13. Elements

13. Elements

In the bicycle example on page 91, we broke down the bicycle into components, then each component into categories of materials, shapes, sizes, etc. That helped us increase our choices but it didn’t really focus our thoughts very well. We just ended up with a long list of options. We need to define the correct dimensions so that we cover the full range.

How can we use the technique of primary elements for innovation?

You’ve seen the 15 Alternatives, which are arranged into Scale and Direction. And you’ve seen how to convert subjective desires into objective Outcomes. Applying the 15 Alternatives directly to Outcomes is not enough structure. If we chunk down Outcomes into the 7 Elements, we have exactly what we need to describe every innovation for a specific Scenario.

ElementsIllustration 50: 7 Elements of an Outcome

ObjectElements: Objects

Object is the property or event of the Outcome. The Object is what makes the Outcome objective. Objects are nouns. Innovation can be achieved by using non-obvious Objects. For instance if the problem is heat you might focus on the shape since Objects with more surface area dissipate heat better than more regular shaped Objects. Similarly by changing the color an Object might absorb less heat.

Predictive Innovation website resources section has an extensive list of scientific properties and the units of measurement.

Begin StateElements: Begin State

The Begin State is the State or quality that exists before you start. This is what you are either trying to change or keep. States are adjectives describing the Object. States can be described with a number and unit, or a descriptive word such as blue, harder, taller, or solid. State can also be an event recognized as occurring or not occurring.

End StateElements: End State

The End State is the result of the Action for the individual Outcome. It’s important to categorize End States as: desired, undesired, or neutral. When listing End States make sure to think of States for all three categories. Great innovations are available from preventing undesired results as well as making desired results.

ActionElements: Actions

Actions cause the State of an Object. The Action is the “how” you achieve the goal. The Action causes the State to change or stay the same. Actions are verbs.

Examples of Actions are: cut, join, separate, divide, mix, sort, order, filter, blend, melt, freeze, thaw, or heat.

When listing Actions think of the first 3 Direction Alternatives as plus, minus, and equals. Cutting might be considered a plus since it makes more pieces, gluing together makes less pieces, and turning the Object around leaves the number of pieces the same.

In addition to common verbs there are hundreds of scientific effects that can be used to perform Actions.

Visit the resources section of Predictive Innovation website to see an extensive list of verbs and scientific effects to help you think of Actions.

ToolsElements: Tools

Tool is directly used to help perform the Action. A Tool can be a physical item or a process. Algebra and language are Tools. A Tool interacts with the Object. If the Action is cut, the Tool might be a: saw, knife, torch, scissors, or laser. Each of those Tools can be used to perform the Action of cutting.

ConditionsElements: Conditions

Conditions are any State or quality that effects achieving the Outcome. Conditions affect but are not directly related to the Outcome. The age of the tea leaves or the pH of the water could affect the result of brewing but isn’t directly related to brewing. Wet pavement or riding on sand affects a bicycles ability to move and stop.

ResourcesElements: Resources

A Resource is anything available in the environment of the Scenario that can be used to help achieve the result. Resources are not just materials. Information, people, or other components are all possible Resources. When brewing tea, being able to measure the age of tea leaves is a Resource. A chart of times to brew different blends at different temperatures is another Resource. A spoon is a Resource that can be used to stir the tea and better brew the tea. Gravity is another very useful Resource. Resources are potential Tools. It’s up to you to find uses for available Resources.

Potential Resources


Element Expansion

Element expansion is the process of breaking down the Outcomes into the 7 Elements. This is where you begin to find all the innovations. Each Outcome has at least one of each of the 7 Elements.

You need to identify the Outcome you will change to solve the problem or find innovations. For problems there is usually a dilemma. A dilemma is when improving one desired Outcome results in worsening another desired Outcome. You can select either Outcome of a dilemma to focus your work. For innovation, focus on one Outcome at a time.

If you are having trouble drawing an Outcome diagram, it is sometimes useful to start by listing Elements.

When you are first learning to draw Outcome diagrams or when facilitating other people, it can be easier to list Objects, States, and Action then reorganize these into concise Outcomes. Many people are accustomed to brainstorming and will want to use a more free form process to get started.

You can keep the task relatively focused by directing efforts towards the scenario and listing meaningful Objects, States, Actions, and Conditions. This will often help you clarify your thoughts. This is also a good way to capture ideas for solutions for later consideration.

