One of the most important principles in the SIT Method is the Closed World principle. It states that there is an inverse relationship between the distance from the problem and the creativity of the solution. The farther away you have to go to find a solution, the less creative it will be. So it’s important where you set the boundaries of the Closed World as you apply the SIT Method.

Think of the closed world as an imaginary space and time around your problem. It’s like drawing a circle around where the product or service is being used. The circle forms a boundary. Anything that is outside the circle, you don’t have access to. If you wanted something from outside the circle, you’d have to figure out a way to import back in. But everything inside the circle is a resource that you can recruit into how your product or service is used.

Therefore, every time you change the size of that boundary, larger or smaller, you change a lot about the resources you have access to. That also changes how the SIT Method will work. It’s a process I call zooming in and zooming out.

Think of it like the lens on a camera. The photographer sees a completely different view of the subject when the lens is changed by zooming closer in or by zooming far away. With each new position of the lens, the photographer sees a different set of components in the picture. Changing the view triggers new insights on how best to take that shot. You can do the exact same thing when trying to generate new ideas for your problem.

Here’s an example. Imagine you are trying to come up with ideas on how to improve a refrigerator. You would start the ideation process by making a list of the major components like the shelves, ice maker, light bulb, door and so on. You would also include components that are not attached to the refrigerator but are in the immediate vicinity such as food items, and family members who use the refrigerator. In this case, our closed world is a fairly tight circle right around the refrigerator,

But now you want to zoom in. Do this by focusing on just one component such as the door. To use the SIT Method in this case, you make a new list of just those components of the door – the handle, the edges, the rubber seal and so on. By zooming in and making the closed world even tighter, you will see the problem very differently. Using the SIT techniques here will produce entirely different types of ideas than in the previous example.

But you can also zoom out and give yourself a completely new closed world definition. You do this by imagining the refrigerator as just one component of a larger system, which in this case is the kitchen. Your new component list starts with the refrigerator. Then you add in all the other components around it like the oven, the pantry, the kitchen floor, family members, and so on. Just as before, each SIT technique used in this closed world definition will yield a whole new class of ideas.

So which closed world do you start with? A good rule of thumb is to start with the main product and its immediate vicinity. Use the SIT techniques at this level until you start to run out of ideas. Then try zooming in on a component, especially a component that is most important to the product. Finally, I like to try zooming out when I want to explore how the product interacts with its environment.

Zooming in and out helps you discover a breakthrough idea to a new problem you didn’t know you even had.

(This post first appeared on on April 30, 2014)