Innovation Sighting: The Subtraction Technique in Amazon Go

by Darla Wilkinson

Amazon: it’s practically a household name in today’s world of online shopping. And their innovation efforts don’t stop short of brick-and-mortar retail. This week the online giant unveiled via video their newest creation called Amazon Go. Using what is called Just Walk Out Technology, Amazon has removed checkout lines and registers from the shopping experience. Utilizing the Amazon App, buyers walking into the beta store in Seattle simply check into the app, select the items they want off the shelf, and walk out. Amazon’s app detects what items were purchased and charges them to the customer’s Amazon account. It’s that simple.

CNN Tech explains: By eliminating much of the staff needed to operate a store, Amazon keeps costs lower than traditional competitors. It’s also in a strong position to bring together data on its customers shopping habits online and offline to make better suggestions in all situations.”

It’s a perfect example of the Subtraction Technique, one of five in the innovation method, Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). It’s also a great example of the Closed World Principle. Here’s how it works:

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To get the most out of the Subtraction Technique, you follow five steps:
  1. List the product’s or service’s internal components.
  2. Select an essential component and imagine removing it. There are two ways: a. Full Subtraction. The entire component is removed. b. Partial Subtraction. Take one of the features or functions of the component away or diminish it in some way.
  3. Visualize the resulting concept (no matter how strange it seems).
  4. What are the potential benefits, markets, and values? Who would want this new product or service, and why would they find it valuable? If you are trying to solve a specific problem, how can it help address that particular challenge? After you’ve considered the concept as is” (without that essential component), try replacing the function with something from the Closed World (but not with the original component). You can replace the component with either an internal or external component. What are the potential benefits, markets, and values of the revised concept?
  5. If you decide that this new product or service is valuable, then ask: Is it feasible? Can you actually create these new products? Perform these new services? Why or why not? Is there any way to refine or adapt the idea to make it more viable?
Learn how all five techniques can help you innovate on demand.