Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to top


Book Review: Unified Structured Inventive Thinking: How to Invent

| On 16, Feb 1999

by Ellen Domb

Unified Structured Inventive Thinking: How to Invent by E. N. Sickafus is a very complete textbook for the USIT method, which was derived from TRIZ. Ed Sickafus is an inventor and industrial scientist at Ford Motor Co., and a teacher and practioner of the USIT method. The book’s introduction gives a short history of SIT and USIT, tracing it from the work of Genadi Filkovsky to the work of Roni Horowitz and Yacob Goldenberg at the Open University of Israel to the work of Sickafus, Craig Stephan, and their students and colleagues at Ford.

I heard Ed Sickafus speak at the International TRIZ Conference (November, 1998) about the success that he and his colleagues at Ford were having using USIT to solve a wide variety of problems, which stimulated my interest in his book.

The descriptions of the USIT methods are clear, and the examples are easy to understand. Many of the techniques are similar to those of TRIZ, such as formulation of a jargon-free description of the problem, and identification of the zones of conflict of the problem (called “Collection of Information” in USIT.) The “closed world diagram” in USIT corresponds to the functional analysis diagram or table, but also corresponds well with the problem formulator diagram. The USIT technique called the “qualitative change graph” is a very explicit way of formulating contradictions, if there are any in the problem. Although the USIT methodology uses the contradictions differently from the methods used in TRIZ to remove physical or technical contradictions, this is a method that TRIZ practioners could use to make it easier to understand contradictions in their problems.

It is difficult to review this book for The TRIZ Journal’s audience, since it is not a TRIZ book. USIT is different from TRIZ in many ways. However, this book is an excellent, easy-to-read textbook. Because many of the TRIZ methods have common roots with the USIT methods, the examples and explanations presented here may help students of TRIZ understand TRIZ better, and TRIZ researchers may want to incorporate some of the USIT methods into their work.

For example, the USIT diagram called OAF (objects, attributes, and functions) could be very helpful to those who use functional analysis, problem formulator methods, or S-field modeling in TRIZ, since it creates multiple dimensions of linkages between the attributes of objects and their functions. This could overcome the arguments that students of these methods have had about the artificiality of modeling everything using only pairs of objects or pairs of elements. For example, when considering the problem of removing blocks of ice from a mold, the mold has attributes of solidity, shape, and thermal conductivity, the water has attributes of fluidity, location, shape (when it becomes ice), thermal conductivity, heat capacity, freezing point, etc. The mold confines the fluid water, transfers heat, etc. The matrix of objects, attributes, and functions makes all the relationships very easy to see, and starts the problem solving process.

Sickafus has an excellent chapter on the definition of the problem, showing in great detail how to remove all the extraneous information to get to the exact definition of the problem to be solved. He introduces a method called “elevation to a puzzle” that systematically removes everything from the situation that is not essential to the solution.

“Systematic” is the key word in USIT. Each method or technique is accompanied by definitions, diagrams, flow charts, etc., so the reader is never left wondering how the author reached the conclusions.

USIT has 2 basic algorithms:

The closed world algorithm, similar to the use of resources in TRIZ
The particles algorithm, similar to the “smart little people” method in TRIZ
and 5 problem solving methods:

Uniqueness (refers to features of the problem that distinguish it from generic problem descriptions.)
Dimensionality (refers to all the attributes of an object, not just spatial dimensions. Includes time, scale, active/passive, state of matter, etc.)
Distribution (of functions in time or space. They can be separated or brought together as to solve a problem)
Pluralization (multiplication or division of objects)
Transduction (chains of attributes and function, including the scientific effects that could be used to cause a function to happen)
The book has a chapter on each method as well as a chapter on Altshuller’s Contradiction Matrix in Part I. Part II has over 100 pages devoted to 9 detailed problems and illustrations of the application of USIT to each problem. There are 26 problems in the book, and a matrix in the introduction that guides the reader to finding which problems illustrate which methods. This is a great technique and I recommend it to anyone who is writing a textbook!

Although I am obviously very impressed with this book, I will anxiously await a second edition. The current version has many spelling errors (seven in one 2-page interval) and after the first few, they become irritating. (Grooves is spelled groves and grroves in one problem, and I wasted 10 minutes trying to figure out what the “ned” of the problem was—it was the end!) This may not be a problem when the book is used as a text in a course, but when the book stands on its own, the reader expects to be able to understand the text as written.

The Ford Motor Co. is to be thanked for allowing the material from their classes to be published in this useful book. Students of TRIZ will find many techniques they can use, and those who are looking for methods of systematic invention will have a method they can compare to TRIZ.

Title: Unified Structured Inventive Thinking: How to Invent

Author: Ed. N. Sickafus

Publisher: NTELLECK, PO Box 193, Grosse Ile,MI 48138 USA

ISBN 0-9659435-0-X

Author’s Web Site:

Cost: Approximately US $44.50 plus shipping
(price as of May 1, 2004)


Functional analysis. See earlier articles by Ellen Domb and James Kowalick in The TRIZ Journal or the “TechOptimizer Software” by Invention Machine Co.
Problem Formulator: See “Step by Step TRIZ” by J. Terninko, A. Zusman, B. Zlotin, or the “Problem Formulator Software” by Ideation International.