thumbnail-handsCreativity is for Everyone

Creativity is often thought of as a quality that you are born with rather than learn, but recent research shows that our innate qualities are only the beginning of the story and true expertise comes from practice no matter the skill level with which you are born.

Even if we mostly have a growth mindset, creativity can seem like a skill that might be difficult to learn or develop. The latest research by Jacob Goldenberg challenges that idea. Goldenberg researched some of the most innovative ideas of our time. What he found was that far from being a product of blue sky thinking our most memorable innovations have come from repeatable approaches to creating new processes, products and services. He found that innovation can be grouped into five different templates which anyone can learn and use. He calls the approach Systematic Inventive Technique (SIT).

To use Goldenberg SIT there are a couple of assumptions that are required:

1.Closed System Assumption – The templates work inside a closed system. This means using the templates requires that we only look in the immediate area for solutions. This is done to heighten our inventiveness and limit our choices so that blue sky thinking does not lead to analysis paralysis.
2.Function follows form – often when we are looking for solutions we look at the problem and work towards a solution. When using SIT the focus is the other way around. For example, you might think of altering a particular attribute or function of a product or service and then think about who would want such a thing. If for instance, you changed the colour of a babies bottle how might that be useful?



Can you think of a setting where creating in a closed system is a requirement?


A word about components, attributes and functions

The patterns used in the SIT system all use a similar type of product, service or process analysis. So before we look at the templates let us define the elements used in the analysis. The first step is to break down the product, process or service into its components, functions and attributes. The example below lists of the elements of a book broken down into component, functions and attributes.

Product Components functions attributes
Book text provides story font, colour
cover introduces story font colour, paper thickness
pages holds text colour, thickness
images illustrates story style, colour
plot moves story along style, perspective
advert for additional books provided info about next book font, style, image, colour
soft copy used to proof read before printing format, style, font



Create a table and map out the components, functions, and attributes of a product or service.

The 5 templates of innovation


This techniques consists of removing one of the components of the product or service, one which is key but not so central that everything falls apart, then removing it. Once you have removed it visualise what you have left, while resisting the temptation to replace the component with something else.

Examples of subtraction are:

  • Removing screen from a dvd player and using the screen on the tv to control and adjust settings of the player.
  • Ipod shuffle which removed the need for managing play lists and became much smaller created attracted users who wanted to listen while running.

Using this technique can be approach in one of two ways partial subtraction or full subtraction. For example twitter with it 140 characters represents a partial subtraction compared with text or facebook type platforms.



list examples of subtractions in the products and services you have seen change.



The division technique consists of splitting the components of a product or service into separate parts and re-positioned within the closed world. Over dubbing or remixing is an example of the division technique. Before overdubbing and the technology to support it was invented, band music was recorded in one recording. If one of the instruments made a mistake the whole song had to be re-recorded. The overdubbing technique recorded each instrument separately then mixed the separate recordings together to create the finished song. This technique reduced the cost of recording significantly.



list other examples of inventiveness through division.


Add a duplicate of one of the component might seem like an odd way to create innovation, but it turns out to be an effective pattern in the world of innovation. For example add another blade to razor and so creating a closed shave. Similarly the first colour photograph back in 1861 was an example of multiplication. Clark and Maxwell used three different filters then merged them to create a colour version from RGB filtered versions.



list other examples of multiplication.


Task Unification

With this technique and additional task is added to an existing function. For example, in a surgery the patients role it to be operated on but they can take on an additional task if they stay awake during the procedure they can guide the surgeon to find the pain.
Example of task unification is Dr. Von Ahn uses captcha to digitise books. Using this method he has digitised 150,000 books in a year, which would have taken 37,000 full-time workers to accomplish the same thing.

Forms of this template include adding additional functions to a component ie iphone becomes torch. Also includes use of an internal component to do the task of a external component. Ie “tale of things” where use of QR code attached story’s of how the item was used and by who in history.



list other examples of Task Unification.


Attribute dependency

This last techniques involves changing a dependency between attributes of a specific component. For example a baby’s bottle that changes colour when it is warm and so indicates when it is the correct temperature for the baby. This pattern is responsible for 35% of all innovations.



list other examples of products or services that have been innovated using the attribute dependency technique.

Systematic Inventiveness Thinking – Process



Divide into Components and Attributes

list product or services internal components

Iterate through each technique

1. Select technique

2. Follow the actions below for each template:

1. List components that can be acted upon with the template completely.

2. List one feature of the component and act upon that in accordance with the template you are using, without removing the whole component.

3. Think about which attributes you might alter to create something new.

Evaluate ideas

Use the following steps to:
1. Visualise or draw diagram/process flow of the new product or service
2. Ask questions. Who would want this? Why might they find it useful. If you are solving a specific problem who well does this solve that problem? Benefits who, why, what. Replace the
component with something from the closed world.
3. Review feasibility, risks and opportunities.  Is it feasible? Can it be altered to make it more feasible? What are the risks/opportunities of taking this approach, legal, safety ethical, competitive?



Choose a product, service or process from your company or department to review. Step through the process and use each of the templates to come up with new ideas about the item you have chosen.


For more examples created using Goldenberg’s 5 templates see Inside the box – A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results