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Book Review – Inside the Box: Why the Best Business Innovations are Right in Front of You

Strategic Innovation Partner Sarah Jane Blackman, was asked to review Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg’s book, Inside the Box for Marketing Magazine’s Christmas list. Here’s what she thought…

“A creative act is not an extraordinary event… creativity is a skill to be mastered by anyone.” So no more staring hopefully at a blank sheet of paper then, as Boyd and Goldenberg debunk some long-standing creative myths to reveal the techniques for “innovation on demand.”

It’s always been in the interests of those who style themselves as “creatives” to preserve the mystique of what they do. Yet as the pressure for productive innovation grows, creatives often seem to fall back on a few tried-and-tested patterns, or sets of creative reflexes that have served them well in the past – just ask Steve Jobs, The Beatles or Leonardo da Vinci.

Extensive cognitive research has led Boyd and Goldenberg to the conclusion that there’s a collective method to all this individual madness. They show that all creative solutions are built on just five “cognitive templates”.  So if you want to be creative, all you need is a working knowledge of these templates, and the willingness to exercise your innovation muscles through plenty of practice. They dub this process Systemized Inventive Thinking, (SIT) and it has much to recommend it.

Though you might question the originality of some of their innovation techniques, or see their definition of creativity as a little narrow, SIT has an admirable simplicity to it.  What is refreshing and courageous about Inside the box is the way it challenges some of the most unproductive and fallacious elements of the ‘innovation’ industry, such as ‘brainstorming’ and ‘outside the box’ thinking.

Even before I finished this book, I found myself enthusiastically applying the methods to think about familiar problems in completely new ways.

CRIB SHEET – If you only have time for some key points of the book:

1. The best ideas are within arms reach – Highly creative solutions to problems hide in plain sight, in existing products, services and their immediate environment.  Always take the “Closed world” as a creative constraint.

2. Function follows form – Successful innovation comes from reversing the way the brain works.  People come up with better ideas when looking for the benefits of a solution rather than trying to identify the best solution to produce a given benefit.

3. Embrace discomfort – Applying new thought methodologies can feel counter intuitive at first; with practice, disruption can be a rich source of new ideas.