describes SIT and it became a bestseller. As a consequence, SIT is often refered to as ‘Inside the box’. A wrong analogy in my opinion, as you can read in my book review on Inside the Box.
If you fully want to understand SIT, you should read the paper, freely available (google Horowitz and ‘creative problem solving in engineering design). The paper is worthwhile your time. If you want a hands on approach you need to read the book (and skip the theoretical background, which is simply nonsense).
A very short description of the method
- Make a list of all essential(!) components of a product or service.
- Pick one component and follow one of the five templates:
a. Substraction: substract this component
b. Divide (psysical, functional or perservering) this component
c. Multiplication: Multiple this component and change an essential attribute of the component
d. Task unification: assign an additional task to this component
e. Attribute dependency: make one attribute of a component dependent on another attribute of that (or another) component.
- Visualize the resulting concept (no matter how strange it seems).
- Ask: What are the potential benefits, markets, and values? Who would want this, and why whould they find it valuable? If you are trying to solve a specific problem, how can it help address that particular challenge
- If you decide the new product or service is valuable, then ask: Is it feasible? Can you actually create these new products? Peform these new services? Why or why not? Is there any way to refine or adapt the idea ot make it viable?
Important concept in the method: the Closed World
The ‘Closed World’ is the system of the product or service. Each modification you make has to be in the Closed World. For example, the product is a bike. The essential components are components from the bike that the bike need to function as a bike. So you can ask yourself is the light is an essential component. Each component has to come from the bike, the system of the product: the Closed World.
However, you can also choose to widen the Closed World into the system the product operates in, depending on the problem you are trying to solve. In the bike example you can think of the shed where you park the bike, the road you ride on etc. There should be a reason to widen the Closed World. In this example the problem might be that the bike takes to much parking space in the shed.
Either way, you need to decide in advance what the boundary of the system is and in which Closed World you are going to use one of the five templates.
The advantage of SIT
In ‘normal’ creative problem solving one starts with a problem, tries to come with ideas to solve the problem, choses ideas and then verifies and elaborates the chosen ideas into a real life solution for the problem. SIT starts with a new product configuration and than tries to find a problem for which the product could be a solution. See figure below.
The advantage of starting with ‘something that is already there’, is exactly that. By starting of specific or concrete the chances of getting to a concrete answer increases.
In ‘normal’ creative problem solving, the gap between problem and idea can be quite big. Especially for complex problems ideas tend to have a high level of abstraction. That means that the step from idea to real solution remain large. Using SIT will keep your feet on the ground and it will lead to specific results.
That does not mean there is no room for ‘crazy’ ideas, it takes quite some imagination to picture a bike without wheels and figuring out how that could be valuable.
Also don’t mistake this process with a technology push strategy. It is not like you are going to elaborate on the new configuration and than find a problem and and problem owner. You first look for a problem, than you elaborate.
The disadvantage of SIT
There is a lot of uncertainty in the beginning of the process. Firstly, often you already start with a problem in the back of your head, you need creativity. Starting with a product you never know if this new configuration will solve your problem or any other problem.
Secondly, how can you know which template to choose. Should you divide or should you multiple? There is no rule of thumb. I like the substraction technique because it is quite extreme. But that is based on a gut feeling.
When to use this method?
SIT was invented for engineering problems and overall you would say that the method suits innovation type of problems. ‘We need to innovate, what product/service shall we come up with.’
However, I think this method can be applied to many more problems. Look at the principles behind the method: it is all about systems. By listing all essential components of a product or service you are deconstructing a system. That will help you overcoming your assumptions.
Deconstructing a system, changing a small part of it, and imagining how this new system would function and how it can be useful. That process can be applied to any problem.
Though the authors of Inside the Box argue against it, their examples show that the method clearly needs some expertise on the product and on the market. It is quite logical. If I need to name all the essential parts of a nano-chip, I would have no idea. I could perform the method with a simpeler product, like a bicycle. Also, if I need to define what the potential benefits are for whom, I need knowledge on the market.
I have used this method mainly with students as starting point for idea generation. Some really good ideas came from it. Don’t be fooled by the high amount of structure in the method. In my experience there is plently of leaving no room for energy and radical ideas. The structure is quite pleasant especially for people that don’t have a lot of experiences with problem solving and idea generation.