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Inside the Box - Book Review

1 December 2014
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results," authored by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg in 2013, delves into the realm of innovation and challenges the conventional notion of thinking outside the box.


The book's central concept promotes the idea that creativity and innovation flourish when specific methods are employed. The authors argue that thinking in a chaotic, rule-free manner yields limited results despite its long-standing reputation. They advocate for principles that examine one's immediate surroundings and impose constraints rather than pursue boundless exploration.


As presented in the book by academic Jacob Goldenberg and industry professional Drew Boyd, this method originates from Goldenberg in collaboration with an Israeli company called SIT (Systematic Inventive Thinking). Many of the book's examples are drawn from the experiences of the company's directors, Roni Horowitz and Amnon Levav, as well as other consultants with Israeli names.


The book covers many topics, including subtraction, division, doubling, task consolidation, dependency of characteristics, and resolving contradictions. It presents its content systematically and reader-friendly, replete with numerous examples, making the method appear feasible for any organization, not just for experts.


Undoubtedly, it is a valuable read!


Subtraction

This method's essence involves removing a vital component from a product or service and identifying a substitute to maintain its functionality. For instance, in the 1950s, a food company encountered issues with its instant cake mix product because women felt psychological guilt when using it. To address this, the company eliminated egg powder, requiring customers to add eggs and water. This simple change led to the product's remarkable success.


The method comprises several stages:

  1. Compile a list of all physical components of the product.

  2. Omit a crucial ingredient.

  3. Describe the new product without this component.

  4. Analyze the new product's requirements, advantages, and market potential.

  5. Assess the feasibility of developing the new product.


Additional examples include laundry detergent without the cleansing active ingredient, allowing clothes to be refreshed without a complete cleaning, and the Walkman, designed solely for playing music, unlike previous tape players.


Critical considerations for successful implementation:

  • Avoid removing components that are not problematic; this does not constitute true innovation.

  • Explore alternative solutions nearby.

  • Select a crucial component for removal, as the absence fosters innovation.

  • Partial component reduction can also be considered if it results in a significant change, as seen in the example of 1990s mobile phones like Mango.


This method provides a fresh perspective on product development and innovation.


Division

The essence of this method involves dividing a product or one of its components, either by function or physical structure or by creating smaller versions of the original, with some parts located elsewhere or existing at a different time. While applicable to products, it is particularly suitable for services or processes.


For instance, consider separating the air conditioner motor, responsible for the wall's hole, from the other components of the product.


The method follows several stages:

  1. Compile a list of the internal components of the product or service.

  2. Distribute them functionally, physically, or as scaled-down versions.

  3. Describe the new or modified product.

  4. Analyze the new product's requirements, advantages, and market potential.

  5. Evaluate the feasibility of developing the new product.


Additional examples include installing small cooling drawers in the kitchen to replace a large refrigerator and the ancient Egyptian architect who immortalized his name beneath the king's on a lighthouse, ensuring his legacy endured.


Critical considerations for successful implementation:

  • Assess the significance of altering the order of actions for services or processes.

  • Explore various directions for potential functional divisions.


This method offers a fresh perspective on product development and innovation, especially for services and processes.


Doubling

The core of this method involves duplicating one of the components, with a slight modification, to imbue it with capabilities that were absent in the original product.


For instance, consider constructing a tall building using several interconnected structures at varying heights to enhance its ability to withstand the surrounding winds.


The method comprises several stages:

  1. Compile a list of the internal components of the product or service.

  2. Select one component and replicate it. For this chosen component, create a list of characteristics and choose one to alter in the new product.

  3. Describe the new or modified product.

  4. Analyze the new product's requirements, advantages, and market potential.

  5. Evaluate the feasibility of developing the new product.


Additional examples include a device featuring multiple razors, each serving a distinct purpose, and a level equipped with various vials to measure different angles, ensuring precision in tasks like kitchen floor installations.


Critical considerations for successful implementation:

  • Replicate the most problematic visible element in the existing product.

  • Differentiate between an ingredient (part of the product) and a characteristic (a product feature) to avoid confusion in the application.

  • Experiment with various alternatives by replicating while changing a different characteristic each time to achieve improved results.


Task consolidation

The essence of this method entails assigning an additional task to one of the components already present in the product or service, a concept known as task consolidation. This means that the same component now takes on multiple functions, achieved through various means: an external component or user assuming a role previously handled by an internal component, internal resources shouldering the responsibilities of another, or integrating a function once performed by an external user into internal management.


For instance, Google developed a game in which users associate words with images, thereby aiding in tagging and categorizing numerous web images for more efficient search engine results.


