In Business: 'Do it in Reverse'
By Jack Hipple
It is good to remember the simple concepts in the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) that can be used quickly to solve many problems. While TRIZ algorithms and patent databases are updated, it is good to remember that many of the simple concepts of a contradiction resolution are all that is needed to solve problems and prompt breakthrough solutions. In business, this can be more applicable as many business problems (though potentially having huge financial impact) are also at their core, simple and basic problems not involving highly technical topics and materials. The 60-year-old TRIZ contradiction matrix as well as the higher level separation principles can be more than adequate for breakthrough problem solving as illustrated with the TRIZ problem solving principle of “do it in reverse.”
The Importance of Contradictions
The founder of TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller, along with his colleagues, recognized that breakthrough inventions were the result of the resolution not the compromise of contradictions. Business schools all over the world teach optimization on how to run or redesign a system so that it minimizes pain to the largest number of people. In TRIZ thinking and problem solving this is contrary – rather, the idea is to eliminate the contradiction so that a business can have its cake and eat it too. This is the basis for breakthrough patents, regardless of field.
The importance of a contradiction resolution is no different in business management and strategy. Books and software have been written that assist in the use of TRIZ principles in this area. A separate version of the contradiction table has also been developed that has some limited use. It is not necessary to research or expand TRIZ to be used in this area. The old fashioned contradiction table can be a great start in looking at these contradictions. Frequently, it is not even necessary to translate any of its parameters for use in this area.
Market research is the function within a company (it is occasionally contracted out to third parties) that tries to determine what people want to buy, their preferences and their price sensitivity. It is frequently a key aspect of new product development as well as a means of improving current product or service offerings. Mistakes here, especially in new product launches, can be extremely costly. A famous example in the U.S. is the introduction of “new” Coke. A different flavor was not better in the taste buds of the consumer as compared to the business managers in Atlanta.
There is so much information available that it is difficult to sort through it and figure out which information is relevant to a given situation or problem. This is only getting more challenging with the widespread availability of the World Wide Web and various search engines. The problem now is not finding information and making judgments about what is valuable.
Despite this vast amount of information, it is also possible to not have the information needed to properly analyze or solve a problem. The productivity in analyzing the information collected has been improved through the use of specialized search engines, some of which are designed around TRIZ problem solving, but there is still too much of it to analyze. Information is basically free and the same information is available to everyone with no easy competitive advantage. The advantage comes in knowing how to generate relevant information at minimal cost, not necessarily in analyzing the existing information.
What does classical TRIZ say about these contradictions? Take out the contradiction matrix and put away the complicated algorithms and software. What are you trying to improve? Consider parameter #24 “loss of information.” When one tries to improve this parameter, what gets worse? Now consider #40 “productivity.” There are not enough people or resources to gather and analyze all the information and make sense of it all. What are the suggested problem solving principles from available contradiction matrixes?
- “Other way around” (or “do it in reverse”)
- Preliminary action
Real World Applications
“The other way around” refers to reversing the normal pattern or process which one uses. In traditional market research, someone is sent to talk to another to gather information. What if this information came automatically so that one did not have to go looking for it?
“Feedback” refers to the use of some kind of mechanism to collect information on a customer’s reaction to a product or service. A simple example of this is comment cards. A global example of this is the use of bar codes on products, which immediately provide feedback to suppliers and warehouses about demand and inventory.
“Dynamics” refers to making the information collection dynamic, variable with the situation or need, constantly updated. When an address changes, for example, it is a sign of something changing in a person’s life. Is the move a result of a marriage, divorce, job change, having children and moving to a bigger house or buying a bigger house to manage an elder? Any of these could trigger a change in demand. If the questions are not asked then the nature of the change needed remains unknown.
“Merging” refers to the integration of another data collection service to collect information at a lower cost.
“Preliminary action” refers to a proactive search for new information and not waiting for trigger events as in “dynamics.” Planning types of questions to send ahead of time is another example.
“Intermediary” refers to the use of an intermediate in the process. Many companies use third party market research firms.