Until you’ve properly defined the Outcomes you can’t evaluate any idea. This is why people put so much emphasis on not judging ideas during a brainstorming session and saying, “there is no such thing as a bad idea.” There clearly are bad ideas and it is very important to judge ideas before investing any time or money. Until you have objective criteria you would only be guessing if you judged the ideas. If you are listing Elements to help you define Outcomes just record all free form ideas because there is no point in overlooking the obvious ideas.

 Focus on one Outcome at a time

Once you have drawn an Outcome diagram, select the Outcome you want to change then begin by listing Objects for that Outcome. Next list the begin and End States for the Object making sure to note desired, undesired, and neutral States.

Now choose one Object and the States that apply. Look at each Begin State and list Actions that will cause the End States. For problem solving you will often find solutions at this point. For innovation make a note of Actions that seem particularly promising but continue with the process so you won’t miss potentially better ideas or complimentary approaches that will help build a strategy for entire product families.

Once you have Actions listed for the States you can list Tools that help perform those Actions.

Finally list Conditions and Resources related to the Action. Review Tools and Actions as you add Conditions and Resources.

Summary of Element Expansion

  1. Select an Outcome to improve.
  2. Choose an Object.
  3. List begin and End States for the Object, noting desired, undesired, a neutral States.
  4. List Actions to cause each Begin State to become an End State.
  5. List Tools for each Action.
  6. List Conditions affecting the performance of the Action.
  7. List Resources that could be used to perform the Action.

Element Example: Cookies

There are 4 main Outcomes and 4 sub-Outcomes in Illustration 51: Outcome Diagram for Cookies. The first step for innovation is to select an Outcome to improve. Lets choose Correct Size. This Outcome has two sub-Outcomes, eaten with hands and single serving. The sub-Outcomes provide extra restrictions that we must work within.

 Cookie Outcome Diagram

Illustration 51: Outcome Diagram for Cookies

Cookies can be given as gifts, looked at, sold for a profit, or eaten. We have to consider the scenario of how we are using cookies to properly think of Outcomes. If we think about cookies as food we can draw a very simple diagram with only 4 Outcomes. All of the Outcomes of a cookie must come together for it to be eaten and enjoyed thus satisfying the hunger of the person who eats it.

 Cookie Function Diagram

Illustration 52: Outcome Diagram for Eating Cookies

While we are expanding the Outcomes of cookies consider that each Outcome fits into the scenario of eating cookies. The correct size, correct texture, correct flavor, and correct temperature combine to make the cookie available, and enjoyably eaten.

Choose ObjectElements: Objects

Once you have selected the Outcomes, the next step is to choose an Object. What are the Objects of the Correct Size Outcome?

  • width of cookie
  • height of cookie
  • length of cookie
  • weight of cookie
  • shape of the cookie

These are the obvious Objects but there is also:

  • hands
  • mouth
  • packaging

Coming up with the lists of Elements is where you can use your imagination. Chunking can be a very useful technique for listing Elements.

Remember to consider the less obvious Elements. Cookies made for adults could be different sizes than cookies made for children. Also cookies might not be made for people at all so there are many other ways to look at this Outcome.

Define Desired End StatesElements: End State

The shape of the cookie is affected by each individual size. We need to consider all of the sizes together because combined sizes makes the shape. Changing one of the sizes without considering the other sizes could adversely alter the shape.

A cookie that is too wide won’t fit into your mouth because it hits the sides of your mouth. A flat round or flat square cookie could be too wide to eat. It could also be too wide to hold in your hands. If the cookie was soft and too wide it might droop over the sides of your hand. That problem often happens with slices of pizza.

A cookie with a height that is too much won’t fit in your mouth because you can’t open your mouth enough.

A cookie that is too long won’t fit in your mouth when you close it, plus it could sag around your hands like a slice of pizza.

It is unlikely that a cookie would be too heavy to eat but the weight might effect serving sizes and a cookie which is too light might be considered undesirable.

States can be desirable, undesirable, or neutral. There are four ways a State can be desirable, undesirable, or neutral:

  • too much
  • too little
  • matching
  • not matching

The Begin States and End States for cookies sizes are similar. The goal is for any undesirable Begin State to be a desirable End State. It is not important to list all the possible States, just the relevant States.




  • Cookie width is too much
  • Cookie width is too small
  • Cookie height is too large
  • Cookie height is too small
  • Cookie length is too large
  • Cookie length is too small
  • Modifiable
  • liquid or gel
  • Separate ingredients
  • Correct size for hands
  • Correct size for mouth
  • Long and narrow
  • Small round disc
  • Small flat square
  • Small ball
  • Small cube

Correct width, correct height, and correct length are the desired States. The correct width, height and length will vary depending on each other. A cookie can have a larger height if the width is not large. The overall combination of shape and size result in the cookie being the desired correct size or an undesired or neutral size. The correct size is one that allows the cookie to be picked up with your hands, put in your mouth and eaten.