The method encompasses several stages:

  1. Compile a list of both internal and external (related) components of the product, process, or service.

  2. Choose one component and identify an additional task for it, utilizing one of the methods mentioned above (external to internal, internal to internal, or internal to external).

  3. Describe the new or modified product or service.

  4. Analyze the resulting product: Is it necessary? What advantages does it offer? Does it have a viable market?

  5. Evaluate the feasibility of developing the new product.


Other examples include training a company's customers to enhance their connection, commitment, and firsthand insight into the organization's needs and installing water pumps in African villages powered by turnstiles in children's playgrounds.


Here are some tips for effective implementation:

  • Avoid overly simplistic solutions, as they may not lead to true innovation.

  • Concentrate on external components closely related to the product or service.

  • Remember that adding a task is distinct from merely altering it – while possible, it doesn't necessarily result in innovation.


Dependency of characteristics

The final method, involving the creation of dependencies between characteristics, is the most common approach to product innovation, accounting for over a third of innovations, according to statistics. Nevertheless, it is discussed as the last method because it is somewhat more complex regarding the application techniques required to generate innovative ideas.


The core of this method is to choose two independent characteristics of a product and establish a connection between them in a manner that provides innovative added value to the product or service.


For example, consider the giraffe's heart, which is extensive and robust to facilitate blood flow along the entire length of its neck to the head. However, the heart operates in a way that prevents it from bursting when the giraffe is grazing with its head lowered to the ground.


The process involves several stages:

  1. Compile a list of variables (characteristics) and elements of change in the product (modifiable features).

  2. Create a table where rows represent variables in the product's components (e.g., head height in the example) and columns represent variables in the product's behavior (e.g., blood flow levels in the example).

  3. Fill the table cells with 0 if no current dependency exists between the components or one if there is one. Suggest changes to establish a new dependency.

  4. Describe the new or modified product or service.

  5. Analyze the resulting product: Is it necessary? What advantages does it offer? Does it have a viable market?

  6. Evaluate the feasibility of developing the new product, considering whether it's possible to establish a connection between the variables.


Here are some additional examples:

  • Varied pricing for hotel rooms based on the season.

  • Bifocal glasses with a variable focus that changes according to the angle of the eye.


Here are some tips for effective implementation:

  • Recognize that when the table is predominantly filled with zeros, it signifies a conservative market with limited innovation.

  • Concentrate on features that can be altered rather than components.

  • Consider both positive dependence (where one variable increases when the other increases) and reverse dependence (where one variable increases while the further decreases).

  • Propose ideas that are within your control and can genuinely be changed.


Resolving contradictions

As the book approaches its conclusion, another chapter is dedicated to the resolution of contradictions. Like product development, innovation often provides the means to address and resolve these contradictions.


It's crucial to recognize that our world is replete with contradictions, but not all are genuine; some are mere apparent contradictions. The creative thinking techniques discussed earlier can assist in resolving these apparent contradictions, which frequently arise due to incomplete information.


A well-known example vividly illustrates this concept. Envision a scenario where two people are instructed to catch an orange thrown into the air. One person is told that the orange juice is crucial for saving someone from a terminal illness, while the other is informed that the orange peel is vital for keeping another life. With complete information, most individuals can see that a win-win situation is possible, where both participants can achieve their goals without causing harm by sharing the orange.


The systematic approach to resolving contradictions involves documenting the conflicting interests and identifying the factors that link them. This connecting element, if precisely defined, creates the apparent contradiction but can also be resolved with the necessary precision and various techniques explored in the book, such as separating elements in time or space.


It's important to note that while compromises can be a solution, they should be seen as something other than actual innovation. Genuine innovation occurs when all parties obtain everything they desire without any losses. The orange example illustrates the win-win concept and showcases the practical application of the methods covered in the book to achieve a structured solution. Since life is inherently complex, and we encounter numerous contradictions, many seemingly paradoxical, employing these techniques as a tool for negotiation in life is paramount, even if it wasn't the book's original intent – it's a valuable bonus.


Summary:

As the introduction mentions, the proposed methods are highly applicable in any organization. Just like driving, more than understanding the theory is required; practice is crucial, and skills will naturally improve with time. While not everyone may become an expert, these methods can be implemented in any organization and team.


To enhance these skills, three practical exercises are provided:

  • Analyzing innovative products and attempting to categorize their development using one of the five methods discussed.

  • Generating innovations for products, services, or random processes encountered, employing one of the five methods.

  • Selecting one of the five methods, apply it to a situation relevant to your context, and propose an innovation based on the chosen method.


I wholeheartedly recommend trying these exercises and to facilitate this, I strongly suggest reading the book. It presents all the examples and explanations in a relatable manner. Highly recommended.


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