USIT Qs & As
Questions and Answers about USIT

Email your questions (and answers) to Ntelleck, LLC. Those of general interest will be posted here. Feel free to question and comment on any Q&A entries. This can lead to additional discussion that others may appreciate.

Q&A01 Can USIT be used for other than mechanical engineering and the like?

Q&A02. How do I start up a USIT program in my company?

Q&A03 How can one self-learn USIT?

Q&A04 How to Learn USIT? What About E-Learning USIT?


Q&Axx ( Send your question to ... )

Q&A01. Can USIT be used in fields other than mechanical engineering and the like? (Source: This question arises often in USIT classes.)

A: In principal USIT is adaptable to many disparate fields. But it is a relatively new problem solving methodology and has not yet had the benefit of serious exploitation in other fields. This will happen as more young minds begin to experiment with it. USIT is made generic by the definition and use of USIT's objects, attributes, and functions. To adapt USIT to another field, one needs to identify the analogues of USIT's three basic elements; objects, attributes, and functions. When this has been done all of the analysis and solution tools of USIT should become applicable.

Let us know of your experiences in broadening the applications of USIT.

Q&A02. How do I start up a USIT program in my company?

Q’s: Matt Smith asks

“I think my new company could really make use of USIT, and I am trying to build a strategy to begin teaching it here. It's a small division, with about 200 engineers total. There are a lot of folks here who would be open to this kind of thing, rather than cynical. I wanted your advice on starting a class. From your experience in teaching at Ford, what might you recommend I do or don't do in the process of approaching management about USIT, and in beginning to teach it? (See introduction to Matt Smith following Ed's answers.)

A’s: Ed answers

Matt our starting situations are different, yet you face some of the same issues I had to address. Let me talk about this in four sections: management awareness, management buy-in, charging Matt with the task, and your preparation.

1. Management awareness. This is where our positions differ the most.

Difference: I, as a manager, was assigned the task of evaluating innovative problem solving methodologies to enable a decision in formulating a broad training program. Although my management was not aware of USIT it was aware that such methodologies existed and aware that an internal need existed.

Similarity: Once I completed my investigation, management then had to be made aware of the capabilities of existing problem solving methodologies, advised on their pros and cons, and then presented a plan for institutionalization of the recommended methodology.

2. Management buy-in.

In any progressive company management buy-in is already started by management awareness. Such companies recognize the need for innovation in new product development and in general problem solving – especially in firefights. However, they may not recognize that these needs, these, at first glance, different kinds of problem areas, are approachable using one and the same generic problem-solving methodology.

Technologists may not recognize their need for improved problem-solving skills. Technologists need to know that structured problem-solving methodologies exist and could be made available in house. Hence, conduct your own internal email survey explaining the capability of such methodologies and asking for potential interest. Your personal testimonial will help.

Management needs to know that ...

  • corporate technologists need training in innovative thinking (results of your in-house poll),
  • innovative thinking can be taught,
  • structured methodologies are effective for innovative thinking,
  • they do not give solutions but lead technologists quickly to find pay dirt,
  • several methodologies exist,
  • bottom-line effectiveness should be measured in speed, multiple solution concepts, viable solution concepts, and inventive concepts [Caution: Do not mislead management into thinking that specific solutions are proof of a particular methodology’s effectiveness. Solutions belong to their associated problem not to the method used to find them (my philosophy).] ,
  • in-house teaching enables tailoring of a methodology to specific needs,
  • in-house teaching protects proprietary information while allowing current corporate problems to be addressed in class,
  • in-house teaching enables in-house support (user groups),
  • in-house teaching captures the methodology and frees the corporation from dependence on outside consultants.

I made many presentations to different management sectors of Ford delivering this message. After starting an in-house training program, I continued to make management presentations to find new customers.

