“Can it accomplish multiple objectives?”
Universality: Make a component of a product or service perform multiple functions.
The ubiquitous KitchenAid stand mixer takes advantage of its heavy motor and an attachment hub (power take-off) to allow the use of many different gadgets (meat grinders, pasta makers).
Glass cockpits, dashboards and phones
Originating in planes, the idea of replacing multiple dials and switches with multi-function displays and input systems that is now common on car dashboards and phone screens is an example of universality.
Tool kits and pencil cases
Other examples include the adjustable wrench, the sliding compound miter saw which can be adjusted to multiple angles on two axes, and the protractor that can be used to measure angles and as a ruler.
Multifunction roof tiles
One of Elon Musk’s efforts, Solar City, has how begun to manufacture roof tiles that create electricity from solar energy, combining two functions into one building product.
Universality can be confused with Principle 5 – Merging. If you are doing dishes and you swat a fly with the dish towel, then the this is Universality – using something for more than one purpose.
However, if you connect two otherwise distinct objects or services into one, such as a pencil with an eraser on its end, this is Merging.
In the KitchenAid example above, the stand mixer’s Universality is improved by providing the attachment hub, making it more able to power a wide variety of attachments. Once connected to the cheese grater or meat grinder, however, one could also view the two items combined as an example of Merging.
As I stumble across real world examples of this Inventive Principle in action I add them here.
What problems do you face that this inventive principle could help solve? Have you used this principle before?