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Brakes, GPS and the feasibility filter

Think for a minute what is it about the car that allows you to drive fast.

Is it the engine? The tires? The gas tank?  Well, yeh. All of the above. But most importantly – it is the breaks. It is the fact that you can stop – that you can effectively reduce your speed – that creates the conditions which allow you to accelerate in the first place.

Similarly, many tourists are starting to take advantage of the GPS in an interesting, counterintuitive way – they get lost. The fact that the GPS can get them back on track at the press of a button allows them to roam freely, even around a completely unfamiliar territory, without worrying about where exactly they are.

In the strange mechanism shared by these examples the ability to perform X effectively allows us to do exactly the opposite of X. SIT’s Function Follows Form process (FFF, for short) employs a very similar mechanism.

It is not the purpose of this entry to describe the FFF process fully. For our purpose it is enough to describe 3 consecutive phases of the process that are central to its ability to yield innovative and implementable ideas:

1. In the Virtual Product phase we systematically create variations of an existing product. These, often non-trivial, variations must pass through the following two phases before they earn the title “idea”.

2. In the following phase, called “the marketing filter”, the participants are encouraged to identify the potential benefits of the Virtual Product. This phase necessitate open, creative, positive and uninhibited thinking. Exactly the kind of thinking many of us find challenging.

3. In the next phase, called “the feasibility filter”, the participants are required to criticize the outcome of the previous phases – identifying potential problems, issues, and shortcomings. For most of us this type of thinking comes much more naturally.

It is the existence of this last step, and it place towards the end of the process, that helps the participants in an SIT process apply the more challenging type of thinking when it is required.

The fact that the thoughts and ideas that come up in the open, creative phase are going to be scrutinized in a few minutes helps participants put their skepticism aside and sincerely try and break the boundaries of their thinking to explore unfamiliar territories.

The need to balance and separate between the two distinctly different types of thinking employed in the 2nd and 3rd phases is one of the biggest challenges in facilitating an SIT process.

This iterative transition from the inventive-positive mode to the practical-critical mode creates a practical, down-to-earth mindset that is very different from that inspired by traditional brainstorming. The Deferred Judgment principle, so central in brainstorming, often conveys the feeling that anything goes – that this is an exercise in uninhibited creativity rather than a practical session designed to inspire concrete results. SIT’s ability to inspire truly creative thinking maintained within the boundaries of reality has much to do with the efficacy (and efficiency) of the system*. 

It may seem counterintuitive that it is the critical phase in our process that allows SIT users to soar. But, hey, “counterintuitive” is our middle name.

* This ability is also supported heavily by the “Closed World” principle, but that should be the subject of a whole separate post …

photo copyrights: © iStockphoto.com/ Andresr

2 Responses to “Brakes, GPS and the feasibility filter”


  1. 1 Fabian Szulanski

    Both examples, brakes and GPS are control processes, where there exists a gap between a curerent and a desired condition, and a corrective action is taken. The interesting link with FFF is that by design, the Closed World should contain the component that would allow for that corrective action.
    Now come some questions:
    Is FFF normally used for devising control processes such as those two?
    If affirmative, would that still be a “voice of the product” project, or would be a combination of voices of product and customer?
    Cheers!
    Fabian

  2. 2 Amit Mayer

    Hi Fabian.

    I thought that your remark regarding the “control” or “corrective” nature of the breaks and the GPS examples is very interesting.
    With the breaks – the corrective function is inherent in the product.
    With the GPS, however, the use I was describing takes advantage of the product in ways that are different than it’s intended purpose (i.e. NOT getting lost).

    In that respect – this is a more relevant analogy to the use of the “black hat” thinking characterizing the feasibility filter to allow the “opposite” type of thinking in the preceding phase.

    Thanks for your comments!

    Amit.

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