Management needs also to know how to cash in on this potential. Hence, you need a plan that is thorough and cost effective. You have to create the plan if you want to be a player. I suggest laying out a tentative plan and then trying it out on your manager to get new ideas. Some of its contents could cover…

  • development of in-house instructor and materials,
  • overview presentations to management,
  • demonstration presentations to technical staff (and management),
  • a structured brainstorming session addressing a company problem, and led by a USIT instructor (you),
  • a syllabus,
  • an in-house program having training sessions (3-day classes, once per quarter, 9 to 12 students per class recommended {divisible by 3 for in-class team work}) and user group sessions for graduates (1.5 hour / week),
  • classes should include academic-type problems and corporate real-world problems that are well defined (you know the rules),
  • management review/evaluation of results (first evaluation 12 months after first class),
  • overview presentations to other corporate divisions should be planned at the same time (for later delivery). After one year, I found myself making presentations and teaching classes at Ford (and Jaguar) engineering facilities in Germany, England, and Australia.

You might mention that the then VP of Ford Research took my course and was so impressed with USIT that he asked me to put together a team of specialists to apply the methodology to corporate problems world wide. You were there.

Evaluation of the results is very important to management. You should address this up front. To this end, you may find interesting the paper on how I did it in Ford (I'll add it to the Publications and Essays page of this site in a few days.)

3. Charging Matt with the task.

After presentations of the above type (2.) there were no competitors evident in Ford, I doubt you’ll have any either. Or, another way to view it, “you are the stuckee!”.

4. Your preparation.

You already have an excellent start toward tackling the job of USIT instructor (graduate of a Ford class, user group attendee, class aide, division’s user-group organizer/leader, member of the Ford Research Laboratory SIT team). For brush up, I recommend taking a textbook example and developing it into a formal slide presentation – especially all of the graphics. There’s no better way to learn a subject than teaching it. I require this exercise in a train-the-trainer course and a second exercise to reverse engineer a known solution (see web site for an example).

By the way, services are available from Ntelleck, LLC for USIT consulting, overviews, seminars, demonstrations, three-day courses, start-up of user groups, leadership of ad hoc innovation teams and consulting on how to institutionalize the methodology (see the Ntelleck Services page of this site).

Introduction to Matt Smith: In 1997, while an engineer in the Advanced Vehicle Technology Division of Ford Motor Company, Matt took a company SIT class. His interests in SIT grew rapidly. He was a regular participant in the weekly SIT Users Group, assisted in SIT classes, and started a users group in his own division. His skill and enthusiasm led to an invitation to join the Research SIT Team. His management gave him a nine-month leave to join the team where he honed his skills as a team champion on several corporate problems. He has since left Ford and now works for the Electro-Mechanical Division (EMD) of the former Westinghouse Corporation where he is planning a new company-wide USIT training program. Matt hopes to be instrumental in bringing USIT to his colleagues in this company.

Q&A03 How can one self-learn USIT?

Professor Nakagawa asks:

“Your Q&A02 is nice in discussing how to approach management. Matt is already a specialist in USIT. … But most of USIT students are not at that level yet. Could you give us some more advice on how to learn USIT at the levels of beginners, self-learning students, USIT seminar graduates, and some USIT practitioners almost alone in USIT in their companies, etc.?”

Ed replies:

Much of my understanding of USIT came as a self-learning exercise. My colleague, Dr. Stephan, and I, spent a week at a SIT train-the-trainer course in the Open University of Israel. After launching a SIT program within Ford I began developing modifications leading to USIT, and eventually to the textbook (hyperlink). From these experiences, and from teaching experiences, I have several ideas about self-learning USIT.

Self-learning can work very well.

  • Pros:
    • You set your own pace.
    • You work on the problems that interest you.
    • You are not distracted by other student’s seemingly irrelevant questions.
    • It is easier to stay focused on the task (if you are a disciplined thinker).
  • Cons:
    • It can be difficult to obtain an effective overview (outline of objectives).
    • It can be difficult to know what to study (proper materials).
    • It can be difficult to get questions answered.
    • It can be difficult to measure your progress.

Like anything else in this world, if you are determined to master it, you can.

For those who have read the USIT textbook, you may have noticed that it is laid out for self-learning. And it follows a simple concept of teaching that I observed as a physics student, namely, repetition (at three levels).