Vacuum Cleaner Shopping
In a recent search for a new and simple canister vacuum cleaner, the team was frustrated by the lack of stock and knowledge at several local stores, including Sears and Wal-Mart. There were plenty of $300 super suction cleaners for carpets, but living in a house with only hardwood floors makes this overkill and inappropriate. At Target, the team found exactly what they were looking for with a helpful sales person and an extraordinarily pleasant checkout person. The team asked for a comment card and filled it out to recognize the people involved. The register receipt also had a code for going online to present feedback. There was also a once a month $5,000 gift certificate drawn monthly from the online feedback forms. Normally, these are just discarded, but in this case $5,000 was viewed as a lot of money and the checkout person was really helpful; the team decided to go online to Target’s website. In addition to the feedback regarding the transaction, Target received some valuable information about where else the team shopped, ages, preferences, what the team shops for and where. This is invaluable market research data and the prize is less than half the value of an experienced market research professional. In addition, the data was far more accurate than what would have been obtained over the phone.
Which of the previous principles were used here? “Do it in reverse” was used as the team gave Target data “feedback” and Target did not have to make the move to obtain it. The market research data was “merged” with an enticing sweepstakes entry. And the team found that the nature of the survey would adjust which questions came next (“dynamism”) based on answered questions.
On a recent anniversary trip overseas, the author surprised his wife and purchased a business class upgrade for their flight home. This normally entitles one to several amenities including use of the airline lounge and advance boarding. In this case, through a series of major mistakes by both the check-in and gate personnel, the author was delayed boarding until the plane was nearly full. The author had not quite calmed down after getting home when he received an email from the carrier asking how much the author enjoyed the upgrade received. That was not the right time to ask that question and they got a lot of information that normally would have just been shrugged off. They learned something in addition to what they were asking just like Target did (principles used: “merging, feedback”).
Despair is a company and website that created a sizable business by mimicking the posters and materials of the Successories company whose materials, geared around motivation, are in airline catalogs and in some retail malls. These posters present motivational and inspirational pictures along with a caption and an emotionally stimulating slogan. Despair takes the same slick format and uses “demotivational” slogans and negative pictures that, from a distance, look similar until you get close enough to read them. One example shows a picture of four hands clasped in a rectangle in the middle of a conference table with the title, “Meetings.” The caption underneath reads: “None of us is as dumb as all of us.” Of course, group meetings and consensus are popular, but this challenges the perceived benefits of those meetings. There are about 80 of these posters available now, including printings on desk calendars, Post-it notes and numerous other bases.
It used to be that new posters just appeared in your email, assuming you signed up or just by going to their website to be amused. About three months ago, an experiment began. A new picture similar in style and tone to previous posters (for example, a small bird perched on the open jaw of an alligator) was emailed to its vast mailing list with the invitation to title the new poster and provide the description underneath. A $500 prize was offered. The list of submissions was narrowed down and then re-sent to the site’s audience to vote on five of these suggestions. Then, the winner was announced and the new poster was displayed through email.
Think about the use of the principles “other way around” with “merging” and “feedback” all in one simple, almost cost-free campaign. How does $500 compare with the cost of thinking up the final answer on one’s own? Pretty soon, the posters will design “themselves” (ideal final result) and maybe the bounty will have to be raised to $1,000. How much does profit go up when one substitutes $1,000 or less for an entire staff of photographers and designers?
Prior to hiring a costly management consultant to assist with customer feedback, review the TRIZ contradiction table for some quick ideas. This is not to say that deeper analysis with TRIZ or other management analytical tools might not add some value, but start simple with what is already known and consider some low cost options easily available through the use of TRIZ tools.
Jack Hipple is a principal with Innovation-TRIZ. He is the TRIZ instructor for AIChE/ASME and does TRIZ workshops for ASQ, PDMA and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. He has written TRIZ articles for The TRIZ Journal, Quality World, Mechanical Engineering, World Futures Quarterly, Creativity and Innovation Management’s inaugural TRIZ issue, as well as a special three-part series on TRIZ for Chemical Engineering Progress. Contact Jack Hipple at jwhinnovator (at) eartlink.net or visit http://www.Innovation-TRIZ.com.