For those of you familiar with SIT’s methodology, last week’s “survival” exercises are perfect examples of one of SIT’s principles: FFF, or Function Follows Form.

We took a deep look at the actions of Academy Award winner, Tom Hanks, playing the character of Chuck Noland in the film “Cast Away”. His limited available resources inspired his creativity, allowing him to survive on a desert island and finally to find his way back home. He did so by first looking at the form of the objects around him and then coming up with new ideas to best utilize them.

But survival on a desert island is not the only example of our principles – though it does make for an incredible story.

In SIT’s terminology, FFF is a leading principle and a structured framework for innovation, precisely because it forces one to examine possibilities that they would not seriously consider within a standard rational process. By applying the non-standard way of thinking, one improves the chances of coming up with innovative ideas that competitors may have missed.

Backwards is the right way for SOS

Trying to think of new applications for physical objects is not the only application of FFF. The principle also helps explain some well-known expressions.

First, let’s go back to our island.

 Last week’s article may have prompted you to watch the movie. If so, you probably remember that, when trying to contact a distant ship, Noland signals both by shouting and with the help of a flashlight three famous letters – a distress signal: SOS.

The famous distress signal, SOS, is itself an excellent example of the Function Follows Form principle.

Contrary to popular belief, the origin of the SOS code is not the acronym for “Save Our Souls” or “Save Our Ship”. The sequence of letters was originally created without any literal meaning; It simply represented the easiest to remember sequence of Morse letters: three dots / three dashes / three dots (…—…).

Germany was the first country to adopt this sequence in 1905. In fact, it was preceded by attempts to use other codes such as SSS DDD, and even CQD. Lucky for us, CQD didn’t catch.

Only a few years later in popular usage, SOS became associated with the words that help us remember the acronym. Can you think of another phrase to attach to the letters SOS?

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S.O.S created with FFF mindset


This action, expanding an existing word into the words of a phrase, is called a BACKRONYM.

Have you ever heard of this term? The act itself is a bit more common than you might think. Care for additional examples? Here are some:

If we’re already into movies, the global crime organization “SPECTRE” from the James Bond film series has become the acronym for Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

The PATRIOT Act is a landmark Act of the United States congress, signed into law by President George W. Bush. It was enacted following the September 11 attacks, with an intended goal of tightening US national security, particularly as it related to foreign terrorism. No wonder, then, that the Act lent itself to the backronym Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

Even the APGAR score, which is used by doctors to quickly evaluate the health of all newborns, is a backronym. It was named after Virginia Apgar, the anesthesiologist who invented it in 1952. Until today the APGAR score represents the mandatory set of categories needed to assess infant status shortly after birth all around the world. Only after it was adopted, the acronyms were invented to help medical teams remember all the tests included in it: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration.

In fact, APGAR’s surname is such a strong “brand” that acronyms have been created in many other languages to represent tests included in the index, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and Czech.

It’s time to go back to the basics: Looking for an object (Form) to fulfill a defined Function is fine. But discovering latent needs and benefits, that originate out of an existing Form tends very often to lead to innovation. So, don’t wait for your next flight over the Pacific Ocean. Give the Function Follows Form principle a try right now. You may make waves.

Can you think of some FFF applications from your immediate business and needs? Share with us.