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1.1. Chunking


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 1. Analytic Invention > 1.1. Chunking

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The brain understands things in distinct chunks (see Chapter 8), building large chunks out of smaller chunks. Thus a tree is made from leaves, twigs and branches. We can use this principle of hierarchical analysis to understand many inventive situations.

The simplest method of chunking is to break things down into their individual parts, thus a keyboard may be broken down into keys, casing and connector, with the connector breaking down into sheath, screw, and pin assembly, and so on. The inventive eye can then be focused on very specific aspects, such as the force required to push the pins into the sockets or the ease with which the connector casing can be grasped.

We can also chunk up, looking at the big picture. This is particularly useful in the early stages of invention when you are asking questions like, ‘what is the real problem here?’ As you chunk up further, you will get to more general, broader areas. You can also then chunk back down through different branches to discover new areas of focus. For example, in Fig. 1.1, we chunk up from supporting a tent to the general problem of support, and then back down to specific alternative ways of providing support.

A trick of chunking is in the questions you ask as you chunk up or down. By changing the questions, you will discover different things. A simple alternative is shown in Fig.1.1, where you chunk down by asking ‘how’ and chunk up by asking ‘why’. You could also ask ‘What is the benefit of doing this?’ to chunk down, and ‘What problems are solved by doing this?’ to chunk up.

Fig. 1.1 Chunking

Chunking is a valuable technique around social or other intangible areas where you can get into more detail by asking such questions as ‘What, specifically?’ or ‘How does that happen?’ Thus Federal Express found its famous ‘Hub and spokes’ strategy by chunking up to look at the bigger picture and the overall purpose, then finding an alternative approach followed by chunking down in the details of how this might work.

Other logical/analytic tools:


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