The Task Unification tool of the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., works by assigning a new task to an existing resource. There are three ways to do it: 1. allocate an internal task to an external component, 2. allocate an external task to an internal component, or 3. an internal component peforms the task of another internal component. It is a great tool to use when you have a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish. It helps you find innovative ways to do it using non-obvious resources.
Here is a unique example of Task Unification from the world of surgery:
The Metaphor is the most commonly used - and abused - tool in marketing communications, especially in western cultures. It is a great way to attach meaning to a newly-launched product or brand. But some approaches are more effective than others.
The tool is one of eight patterns embedded in most innovative commercials. Jacob Goldenberg and his colleagues describe these simple, well-defined design structures in their book, "Cracking the Ad Code," and provide a step-by-step approach to using them. The eight tools are:
5. Extreme Consequence
6. Absurd Alternative
8. Extreme Effort
The Metaphor Tool takes a well-recognized and accepted cultural symbol and manipulates it to connect to the product, brand, or message. The trick is to do it in a non-obvious, clever way. The process is called fusion, and there are three versions of it: Metaphor fused to Product/Brand, Metaphor fused to Message, and Metaphor fused to both the Product/Brand and Message. Here is an example:
On average, one of every three bites of food you put in your mouth depends on “animal pollination” – the movement of insects, particularly bees, between plants. They play a crucial role in flowering plant reproduction and in the production of most fruits and vegetables. About 80% of all flowering plants and over three-quarters of the staple crop plants that feed humankind rely on animal pollinators like bees.
But bees are in trouble. Scientific studies have suggested that both honey bee and native bee populations are declining. Scientists fear this will harm pollination of garden plants, crops and wild plants. They could help bees if they could collect simple data about their presence at certain times in certain locations. With this data, they can devise ways to conserve and improve the bee population.
How do you track bees on such a large scale? By assigning the data collection task to an external resource – everyday gardeners.
Hewlett Packard's announcement that it's combining its PC and printer divisions is meeting skepticism. Larry Dignan, editor-in-chief of ZDNet, had this to say:
"Hewlett-Packard says it's combining its printer and PC divisions partially because the move will drive "innovation across personal computing and printing." Oh really? Color me decidedly skeptical on that claim, which was touted in the company's announcement today. My mental block: What exactly are the touch points between a printer and a PC, and where does the innovation lie? HP does have printing innovation. Its inkjet technology can be used for drug delivery, for instance. However, unless your PC is delivering doses of pharmaceuticals to you, it's a stretch to see the connection."
For this month's LAB, lets put the S.I.T. method to the challenge. Imagine being part of this newly-combined HP organization. Here is how you might apply each of the five techniques of systematic inventive thinking. The key is to leverage each technique in a way that forces non-obvious connections between the two units, laptop and printer. These configurations become a "virtual product." We use Function-Follows-Form to work backwards to the problem they solve or benefit they deliver.
According the Center for the Future of Museums, many non-profit museums in this country are struggling from a broken economic model. Attendance and memberships are declining as consumers are given more choices of how to spend their time. To attract more, museums need to have good storytelling, stagecraft, showmanship, great imagery, and great sound. They need to tap deep passions and emotions to create "product" that is meaningful to audiences. Otherwise, many museums will shut down.
For this month's LAB, let's apply the innovation method, S.I.T, to a museum. Students from my Innovation Tools course at the University of Cincinnati created new concepts for a local museum, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The students portrayed the concepts in a Dream Catalog as a way to visually tell the story. You can download the entire catalog here.
Look at this word, then see what mental picture you get: HAMMER. Like most people, you probably see a person's hand wrapped around a metal or wood stick with an object fixed on top. You may see this object being used to strike other objects. You may imagine the heaviness of the object. The word "hammer" is a mental shortcut that instantly conjures up all the memories and associations you have with that thing. Naming objects is useful.
But the names we give items also creates a barrier to innovative thinking. We have a difficult time seeing that object doing anything else than the task assigned to it. It is also difficult for us to imagine using other objects to do the job of a hammer. It is a condition called Functional Fixedness.
Nissan's latest innovation takes the lowly car horn and elevates it to the status of "smart." The 2013 Altima has a new feature that's likely to surprise buyers. It's called Easy-Fill Tire Alert. The car's tire pressure monitoring system informs drivers when a tire is low on air and then uses the sedan's horn and hazard lights to confirm that the tire has been filled adequately.
This is a classic use of the Task Unification Technique, one of five in the innovation method called SIT. Task Unification works by taking a component and assigning it an additional job. That component can be an internal resource (in this case, something on or in the car) or an external resource, something in the vicinity of the car, but not within the manufacturer's control (a passenger, for example). The additional job can be "stolen" from another component or it can be assigned something new.
Suppose you're told that three out of four car accidents happen within 25 miles of your home. Are you safer driving away from home? Based on this statistic alone, most people would assume they are safer. But the picture changes when you consider an important part of this scenario called the base rate. In probability and statistics, the base rate is the underlying probability unconditioned by prior events. Failing to consider the base rate leads to wrong conclusions, known as the base-rate fallacy. In this example, the base rate is the total percentage of driving that happens within 25 miles of your home. Let's assume it is 90%. Given the odds of an accident are only 75% in an area you spend 90% of your time, driving close to home is clearly safer.
Why does this matter in innovation? Understanding the base rate with a product's performance can lead to hidden insights and opportunities.
Responding to an article on why innovation is difficult, Tim Josling from Leura, Australia, wrote this to the editor of The Economist (January 26, 2013):
Another useful insight is provided by something akin to Amdahl’s law in computer design, which holds that even if some components of a system are improving, the parts that are not improving will eventually dominate the performance of that system.For example, for flights that are under 2000 miles a person will spend more time traveling to and from the airport, checking in at the airport, going through security and waiting for his bags than time spent up in the air. Increases in aircraft speed would have less benefit that shortening the other bits of the journey time.
Next week, Jacob Goldenberg and I will launch our new book, Inside the Box: A Proven Method of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. It is the first book to detail the innovation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking, the subject of this blog for the last six years.
In the twenty years since its inception, SIT has been expanded to cover a wide range of innovation-related phenomena in a variety of contexts. The five techniques within SIT are based on patterns used by mankind for thousands of years to create new solutions. These patterns are embedded into the products and services you see around you almost like the DNA of a product or service. SIT allows you to extract those patterns and reapply to other things.