4.5.1 What is Attribute Listing?

We often have preconceived ideas about situations and people and our thinking is often limited to standard expectations and characteristics. Image you have been asked to meet the General Manager of a big company for a business meeting at the Hilton Hotel. You are waiting at the entrance for a big Mercedes. Suddenly, a cyclist riding a mountain bike with a rucksack on his shoulder appears. He gets off and says: "Good morning, I'm Thomas Edison, General Manager of ..." In this case our expectations of a general Manager is attributed to expensive suits and luxury cars, leather briefcase from a shop selling top brand items etc.

For innovation, we have to question "normal" characteristics. Very often, we consider prerequisites for solving a problem as "given" without reflecting on whether they are appropriate in the situation. If we try to skip one or more of these prerequisites, or try to give them other characteristics, we can find surprising and creative solutions.

Attribute Listing is a creative technique used to find new ideas, solve problems and find innovative products and services. Attribute Listing involves breaking the problem down into smaller and smaller parts and looking at alternative solutions to these parts.

It can be very useful to combine this technique with other creative techniques such as brainstorming, described in the previous modules.

With Attribute listing you describe all of the components/attributes of the product, process, or problem and then list all the possible alternatives to these components.

Let's look at a pencil as an example, the components or attributes of a pencil are:

  • shaft material
  • lead type
  • hardness and width of lead
  • quality
  • colour
  • weight
  • price, etc.


With attribute listing you list all of the alternatives to these components and mix the alternatives generated to find a new innovative product or service.