My view of my physics education can be summarized as follows: in our sophomore-year physics class we studied mechanics, thermal dynamics, electricity and magnetism, and modern physics, in the next two years of undergraduate classes we studied mechanics, thermal dynamics, electricity and magnetism, and modern physics, then in graduate school we had classes in mechanics, statistical mechanics (more heat stuff), electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics. This all culminated in our graduate exams that determined if we were PhD material by testing our comprehension of sophomore physics. I used this idea of repetition in the textbook -- three repetitions, each deeper than the former.

In Unified Structured Inventive Thinking -- How to Invent, Chapter (3) is an over view of the entire USIT methodology. In chapter (4) the methodology is repeated, this time with an example problem being developed along the way as an illustration of the methodology. Then chapters (5 -- 11) repeat the methodology in detail. Also problems in the textbook are worked out to differing degrees of completion to provide the self-learning student (or instructor) material to work on.

My recommendations for self-learning USIT include the following:

For beginners …

  • establish an overview of the entire process (a flow chart);
  • establish a clear understanding of USIT definitions for objects, attributes and functions, along with your own examples of each;
  • understand how objects, attributes and functions are the focus of the solution techniques (the strange titles for the solution techniques will gradually make sense);
  • find your own examples of solution concepts to problems and puzzles that can be binned as uniqueness, dimensionality, pluralization, distribution, transduction and/or generification (ideas are available on this web site and in the textbook);
  • solve problems using USIT.

For practitioners …

  • be able to draw a USIT flow chart from memory;
  • solve problems using USIT;
  • expand your examples of solution concepts and associated solution techniques;
  • reverse engineer a known solution to a design problem (e.g., hyperlink).

For aspiring USIT instructors;

  • solve problems using USIT;
  • reverse engineer a known solution to a design problem (e.g., hyperlink);
  • develop a complete set of lecture slides for demonstrating the application of USIT to a specific design problem
  • teach USIT.

If you will permit, I’d like to add my personal council:

  • When studying USIT set aside all other methodologies in order to capture more quickly and firmly USIT’s underlying principles. In classes, major distractions can occur when students raise challenges to new concepts based on their understanding or hearsay of other methods.
  • Try solving a puzzle or design problem (by any method) in which you pay very close attention to your own mental process. How, when and where, in your mental procedure do solution concepts arise? Practice such introspection to understand how even weird ideas can lead to viable solution concepts. Note how quickly the brain can test, reject, polish, retest, and eventually find a useful concept. What are the triggers, or hints, or flags, that causes your mind suddenly to capture a new insight? This is what you are trying to get USIT to do in your mental process – to lead you to new, effective viewpoints.
  • Pay attention to the structure of USIT to understand how it gives you an underlying discipline to thoroughness and efficiency.

This discussion raises some questions of how an isolated person engaged in self-learning USIT can get questions answered. If this interests you please see Q&A_04.

Q&A04 How to Learn USIT? What About E-Learning USIT?

Matt Smith writes

… to Professor Nakagawa: Your question (Q&A03) about how to learn USIT as a self-learning student or alone in a company is a very difficult one. I know that the time spent solving problems together with USIT/TRIZ experts was by far the most important part of any training I received. Learning without this mentoring and interaction would be very difficult.

… to me: Ed, our user group times at Ford provided some of my best training. Have you ever tried or considered an online user's group? Software such as Microsoft's NetMeeting, which allows chat and collaborative sketching over an internet connection, may allow a user's group for isolated USIT practitioners in Japan and elsewhere around the world.

Ed answers

No, I have no experience with NetMeeting. However, I am concerned about learning aids. To that end, I’ve added to this web site design-problem examples, reverse-engineering examples, puzzles, essays, and lectures. I wonder if enough interest exists to add a web page for self-learners who are actually in the process of self-learning? I think such a web page could capture some of the advantages of the Ford-type SIT Users Group meetings. It could include materials for self-learners to work with, suggested readings, and open discussions of any ideas self-learners submit to the web page. Qs&As specific to self-learners could be incorporated.

E-Users Group: If anyone reading this is interested in a web page for self-learners, please send me a note to that effect (

More on How to Learn USIT.

Toru Nakagawa writes (excerpts): ȁ…For learning any subject, we have three principal ways.

(a) Listening and personal communication/training.

(b) Reading.

(c) Practice/application and thinking by ourselves.

