The 1st of 5 Dominant Patterns in Innovation – Subtraction

Up to 70% of successful innovations can be explained by a mere five fundamental underlying patterns.

Scientific research has led to identifying these five patterns and the development of an ideation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking, or SIT. The method has proven to be very valuable to companies around the world and many new products, services and business models have been generated by its users.

In this series of articles we will explain each of the five patterns illustrated with many examples and we will discuss the underlying principles of the method. Applied systematically, the approach will help you generate creative ideas for innovation on-demand.

When thinking about innovation, people generally like to add functionality to a device or complement a business model with extra services. Even though this approach had led to great new products and services, it typically generates only incremental benefits that come at substantial costs. One of the five dominant patterns in innovation is about doing the exact opposite. We call this pattern Subtraction.

The Subtraction technique is all about removing components from a product, a service or a business model. By eliminating something from the existing product configuration, we are creating a new product that could generate value. So we take away a component of the product, but not just any component. Not just a little screw of a machine or a single TV channel in a cable service. No, we remove something essential, something that we have always considered fundamental.

Think about a kitchen stove for a moment. What would be the most essential component of this product? The gas burners, right? Now let’s boldly remove those. That’s what we do when we apply the Subtraction technique.

When we use any of the five SIT-patterns, we always start by creating a list of the essential components of the product. Then we select a component and mentally remove it from the product. What we get is a virtual product, in our case a “gas burner-less kitchen stove”. The next step is to consider the potential benefits that this virtual product could have for our customers, for a specific market segment or in a certain geography. What problems could it potentially solve? If we do find benefits, it means that our virtual product has potential value and we can take it a step further. If we do not find any benefits, we simply move on, select another component […]