innovation

Innovation Isn’t a Gift. It’s a Learned Skill.

To innovate, listen to the voice of the product

The word “innovation” gets thrown around a lot. It implies that creativity and serious thought have come together to create the best possible solution to a problem. But really, innovation is just the process of taking an idea and putting it into useful practice.

The key word being “useful.”

The good news is that innovation is a learned skill, not a gift. With the right method, anyone can learn to innovate.

Let’s say you want to come up with a new product idea. Where do you begin? Conventional wisdom suggests three possible directions:

Voice of the Customer 

Seek insights from our customers through focus groups and observation.

Voice of the Expert

Emulate processes inventors like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs have used to create new ideas.

Voice of the Market

Seek ideas from competitors, professional journals and big data.

But there is a fourth way: The Voice of the Product.

Jacob Goldenberg, author of “Creativity in Product Innovation,” discovered that product innovation tends to follow one of five patterns.

1. Subtraction

Taking an essential component away.

Example: Amazon Go is using Just Walk Out technology to reduce staff at grocery stores, thus reducing costs and eliminating check out lines.

2. Task Unification

Assigning an additional job to an existing product.

Example: RearVision license plate frame also includes a backup camera.

3. Multiplication

Making a copy of a component but changing it in some way.

Example: The Thyme kitchen-timer app lets you set timers for every burner on your stove, and the oven. So the chicken, broccoli and pie are all finished right on time.

4. Division

Functionally or physically dividing a component or product.

Example: A removable car-stereo faceplate, to deter theft.

5. Attribute Dependency

Creating new dependencies between attributes of a product and its environment. As one thing changes, another thing changes.

Example: The Smart Shopper gadget lets you speak into it to record items for your grocery list, which you can later print out. Efficiently creating a grocery list depends on using the Smart Shopper.

The patterns above are “thinking tools” to identify new ideas. This process is called Function Follows Form (FFF), first written about in 1992 by psychologist Ronald Finke. Instead of innovating by identifying a “function” or need and then creating a product, one first manipulates the existing product and considers how the new form could be beneficial.

When you apply one of the five thinking tools to an existing product, it morphs into something that, at first, might seem absurd, but could become something truly great. Or, as they say, innovative.


Discover ATS Secured’s innovation for the mortgage industry, which brings lenders and settlement agents together to increase volume and mitigate risk.