The LAB: Innovating the Book with S.I.T. (January 2011)

Academic Focus: The Live Well Collaborative
January 3, 2011
Innovation for the Non-Profit Sector
January 17, 2011

The LAB: Innovating the Book with S.I.T. (January 2011)

Book publishing faces turbulent times. While the market is growing, key parts of the business model are coming apart at the seams. Market segments are fragmenting, price points are changing, channel power is shifting, and barriers to entry are lowering. Even the definition of "a book" is in question. Is it the medium (printed pages between two pieces of cardboard, electronic, online)? Or is it the message (the story, the characters, the themes)? When an industry faces turmoil, there is only one thing to do - innovate! For this month's LAB, lets innovate the plain old, everyday book, an idea that goes back 5000 years. We will use the corporate innovation method, S.I.T.. It is based on five patterns. We use the patterns to create hypothetical, abstract "solutions." Then we work backwards from the solution to try and identify potential problems that it solves. This works well because there is an asymmetry in people's thought process effectiveness when it comes to creativity. People are more fluent and easier with searching for benefits for given configurations than finding the best configuration for a given benefit or function. The term for it is called Function Follows Form.

 Book publishing faces turbulent times.  While the market is growing, key parts of the business model are coming apart at the seams.  Market segments are fragmenting, price points are changing, channel power is shifting, and barriers to entry are lowering.  Even the definition of “a book” is in question.  Is it the medium (printed pages between two pieces of cardboard, electronic, online)?  Or is it the message (the story, the characters, the themes)?  When an industry faces turmoil, there is only one thing to do – innovate!

For this month’s LAB, lets innovate the plain old, everyday book, an idea that goes back 5000 years.  We will use the corporate innovation method, S.I.T..  It is based on five patterns.  We use the patterns to create hypothetical, abstract “solutions.” Then we work backwards from the solution to try and identify potential problems that it solves.  The term for it is called Function Follows Form.

D Book We start by listing the components:

  1. cover
  2. table of contents
  3. preface
  4. introduction
  5. chapters
  6. pages
  7. words
  8. page numbers
  9. spine
  10. appendix
  11. endorsements
  12. author
  13. title
  14. jacket
  15. bibliography

We apply one pattern at a time to a few of the components.  Applying a pattern morphs what we once new as a book into something strange and ambiguous.  The secret to being successful with the S.I.T. method is to be comfortable with the abstract concept even when it assaults your sense and sensibilities.  The templates help you automate the creation of these abstractions – you don’t need any special talents to use them.  But then you have to push through your discomfort to imagine the abstraction having benefits and potential users.

Here are five innovations for the book industry, one for each pattern.

1.  SUBTRACTIONRemove the author.  What are the benefits of a book with no author?  Perhaps it is a way to create marketing buzz as it did with Primary Colors by that famous author, Anonymous.  It is not a new idea, so let’s push further. Here is how it might work.  The author’s name is left off the book until it has sold a certain number of copies.  Once it reaches the threshold, the publisher prints a new run with the author’s name.  This would motivate authors, especially well established ones, to write great stuff.

2.  MULTIPLICATIONMake copies of the words.  To use this pattern correctly, you need to make the copy but change it in some way.  The key is to change it some way without first figuring out why it would be beneficial.  In this example, I would make copies of the words, but change color of the copied words.  Perhaps the copied words (different color) are placed at the bottom of the page.  Maybe this is for people who just want to skim the book or a chapter.  The colored words are the same as what is in the original book, but the page also has those few key words that help the reader skim through it quicker.  This is like having a “Cliffsnotes” version already within the book.  It would help publishers compete with those publishers who print summarized versions of their books.

3.  TASK UNIFICATION:  The page has an additional job of making you more efficient. Reading is hard work, but enjoyable for many, so it would be beneficial if there was a way to help readers enjoy the book more while being more efficient.  For example, what if a page in the book could tell readers when to take a break.  Or perhaps that page alerts the reader NOT to take a break because something ahead is really important.  Perhaps the page has a role in conveying the emotion of what readers feel while reading the words on that page – perhaps it is a certain color or type of paper related to the story.  Or, perhaps the page alerts you when you should go back to a certain page and re-read it to make sure you understand what is happening on that page.

4.  DIVISIONThe introduction is divided out physically and put somewhere else in the book.  This is a clever idea because we typically think of “introduction” as being at the front a book.  We all have “fixedness” about where introductions should be located.  In this example, perhaps we put the introduction in the middle of the book, after the reader has had a chance to get through some of it.  Now the person who is “introducing” the book can write it with a different tone and message.  “Hey, now that you’ve read half the book, let me tell you my thoughts.”  This would make the role of introductions much more interesting and useful.

5.  ATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY:  To use this pattern correctly, we do not use components of a book, but rather use the attributes (characteristics) of the book.  We create correlations between attributes – when one changes, so does the other.  I created a correlation between the “type of endorsement” and the “message of the book.”  Here is how it would work.  A book is digitally scanned and analyzed for things like word count, readability, tone, and style.  Then it is compared to a database to identify other books that are similar.  The publisher offers this as a service to readers so they have better information about the book they are considering buying.  The “endorsement” is not from a person, but rather from other books that are most similar.