If the cookie is the wrong size for hands or mouth but could be easily modified that is a neutral State. An example is a cookie that can be easily broken in to pieces that are the correct size.

List ActionsElements: Actions

What are the Actions to make the cookie the correct size? The correct size for the mouth is different than the correct size for the hand. An obvious Action for making a cookie the correct size for the mouth is biting it. The cookie still needs to be the correct size for biting and must be the correct size for the hands. The various shapes of a cookie can result from different Actions.

Chocolate chip cookies are made into flat discs by measuring an amount of dough and baking it. The heat causes the dough to spread and form the shape. Sugar cookies are made into fancy shapes like hearts and stars by using a mold with the dough. Soft cookies could also be cut into shapes after they are baked. Many manufactured cookies are molded to have thin spots making them easier to break into smaller pieces. Cylindrical cookies can be molded, rolled, or folded before baking or in the middle of the process.

Look at each Begin State and each desired or neutral End State then list all the Actions that can result in a desired or neutral End State.

  • Measure
  • Mold
  • Cut
  • Fold
  • Break
  • Roll
  • Squeeze
  • Bite
  • Soak

Measuring, molding, or cutting the dough can make the correct size and shape. Breaking, biting, and cutting can make a baked cookie the correct size and shape. Notice that we just introduced another State, baked and dough before baked.

So, we find that there are other States such as before the cookie is baked and after. Those States aren’t part of the overall Outcome of Cookie, those are intermediary States related to the Action of making cookies.

Remember that Outcome Diagrams focus on States. Function Diagrams focus on Actions. Eventually you will want to create Function Diagrams for each Action. If you discover new information while listing Actions record it for later use.

Resist jumping into designing a solution at this stage. You will find many more options which might be more effective and less costly. Since the Element Expansion is quick and easy don’t skip it. Complete the full process before deciding which solution you will use. A little thought can save a lot of work.

Look at the Action soak. Dipping a cookie in milk or tea is a popular way to eat cookies. A soft cookie is easier to eat. The size and shape of the cookie affects the ability to soak it. Long cylindrical cookies are much easier to soak than spherical balls. The long cylindrical cookie is too long to put completely in your mouth but it is perfect for dipping which then makes it easier to bite and eat. Soaking also points out other Objects such as the cup and liquid you are soaking the cookie in.

As we are listing Actions we discovered more Objects and States and related Outcomes. We also found the connection to Function Diagrams for baking cookies. That is exactly what we want to do. Don’t worry about finding all the Elements at each stage. Write down all the information you gather and continue with the process. This may involve going back to previous steps and adding or changing what you had before. As you better understand the scenario you will be better able to describe it and thus all the innovations. The systematic approach will help you reveal all the options.

List ToolsElements: Tools

Tools are physical and non-physical items that are directly used in performing Actions. These are usually quite easy to list. For example, a cookie cutter helps you cut or mold a cookie into the correct shape and size.

Action Tool









Cup, spoon, scale

Mold, pan, nozzle

Knife, saw, burner, scissors, die


Edge, scored line

Board, sheet

Press, mold, rolling pin

Teeth, jaw

Cup, spoon

List ConditionsElements: Conditions

Conditions are any State that may affect the ability to produce the desired State or changes which State is desired. The ingredients of a cookie affect that ability to make it the correct size and shape. Temperature could also affect the size and shape. If the cookie is frozen it might make it more or less difficult to bite or break into pieces that fit in your mouth.

Where and when are very common Conditions. Eating cookies for a snack at work is different from being at home which is different from being at a party. Who is eating the cookie changes what size is correct. A child’s hands and mouth are different from an adult.

  • Temperature
  • Ingredients
  • Moisture
  • Size of mouth
  • Size of hands
  • Ingredients
  • Where eaten
  • When eaten
  • Who you are eating with

List ResourcesElements: Resources

A Resource is anything available in the environment of the scenario that can help achieve the Outcome. The temperature could be useful for cutting or breaking a cookie. Knowing the temperature could be helpful for preparing and serving cookies. Knowing the moisture levels could also be helpful.

  • Serving plate
  • Wrapper, container
  • Dishes
  • Cup
  • Temperature of the cookie
  • Temperature of hands, mouth, room

Next Step

Just listing Elements does not find all the options. The first pass gives you something to work with. Multiplying Alternatives for each of the Elements shows you the ideas you did not find.


Chapter 12 Chapter 14


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