Book Review: Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results

    By: Allison LeMay on Apr 08, 2013

    Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results
    By Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg. Simon & Schuster, 2013. 243 + ix pages.

    Flipping the innovation switch to “on” these days is easy, right? One simply thinks outside of the box and brainstorms novel and useful new products. In fact, many would deem that statement to reflect settled law for tapping the creative imagination, beyond reviewable, case closed.  But what if new and compelling evidence came to light, casting doubt on the accepted wisdom while promising a different path to success?

    “Inside the Box” succeeds at challenging common creativity assumptions, making a persuasive case that the innovation discourse needs radical updating toward a new normal, foremost among managers and leadership.  Recognized new product development (NPD) theorist Jacob Goldenberg and seasoned marketing leader Drew Boyd have leveraged their combined decades of experiential knowledge with empirical research, concluding that innovation should involve a new and improved mindset among organizations and inventors. The co-authors back up their argument with compelling tales of product innovation practice whereby the book’s five-tool systematic inventive thinking (SIT) approach has yielded new product success.  The fascinating volume provides useful grounding in its methods, currently used by a growing cadre of NPD competitors in crucial idea generation or ideation processes. Overall, the approach involves product developers successively employing each tool in an exhaustive process that appears more logic of systematic execution than magic of discovery, even when its results seem other-worldly. The book is comprised of three general parts: (a) the introduction and first chapter that provide background for the systematic innovation approach; (b) chapters 2 through 6 that successively describe each of the five SIT techniques with illustrative examples and guidelines for application; and (c) the seventh, eighth and epilogue chapters that present varied examples and further insights regarding innovative thinking, practice and teaching. 

    The Introduction explains the underlying logic of the systematic creativity approach, in part by describing outside-of-the-box activities as unconstrained and perhaps less effective thinking that can include making analogies wholly unrelated to targeted products, services or processes. In contrast, the SIT method proceeds within the context of the product’s environment by utilizing one or more of five patterns or templates coded like DNA into today’s successful products. The five tools are: subtraction, division, multiplication, task unification and attribute dependency change. Two key precepts that inform the proper application of SIT techniques are: (1) function follows form (Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992), the idea that first a solution should be produced and only then are its benefits and uses to be conceptualized; and (2) the closed world principle, the idea that accelerated innovation occurs when utilizing resources of the product and its nearby environment. Chapter 1 expands on the closed world principle with persuasive examples of success using the systematic approach. 

    The book’s second part begins with chapter 2 and the subtraction technique, a process whereby an essential component of a product, service or process is intentionally removed, an operation that helps to generatively challenge the fixed thinking of product innovators. One example of this is the removal of the iPhone’s telephone function, which produced the iTouch. Chapter 3 illustrates the method of dividing an existing product element into multiple parts and then reconfiguring the product elements in new and potentially beneficial forms. Consider early shampoos that had both cleaning and conditioning agents; separating these elements resulted in the conditioner product category. Chapter 4 describes the multiplication tool whereby an innovator will mentally or physically create a copy of an original product component, yet alter the new version in some way.  Multiplication is seen when a shaving company adds to a razor a new blade with a unique purpose. Chapter 5 explains task unification, a technique where an existing component of a product, service or process is assigned an additional task or function. The Nike+ model of athletic shoes that also tracks its user’s running performance exemplifies this method. Chapter 6 explores the attribute dependency tool where two or more unrelated product attributes are correlated with one another. One can see this in baby bottles that change color (attribute 1) depending on the temperature (attribute 2) of the milk or formula poured into them, warning users if the contents are too hot.  

    The third and final part’s chapter 7 underscores the potential innovation value of situations that contain aspects that are connected yet directly opposed to each other. Problematic circumstances may indicate contradictions reflecting false or irrelevant assumptions that hold sway over our thinking, at times limiting our creative efforts. The search for such contradictions is highlighted as yet another powerful means in the innovator’s toolkit. Chapter 8 raises some of the challenges to the cultural adoption of innovation mindsets and methods—including, specifically, blocks to considering creativity as an acquired skill—that emerged as the authors evolved their systematic approach to innovation on demand. The Epilogue relates a telling story that encapsulates the innovation skill adoption progression: first, initial resistance to concept invention as a trainable skill set; next, acceptance by open-minded participants; and, finally, success with systematic methods.

    In sum, the book presents a compelling case for its chief claim: Creativity can be systematized, can be taught and can accelerate and qualitatively improve product, service and process innovation outcomes when properly understood and embraced. While grounded in complex empirical work, the reader will find “Inside the Box” to be highly accessible as it disruptively challenges concept generation or ideation paradigms. Among a bevy of titles offering organizational innovativeness expertise, the volume is a worthwhile and enjoyable mental download for the boardroom, classroom, project team and beach, or wherever novel and useful creative production is a goal. For thought leaders, this book is a must-read proposition, while NPD managers, facilitators and students should be early on the adoption curve of its invaluable process innovations. 

    Finke, R., Ward, T., and Smith, S. (1992). Creative Cognition: Theory, Research, and Applications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


    Dr. Erik A.J. Johnson
    Columbia University

    Released: April 8, 2013, 9:15 am
    Keywords: PDMA Blog | Book Review

    Kokkirakulam Subramaniam Ramalingam, Er, DFM & Innovation Consultant Innovations by bringing out-of-box into-the-box
    By: Kokkirakulam Subramaniam Ramalingam, Er, DFM & Innovation Consultant | Posted: October 15, 2014, 8:29 pm

    Conngrats to authors for concurrring with me the same concepts on innovations - page 11 of my book -'Taoist Directions for Design & Development - DFM Handbook for Design Engineering Professionals ' by Er Ramalingam K S

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