Attribute analysis breaks our propensity to operate at the highest level of generalization. Often, if we consider the attributes of people, things, situations, etc., we come to different conclusions than if we operate within our stereotypes.
We usually describe an object by listing its function. The way we see something is not inherent in the object itself — it grows out of experience and observation. A screwdriver’s primary function is to tighten or loosen screws. To discover new applications and ideas, you need flexibility of thought. An easy way to encourage this kind of thinking is to list the attributes or components of the subject instead of concentrating on its function. For example, let’s suppose you want to improve the screwdriver.
(1) First, list the attributes of a screwdriver.
Round steel shaft
Wooden or plastic handle
Used for tightening or loosening screws
(2) Next, focus on each specific attribute and ask “How else can this be accomplished?” or “Why does this have to be this way?”
What can I substitute for this attribute?
What can be combined with it?
Can I adapt something to it?
Can I add or magnify it?
Can I modify it in some fashion?
Can I put it to some other use?
What can I eliminate?
Can the parts be rearranged?
What is the reverse of this?
(3) Following are a few recent patented screwdriver innovations. The innovations were created by creative thinkers focusing on separate attributes of the screwdriver such as the handle, power source, and the shaft.
Focusing on the handle, a Swedish company created a handle with space for both hands. It was so successful, they later developed a full range of tools with a long handles.
In the Third World, an aspiring inventor added a battery to provide power. This power source proved to be more reliable than electricity.
An entrepreneur came up with a better arrangement. He created shafts that were made interchangeable to fit various size screws, which obviated the need to have several screwdrivers.
A Japanese engineer invented a bendable electric screwdriver with a super-flexible shaft to reach out of the way places.
Considering the attributes of something rather than its function, provides you with a different perspective. Different perspectives create different questions which place your subject into different contexts. Years back, the Jacuzzi brothers designed a special whirlpool bath to give one of their cousins hydrotherapy treatment for arthritis. This was a new product for the Jacuzzi brothers who were in the farm pump business. They marketed the tub to other victims of arthritis but sold very few. Years later, Roy Jacuzzi put the concept into a different context (the luxury bath market) by asking, “Can I put this particular hydrotherapy treatment to some other use?” and bathrooms were never the same.