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Creativity in Product Innovation

| On 17, Jul 2002

Book Review: “Creativity in Product Innovation”

By Ellen Domb and Michael Slocum, editors

Graham Rawlinson
graham@dagr.demon.co.uk

and Catherine Lundberg
clundberg@ontro.com


Creativity in Product Innovation by Jacob Goldenberg and David Mazursky, 2002, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 224 pages. US $80.00 hardback, US $28.00 paperback (recently $23.20 at Barnes & Noble on-line) , ISBN 0-521-00249-4.


Creativity in Product Innovation is loosely related to TRIZ, through the use of “templates” for innovation, that show how the knowledge of the history of the functions of a product (or service, or system) can be predictors of the next generation of the system.

People who are familiar with TRIZ will find many of the ideas related to those that they use in TRIZ. People who are not familiar with TRIZ will not learn much about TRIZ (there is one small reference to Altshuller, which was picked up in the Wall Street Journal publicity that this book received) but they will see how the general idea of patterns of evolution can be turned into an idea-generating system.

The authors are a senior lecturer and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, School of Business Studies. Since this credential is prominently advertised, it is astonishing how weak their attention is to normal academic protocol, such as independent research, and credit to the originators of ideas.

The book purports to be a review of creativity and innovation, especially in the field of marketing new products. Although there are studies reporting great success for the “Creativity Template” approach that they are advocating, the fact that these studies have been carried out by themselves would make them subject to question, and the suggestion that they may have been able to bias the results is not unreasonable. If a pharmaceutical company had carried out such research they would be open to criticism and separate studies would have to be conducted!

Their review of the approaches used by other people in this field are strongly biased, basically dismissed with a few lines and reports of studies, mainly conducted by themselves. Some statements are glaringly over the top:

  • Regarding Mind Mapping and Random Stimulation they say: “There are no reports of tests conducted to estimate the efficiency of this method”. This is blatantly not true.
  • Market trends can be predicted by examining only the product itself, without studying the customer. The success of the combination of quality function deployment (which gathers and quantifies the “voice of the customer”) with TRIZ, both as tool sets and within the Design for Six Sigma process, counters this argument.

Certainly the words used in the book to describe their Templates approach are somewhat new, and on the whole the book is easy to read and understand. But the method is not new and is in fact a reduction of the tools and processes available to any TRIZ follower.

The main section of the book describes and demonstrates 4 Templates, with a Forecasting Matrix added to assist use of one of the Templates. If one decodes these Templates, one finds that they are simple Su-field action/function statements.

  1. The Attribute Dependency Template is a suggestion to use a Component (In TRIZ terms a resource) of the system to perform a new function, or a new variation of that function.
  2. The Replacement Template suggests you use a Component to replace the function of another component and thus remove that component (the TRIZ trimming technique or the utilization of resources method.)
  3. The Displacement Template suggests removing a component and all its functions, which is standard TRIZ where the functions are no longer required, but we do like their additional suggestion that you then find a market for this new product, which lacks these functions, and they give good examples.
  4. The Component Control Template suggests using a component to reduce a harmful effect from an outside component. (Principle 9 of the TRIZ 40 Principles, or Standard 1.2.1 of the 76 Standard Solutions.)

Our concern is that this simple analysis misses the wider power of TRIZ for idea generation and for idea evaluation. Someone using their Templates might miss more complex interactions where a combination of components may be used interactively to deliver results, and may miss the benefits of system (and super- and sub-system analysis) producing results at some other level than the one being attacked.

In a later section of the book there is another set of Templates for use in Advertising. The explanations are clear, and the uses obvious once the explanations and examples have been analyzed. The creativity templates and explanations of creative advertising help the reader to guide product marketing in an effective way. The names suggest the content as follows:

The Pictorial Analogy Template
The Extreme Situation Template
The Consequences Template
The Competition Template
The Interactive Experiment Template
The Dimensionality Alteration Template

These are tools that most creativity and innovation consultants and facilitators have played with, and the labels make the ideas quite clear (except perhaps Interactive Experiment, which is about getting the viewer to engage with the activity on the screen, real or in imagination), but having put them into the package like this is neat and definitely in the spirit of TRIZ; that is, doing the research and then coming up with a general package of solutions that can be applied in a variety of circumstances.

Overall, the book is easy to read, will help some people get oriented to basic TRIZ concepts. The lack of credit to the originators of many of the concepts is a very disturbing aspect of this book-some of the examples come directly from Roni Horowitz’s ASIT training program, for example, and the researchers who developed Synectics, TRIZ, Mind-mapping and Lateral Thinking are similarly ignored, although their concepts are absorbed into the templates.

The global publicity that Dr. Goldenberg has received (“one of the 14 minds that will change our time” May 13,2002, Wall Street Journal) almost make it necessary for TRIZ practitioners to read this book, so that they can explain to others which of the concepts are derived from TRIZ and which are different. If Creativity in Product Innovation serves to introduce the general idea of system evolution and patterns to a wider audience it will have done a considerable service. It would be regrettable if readers stop with the limited ideas in this book, without exploring the much richer fields of TRIZ.