Anthony McCaffrey, psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass-A), developed the toolkit after studying common roadblocks to problem-solving.
"I detected a pattern suggesting that something everyone else had overlooked often became the basis of an inventive solution," says McCaffrey, the journal Psychological Science reports.
Looking at more than 100 significant modern and 1,000 historical inventions, McCaffrey analysed how successful inventors overcame various cerebral obstacles to uncover the key information needed to solve problems.
McCaffrey believes his Obscure Features Hypothesis(OFH) has led to the first systematic, step-by-step approach to devising innovation-enhancing techniques to overcome a range of cognitive obstacles to invention, according to an UMass statement.
McCaffrey, post doctoral research fellow at the UMass' Centre for e-Design at UMass and Virginia Tech, recently won a $170,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to turn his technique into software with a user-friendly graphical interface. Initial users will likely be engineers.
He found that almost all innovative solutions follow two steps, as articulated by the OFH: Noticing an infrequently-seen, obscure feature and second, building a solution based on that feature.
So the cognitive psychologist with degrees in computer science and philosophy, who says all three disciplines "have come in very handy to approach this from different angles," set out to study aspects of human perception and cognition that inhibit our noticing obscure features.
"I felt that if I could understand why people overlook certain things, then develop techniques for them to notice much more readily what they were overlooking, I might have a chance to improve creativity," concludes McCraffey.