Whether inventing is a teachable skill or an unchangeable inborn talent is an on-going debate with respected researchers taking positions on both sides of the question.
Dr Ed Sickafus, a scientist and inventor, opts for the teaching side. He believes that inventive thinking can be dramatically enhanced by teaching engineers a surprisingly small set of structured heuristics for generating conceptual solutions to conceptual problems. His book describes an inventive thinking method called USIT (the acronym for the title of the book) comprising heuristics that are organized in an algorithmic procedure.
USIT is based on the author's extension and development of SIT, a structured method for inventive problem solving developed in Israel. SIT, in turn was developed in an effort to simplify and improve Altshuller's TRIZ. The transition from TRIZ to SIT reduced the number of heuristics from a few dozen to just five. The transition from SIT to USIT was motivated by the author's experience in teaching SIT to engineers and scientists at the company, Ford Motors (more than eight hundred employees attended the SIT classes) and in leading a team of experts who apply the methodology on a daily basis. The main difference between SIT and USIT lies in the fact that the latter places less emphasis on truly creative solutions and more emphasis on a thorough and quick exploration of the solution space to find many solution concepts.
One of the author's most important contributions to the field of structured problem solving methods is the division of the problem content into three types of entities: objects, attributes and functions. All the rules, heuristics, tips and other aspects of the USIT method are expressed in terms of objects, attributes, and functions and the relations between them. There are accordingly three main heuristics in USIT: pluralization, which attempts to solve a problem by dividing or multiplying objects; distribution, which is used to reorganize the assignment of functions to objects; and dimensionality, which deals with changing values and relations among attributes.
The book is written in a clear and rigorous style. It explains the USIT method in a way that enables readers to apply the method themselves. There are many easy-to-follow, illustrated examples that take the reader step-by-step through the process.
In the last chapter, the author shares his experiences in leading the effort to teach SIT and USIT at Ford Motors and to applying the methodologies in an organized manner to the solution of corporate problems. To the best of my knowledge, this initiative is the most ambitious attempt to introduce, on such a large scale, an inventive thinking methodology into an organization.
The book can be purchased at the author's site