Drew Boyd

Inside the Box

Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

Surprisingly, most creative ideas can be explained by just five patterns.

Posted Nov 21, 2016

So where do great ideas come from? The answer might surprise you. Let’s look at the most successful rock band in history, The Beatles. In a biography of Paul McCartney, he shared his secret: “As usual for these co-written things, John often had just the first verse which was always enough. It was the direction it was the signpost and it was the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word, but it was the template”

Paul and John used a formula early in their careers to create many blockbuster songs. They’re not the only ones. Many artists, authors, songwriters, and composers also use templates of some form.

Agatha Christie, for example, wrote over 60 novels and has sold more books than anyone. She did it by using a very familiar template in each of her books. That template helped structure her thinking in a way that made her more creative. Interestingly, most creative people don't want you to know they use templates. It seems to take away from their creative genius, when in fact templates make them more creative.

Highly creative people aren't the only ones that use patterns. Innovators for thousands of years have used patterns into their inventions usually without realizing it. Those patterns are now embedded into the products and services you see around you. Think of them almost as the DNA of a product or service. Imagine if there was a way for you to extract that DNA and reapply it to the products and services that are important to you. This is the essence of a method called Systematic Inventive Thinking. We call it SIT for short.

With SIT, innovation follows a set of patterns that can be reapplied to any product, service, or process. What these patterns do is channel your ideation process. They regulate your thinking so that you can innovate in a systematic way on demand. Let’s learn more about these patterns.

Surprisingly, the majority of innovative products and services can be explained by just five patterns.

First is subtraction: this is the elimination of a core component - something that seemed essential at first.

Next is task unification: where a component of a product has been assigned an additional job. One that it wasn’t designed to do.  

Then there is multiplication: many innovative products have taken a component and copied it, but change the component in some counterintuitive way.

Then we have division: where you take a component, or the product itself and divide it along some physical or functional line and then rearrange it back into the product.

And finally attribute dependency: this is where a product has a correlation between two attributes of the product and its environment. As one thing changes, another thing changes.

These five patterns are a crucial foundation to being more creative.

Learn how to use these patterns to help you invent new products, services, and processes here: Innovation at Lynda.com.