Learning innovation ! – Part I – Innovation by Subtraction

First of all, I must apologize to myself for not being able to post anything on the blog.  Its indeed been a very hectic time both at work as well as at home.

Indeed, its not easy to be a father of two !!

Anyways, back to the topic !

I always thought innovation is something that can never be taught on the job and I thought it must come from within individual to break the mould and find out better ways of doing the job. I never thought that you can actually teach someone to think innovative and come up with innovative ideas, implement the innovation concepts and practice innovation techniques.

How wrong I was to think that !

I have been part of the Innovation Sessions in my organization and the experience there has been nothing short of great. Not only these sessions have given me a direction to think different on innovation, but also to learn more on various innovation techniques and processes. 

With this post, I would starting a new article series Learning Innovation based on my own learning and my thoughts on the same. I hope this first post will give you few leads to help yourself learn more on innovation techniques and processes so you can also try them in your organization,


Innovation by Subtraction

Innovation by Subtraction is a bit uncommon process but might yield surprising results.

To use the IbS process for doing an innovation in a process, we are expected to make a list of components of the process. The list should contain the MUST have components of the process. Now, as a part of the IbS, you are expected to brainstorm on how the process would still function without each of the components.  We are expected to innovate the potential value or benefits would be without the components.

However, the most important part of the solution must be the fact that the solution should not compromise the business value or benefits coming out the process. It should sound like a workable business idea !

The examples we discussed within our session were very interesting and the ideas that came out were even better. Have a look at the following table which might give you an idea on how radical can your thinking get when you remove the most essential part (you thought) from your process, service, product.


Product / process

Most essential part of your product / process

Innovative Solutions when you remove the most essential part

Mobile phone Battery charging

Can the phone use solar energy?
Can the phone use bio cells?
Can the phone breath?
Self sustaining power?

Laptop Keyboard Can it use touch screen?
Can it use gesture control?
Can it read your brain?
Shopping Shops Shopping as a service?
Can the experience be made better?
Assisted shopping with experts?
Better value for money?


IbS has been a catalyst for many great innovations over the year.  Most notably of them were,

Phone call with IVR (Interactive Voice Recording)

The most important thing when you deal transactions on phone, are of course the people.  You need someone to listen to you and act on your instructions or help you in dealing issues. Now when you apply the IbS rule to this process of a phone call and remove the most important part of the process, the listener (person) and replace with an automated solution, what remains is an innovative solution of IVR.

Business benefits – Significant reduction of costs, reduction in errors, more customer satisfaction in general.

Client server technology

The most important part of the computer functionality was the business processing and the subsequent hardware that is consumed by desktop PCs do support the business processing. When you remove both 1. an ability to compute itself  and 2. CPU unit, what remains is an innovative solution of Client server technology. The server controls the business processing and has significant CPU power while the clients are more of dumb terminals with only monitor & keyboard as significant hardware. You can still perform full tasks and can add more terminals with less costs.

Business benefits – Significant reduction of costs, space & consistent performance


Did you ever think of any computing device until last few years with no keyboard to interact with? Calculators, mobile phones, notebooks, desktops were all having dedicated keyboards for users to interact with them. You now take out the most important part of the device interaction i.e. keyboard and the innovative solution is to have a touch screen interface. Touchscreen technology has been touted as one of the most popular device interaction technology now a days with more and more devices giving option of touch screens.

Business benefits – Style factor, bigger screen areas, better interaction techniques


So, think on you can use the IbS technique for finding out innovative ideas and solutions for your processes, services.


  1. Very interesting Swapnil, are there more parts to come on this front ? Very interesting that innovation can be taught which I also did not believe in till sometime back, it “needed” to be inherent. Submitted a patent recently which would go through the cycles before anything materializes so this caught my attention and would look out for more on this. If you have some material on the same maybe you could share it with me sometime ?

  2. Hey Soumitra, Thanks for stopping by and commenting ! Yes, I am planning to put few more articles on Innovation and would be taking few more techniques of innovation. The only stopper right now is the time which is something I am not getting to do so ! Congratulations on submitting a patent, good to know you are doing innovative work ! I have few books on innovation which I could recommend you to read though ..

  3. Hey Swapnil, Tool some time to get back to you on this one. Would look forward to your list of books on innovation. I understand material you may have acquired from the employer on this subject would not be appreciated to be shared, correct ?

  4. Hey Soumitra, rather than books, I can share you few internet links that might be of use to you. The list goes as follows,






    Also, in addition if you want to read book, there is one very good book that you can read to know more on innovation, which I am currently reading.

    The name of the book is “Innovator’s toolkit” by Harvard Business School

    You can find more info on the book on http://hbr.org/product/the-innovator-s-toolkit/an/10113-PBK-ENG

    And you can also purchase it from Crossword.

  5. May be you can check them at home network. Work network may not allow you to view some of them, I guess.

    In the previous post, did you want to mention any more URLs? It seems so, but the comment does not show any URLs mentioned there .. can you please re-comment?

  6. I was trying to put some links that I have been referring to however when I put the links in this comments section it comes up as discarded. when I remove the links as I have done now, my comments get posted.

  7. Soumitra :

    I was trying to put some links that I have been referring to however when I put the links in this comments section it comes up as discarded. when I remove the links as I have done now, my comments get posted.

    Hey Soumitra, thanks for attempting to send the links again. Why dont you send them to me over an email?

  8. Sure Swapnil, would do that – Was wondering how you posted links here however I couldn’t. Permissions or access reasons ? Anyway, would send an email on the same. Thanks! for sharing 🙂 Good stuff!

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