The WSJ did a great book review last week blowing up the myths surrounding brainstorming and innovation – Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. The authors are professors at the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The summary of the thesis is that we are better at finding problems to a new solution (that we have innovated and tweaked from an existing solution) than we are at finding a new solution to a problem. This was actually proved by the work of Richard Finke in 1992.

Take the example of baby milk. You tweak an existing baby bottle to ensure it changes color when the temparature of the milk changes. The problem it solves is obvious. Who wants to burn their baby’s mouth? But look at it from the other direction. How do we solve the problem of a baby burning her mouth with hot milk? Would you come up with a bottle solution that changes color?

The book identifies five techniques for in the box innovation:

Subtraction – Take features away from an original solution to find a new solution. e.g contact lens – glasses without frames, or ATMs – cashier without a human.

Task Unification – Samsonite the leading luggage company realized that students carry around serious weight in their backpack. Using that fact they designed straps that softely press into your shoulders at strategic shiatsu points to deliver a soothing sensation!

Multiplication – Copy a basic component then add to it’s functionality. Gillette introduced in 1971 the TRAC  II a razor with two blades not one. The functionality of each blade was different. First blade pulls up the hair and the second cuts it giving a closer shave than one blade could.

Division – Separate the components of a product and service and rearrange them. Air conditioning units originally had all the parts in one box. By separating them into cooling units, thermostats, fans, etc, some of the units could be placed outside the house, thus reducing noise and heat.

Attribute Dependency – Make the attributes of a product change with changing conditions. Windscreen wipers that get faster with heavier rain is a great example. (I wish I could install a device in the brains of sales professionals that forces them to double their workload when they miss targets!)

As we say to clients – innovation and execution requires a contrarian mindset.

Related Posts – Tweaking, Execution.