Written by: Giovanni Rodriguez. This article was originally published in Forbes.

Back in college, there was a little button — a collectible — that was popular among the more progressive folks on campus, and it would have been a meme if the age were not pre-digital. It was about the size of a quarter, black type on yellow, with the following words: “Question Authority.” Simple enough, right? But the joke among my friends – a young but already linguistically sensitive crowd, always looking for nuance and/or irony – was that the button could be read in two ways. Either the wearer was claiming to be a question authority – an authority on questions — or the wearer was advocating that everyone should join him or her on the mission of questioning people in power. In the end, we learned that the button worked like a Rorschach test. If you were prone to question authority, that’s the message you received.

I was reminded of the little button last month during a visit to Israel. I was part of a delegation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that spent a week there learning about how a typical – if not stereotypical – Israeli trait is to question everyone and everything. According to the authors of Start-up Nation – the unquestionably authoritative book on the rise of Israelis in the global tech market – questioning authority is one of the secrets to Israeli success. So it was no surprise when we met with the leaders of an Israeli consultancy that is challenging – though not overtly – the status quo in product development and innovation.

I’m talking about a methodology called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) that was not quite invented in Israel, but has taken root here and is spreading worldwide. It is different – though perhaps complementary – to design thinking, but it’s what they have in common that, from my perspective, makes SIT worth watching.


Inspired by the work of Russian engineer Genrich Altshuller, at the core of the SIT methodology is that there are known patterns behind all invention. SIT focuses on five principles based on these patterns. Perhaps the most instructive is the principle of subtraction. The idea here is to take a look at a product or service and ask what might be gained if a component of a product or service were removed? Remove the store from retail, and you get Amazon. Remove the display and most of navigation from an iPod, and you get the iPod Shuffle. These are obvious examples, but there are many others where the SIT methodology has actually been used to spark similar innovation.


My delegation sat for about an hour with Amnon Levav at SIT’s home office in Tel Aviv. Levav is co-founder and (former ) managing director of the firm (now Chief Innovation Officer) and is also co-developer of the method. One thing that was striking about the meeting was the set-up, unlike any other on our tour thus far. We sat in chairs lined against the four walls of the room, theater-style. The SIT people provide us with nice looking pads and pens. It felt like we where getting ready to do an exercise based on design-thinking, a popular approach to ideation that encourages the inventor to co-create with the user. Instead, we got a great debrief on the principles. The fact that the principles for SIT and design thinking have both been codified is interesting. So is the fact that both have been grounded and supported in academia. More interesting is that they can both be taught, and are being taught, to a broad universe of laypeople – leaders in business, government, and the NGO world. That they are teachable, and are designed to be teachable, helps to expand their global footprints.


But most interesting, I think, is that each feels like an expression of the culture from which it advanced. Even though you see it everywhere today, the design thinking brand feels like IDEO, and Stanford University, and Silicon Valley, a place that quickly comes to mind when you think about the genius of the user (the customer is king). Systematic Inventive Thinking got its big start in Israel, a place that quickly comes to mind when you think about the genius of the inventor, a person trained to question everyone and everything.

Truth is, the genius of both are everywhere, and there’s no shortage of genius inventors in the Valley. And the two methods are not mutually exclusive. But at a time when Israel is becoming known as the second most vibrant start-up economy, it’s refreshing to see a new take on thinking rise with so much authority. Message received.