IAF Methods

Improvements to

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"Improvements to" is the counterpart of "uses for." Whereas "uses for" concentrates on using a given item, often unchanged, for multiple purposes different from the item's original purpose, the "improvements to" technique focuses on altering an item to enhance its original, given purpose. The item in question can be any of several kinds and is not limited to objects.


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    Time needed: 60 min.


    Think of any improvements to any one of the three areas suggested:
    A. Objects. The first and most obvious "thing" to improve is an object, usually something common that most people would never think of changing. The classic, textbook example item is the coffee cup. Suggested improvements have included things like
    * multiple handles
    * anti skid
    * anti tip over
    * anti spill (lids)
    * built-in heater
    * decorations
    * wheels
    * tea bag holder on side
    * insulated
    * self brewing
    * self cleaning
    and so forth. The improvements ideally should move away from obvious bolt-on things, however. For example, in the problem, "Think of several ways to improve books," the first things that come to mind might be the addition or repair ones like
    * better binding
    * lighter weight
    * lower cost
    * clearer type
    * more color pictures
    * better indexes
    but we might also think about more imaginative improvements like
    * books that read themselves (talk to you)
    * books with three dimensional pictures
    * books with multiple reading paths
    * books that explain their hard parts (better glosses?)
    * books that project on the wall so you don't have to hold them

    B. Places, Institutions, Things. In addition to the object, a second kind of thing that improvements for can be applied to is a place, institution, or thing. For example, list ten ways to improve a college, or a marriage, or a shopping mall, or the local church, or the road system, or communications channels (telephone, TV, radio). Improvements to these areas require more thoughtful and elaborate proposals, often involving improvements in attitudes, beliefs, behavior, relationships, or other non-tangible things, as well as changes in physical technology. A piece of wood and a tube of glue are no longer sufficient to effect improvement.

    C. Ideas. A third area of improvement is even more removed from wood and glue: the improvement of ideas or abstractions. How can we improve art or the writing of history or the application of personal values to our actions?

    In all of these cases, problem exploration (an exploration and articulation of needs) is usually the first step. What is there about a coffee cup that is deficient or that could be made better? What about shopping malls do you (and most people) dislike? How is the bulk of recorded or taught history insufficient or imperfect--what keeps it from being described as excellent?

    Again, remember the constructive discontent philosophy. The coffee cup, the local church, the college, art, all may be really good and suitable and "satisfactory" in what they do; to look for ways to improve them should not imply condemnation or rejection. This "either it's fine or it's bad" attitude often gets in the way of thinking calmly about improvements. In personal relationships, romantic or supervisor/employee, in techniques and policies, whenever someone suggests an improvement, the typical response is, "So what's so terrible about it now?" Be sensitive, therefore, to the ego needs of the human element involved in improving things. Don't rush into the cafeteria and declare that you are there to make the putrid food edible at last--think of the people who make it now. Don't rush up to your boss and declare that you are about to reveal why his management style stinks. Don't call your best friend and offer to reform her disgusting and selfish personality.


    Follow-Up Required: Process the ideas


    Source: Unknown

    History of Development: Unknown

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