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Let's try our hand at the subtraction technique. For this exercise, you're going to practice on a product that you're familiar with, a household refrigerator. In fact, we'll use this same product throughout the course on all five techniques so you can see how they differ. To use subtraction, you start by listing the components of the refrigerator. With the subtraction technique, remember that you list only the internal components, and by internal, I mean any component that is directly connected to or a part of the refrigerator, those things under the manufacturer's control.
The components would include the compressor, the door, door handle, shelves, drawers, ice maker, light bulb, and temperature control. Notice that we just list the big components, not every little tiny one. Write these on a flip chart or white board if you're working with a team of colleagues. So what about things like food? That's part of the refrigerator, isn't it? We would consider that an external component, and you'll see how some of the techniques use both internal and external components, but for now, let's leave it off your list.
Now, using the function follows form process, let's go to the next step and apply subtraction. You can pick a component randomly, or you can pick an essential one, the compressor, for example. The compressor, as you may know, is responsible for cooling the air in the refrigerator, so it's pretty essential. If you're like most people, your mind is already rushing ahead to imagine a refrigerator without a compressor, and it seems absurd, like a totally useless idea.
But hold on. Be true to the process. You must let the process work the way it was designed to get a good result. All you do at this stage is imagine this as a virtual product. Try to avoid rushing to judgment. Also avoid trying to think of things that would replace the compressor. All you do is visualize it and give it a name, something like a compressor-less refrigerator. Now ask yourself two questions.
First question is should we do it? What would be the benefit of a refrigerator without a compressor? Who would want this, and why? Well, it would certainly be cheaper. You'd have a lot less noise and heat in the kitchen. You'd also have a lot more room at the bottom of the refrigerator. Since we identified some benefits, you ask yourself the second question, can we do it? Is it feasible to make a compressor-less refrigerator? Yes, it could certainly be manufactured.
Perhaps the unit is for cool weather climates only, and it's kept outside. But what about the cooling aspect? Once you complete this first round, the subtraction technique allows you to replace the function of the missing component. Remember, always try to replace it with something from the closed world, something in the immediate vicinity of where the consumer uses the product. If you're not able to, you can think of how to import some technology or other component from outside the closed world.
In this case, what if you replaced the compressor function with the air conditioning unit of the house? It has a compressor too. What if you used your neighbor's compressor inside their refrigerator? If you're a leading maker of refrigerators looking for new markets, perhaps a communal approach to food storage and refrigeration might be a great idea. Such a unit could be ideal for apartments or temporary housing.
After we've explored one idea, like this compressor-less refrigeration, the next step is to go back and apply the subtraction technique again using a different component.
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