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Multiplication – A Tool of the Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) Method

This article is based on the book "Inside the Box" by Jacob Goldenberg and Drew Boyd, describing the method developed by SIT.

This is a third article in a series showcasing the SIT method and its tools. The first presented the subtraction technique, and the second the division technique. Links can be found at the end of this article.

An Example of the Multiplication Technique

One of the immediate and daily examples for this technique, also mentioned in the book, is shaving razors. Until 1971 only one blade was commonly used. Then Gillette released a razor with two blades: one pulls the hair and the second cuts it.
Later, they added a third, and even fourth, blades. I stopped at three blades.

Gillette multiplied the number of blades, but it wasn’t simple copying. Each blade has a different function.

SIT – Systematic Inventive Thinking

SIT developed the multiplication technique as a tool for creating innovative thinking where it's blocked by fixation and other paradigms. This technique, along with the other tools developed by the company, are described in the book "Inside the Box", written by Jacob Goldenberg and Drew Boyd.

The History of Bicycles and the Multiplication of Gears

The development of bicycles shows the three tools - division, multiplication, and subtraction – in use.

According to Wikipedia, the first bicycle was invented in 1818 by the German noble Karl Freiherr von Drais. For the following 50 years bicycles were propelled by pushing with the legs, until during the 1860's two Frenchmen, Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement, added paddles and a crank drive.

In 1870 James Starley invented a bicycle model with a 1.5 meter diameter front wheel and a small back wheel.

The model we know today, with two equally-sized wheels and gears, was only invented in 1885. The model was the result of division. Separating the propelling pedals and the front wheel.

Over the years, bicycle gears were developed, through multiplication. At the front of the bicycle chain, by the pedals, 2 to 3 gears were placed, and at the back, more gears. They were manufactured in various sizes so that a different combination of the front and back gears suits different terrains. The manufacturers were using the multiplication technique without calling it by that name.

In recent times a step forward was taken, with a return to a single gear by the pedals, and an even larger number of gears in the back. This way, using the subtraction technique, you can achieve the same riding conditions, but with only one gear mechanism, in the back. Without the mechanism in the front.

Multiplying Lenses in Aircraft Cameras

Cameras in satellites or aircrafts need to produce high quality photographs, while taking little room. To achieve that, a multiplication of lenses was done. Several lenses were placed in a sequence which allows them to overcome distortion and optical difficulties, in order to get a detailed photo from a great height.

Maybe in the future technology will allow us to get the same result with only one lens.

Using Multiplication. 5 Basic Steps:

The few examples mentioned above, and the many we can see around us, show that on the road to developing different products, multiplication was used, and is in fact quite common. In a way, this tool feels more "natural" than subtraction or division. The SIT method was developed in order to promote innovative thinking in cases when mind blocks, paradigms and fixations stand in the way. Using multiplication is similar to the methods presented in the previous articles in this series:

  1. Make a list of the product's or service's components.
  2. Pick one component and multiply it. You can randomly choose by what number.
    1. Make a list of the component's characteristics – meaning, those aspects that can be changed. For example, color, temperature, place, style, quantity, type of people involved, etc.
    2. Change one of these essential characteristics in one of the multiplied components. An essential characteristic is one that is an inherent part of the component's role. For example, gears in bicycles, or lenses in a camera. Make sure to change it in a non-obvious way, contrary to intuition.
  3. Envision how your product or service will look after the change.
  4. Ask yourself: what are the potential benefits, markets, or added-values? Who would want the new service or product and why? If you're trying to solve a problem, how will the new product or service help answer the challenge you're facing?
  5. Once you've determined the new product or service has a value, ask yourself, is it applicable? Can you manufacture this product or supply this service? Why, and why not? Can you fine-tune or adjust your idea to make it applicable?

Common Obstacles When Using Multiplication

  1. Avoid adding new characteristics or components – that isn't part of multiplication.
  2. After multiplying a component make sure each (multiplied) one has its own role or unique characteristic. Don’t multiply for the sake of multiplying, without increasing the client's experience. Otherwise, you'll only make life more complicated for yourself, without any change on the consumer's end.
  3. Try to create several copies of the multiplied component. Multiplying only by two could be a result of (institutional or functional) fixation.

How to Lead an Innovation and Creative Thinking Process

Innovative thinking is one of the most important issues for the life of every company, and I write about it a lot on my blog. The question is, how important is innovation at your company? How do you create processes for innovation? Who takes part in them?

Not every company has a team promoting product development and innovation. But for those organizations that do, it's a good idea to innovate the innovation. In other words, those who lead innovation at the company can themselves become set in their ways and burnout. Can start to think a certain way and have difficulty breaking free of it.

In order to innovate you should try new ways of doing things, and involve people who don't usually take part in development or improvement processes and could bring a fresh perspective.

Holding workshops using tools such as multiplication, subtraction, and division is a great way to innovate. But you must include new participants in these workshops. Employees and managers who aren’t part of the usual forum.

Summary and Recommendation

This article showcased the multiplication tool. You multiply a component of a service or product, and give each new component its own role or characteristic. This enables you to refresh products or create new ones, gaining an advantage in the market.
The multiplication technique has been used throughout history, but a thoughtful use in large forums can create innovation when progress is stuck.

I recommend you innovate the way you innovate, and hold workshops which include varied groups of employees and managers, in addition to your usual innovation forum.

If you are interested in my professional help, personally or for your company, the best way to contact me is to send a request through the Get in Touch form here.

Related Articles

Subtraction – A Tool of Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) Method

Division – A Tool of Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) Method

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