All these three principal ways are desirable for each student. If any one aspect is missing or weak, he/she will not be able to master the subject effectively or get the heart of it. Weakness in (c) may be the most cases where a large number of USIT lecture audiences, textbook readers, seminar graduates, and trial practitioners, etc. have not mastered well the methodology. However, in this aspect the students themselves should be mostly responsible for their outcome”.

Ed’s response: I like the points Professor Nakagawa makes; learning anything is a convoluted process needing various forms of information. For a relatively new subject like USIT, limited information is available which makes the student’s job more difficult.

As I read Professor Nakagawa’s comments I began to think of the USIT learning experiences I’ve had. I think they are generally applicable to learning any technical subject, and are contained in the above three categories (a – c).

1. Conversation. My general interest in the area of systematic problem solving came about in conversations with several colleagues. This is an unpredictable path of learning, it depends on lucky encounters with persons knowledgeable about USIT and other problem-solving methodologies.

2. Reading. This is an extremely important path to learning anything. Again, however, only limited materials are available on USIT. I received an email a couple of months ago from a former University of Southern California student who learned USIT from reading the textbook in his library. He has never attended a lecture or seminar on the subject. (See his email on the Letters page.) When I began learning SIT no published materials on the subject existed in English .

3. Seminars given by experts. I think seminars are important in sparking interest in USIT but probably do not contribute much to one’s practical learning. Seminars tend to be an hour or so in length and mainly give an overview of the subject. However, if you already know the subject, seminars can be a good source of new ideas.

4. Three-day classes. These are key to becoming a USIT practitioner. They have been very successfully used in Ford Motor Company and customers of Ntelleck, LLC. In the three-day classes I teach, theory is mixed in with textbook-type exercises and with real-world problems that the students bring to class from their work places.

5. User groups. User groups are very important as a follow-up technique after a three-day course. A three-day course can cover most of the theory of USIT and a few examples; it does not, however, make a novice into a practitioner of USIT. This requires time devoted to applying the methodology. If new USIT class graduates can be enrolled in a user group soon after the course, they have the best opportunity of quickly making USIT a comfortable tool.

6. Self-practice. The real test of one’s determination to learn USIT is one’s commitment to self-practice. This is where you quickly learn what you understand and do not understand about the methodology. It will help you to know what questions to ask when you participate in a Q&A session or other type of discussion.

7. Team practice. Self-practice gives one the confidence needed to make team practice successful. Team practice is exciting because of the rapid generation of new ideas and scope of issues that are addressed. It is an excellent mode of learning and challenging each other’s understanding.

8. Papers read at technical meetings and their proceedings. This is a very important source of information for the novice and the totally uninformed. It is especially useful for beginners to attend meetings where experts discuss such topics. The most important part of this attendance is not hearing the papers but one-on-one hallway discussions with the experts.

9. Teaching, giving seminars, explaining USIT. It is my philosophy that one cannot claim to understand anything that he/she cannot explain to someone else, no matter what the level of education of the listener. The converse is also true: there is no better understanding than explaining.

The above nine paths to learning USIT seem almost obvious and a bit idealistic. So, what is the truth? In fact, since 1995 technologists in Ford Motor Company have had access to all nine paths. On the other hand, those few of us in the world teaching the methodology came to a teaching level without many of these paths available to us. The only textbook was published in 1997, hence, those of us teaching before that time had no textbook. To date, only a few papers have been published on USIT and they have been rather specialized. Considering my own learning and teaching experience, I think the best recommendation I can give is to get interested in USIT, get exposed to USIT, and get involved practicing USIT. Grab whatever opportunities become available.


This page revised last on 7/12/2003

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Metaphorical observations, as insights to innovation, applies to both the "graphic-minded" and to the "abstract-minded" thinkers. Structured problem solving methodologies, such as USIT, are effective first because they lead the analyst to new vantage points quickly. This is accomplished in one part of USIT through generification of object names. By naming objects by their functions, and not by the words used to find them in catalogs or dictionaries, they instantly take on broader meaning in the innovator's mind. A nail may be referenced better as a "clamp", a "peg", a "hook", a "punch", a "pin", a "fastener", or another name, depending on its application.