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Getting TRIZ Accepted in a Very Busy World

| On 02, Oct 2000

Jack Hipple
Principal
Innovation-TRIZ
Tampa, FL
813-994-9999
jwhinnovator@earthlink.net
www.innovation-triz.com

TRIZ and its many embodiments in various consulting and software programs is a powerful addition to set of problem solving tools available to engineers, human resource managers, organizational development personnel, and strategic planners. However, as many suppliers of software, training, and consulting services have found, it is not necessarily easy to gain acceptance of a new tool no matter how good we in the TRIZ community think it is. This presentation will review the barriers to acceptance and suggestions on ways to overcome them.

As everyone who uses the TRIZ methodology, its software embodiments, and its various enhancements knows, it is a powerful tool for problem analysis and solution. Many TRIZ problem solvers have seen TRIZ techniques solve problems unsolvable by other methods and teams of people working for long periods of time. If this is true, why has TRIZ not taken off in the same way as other widely accepted industrial problem solving processes and tools? Or is it that we are simply impatient and its adoption is on its normal course?

This author believes the experiences in the market place would suggest that a combination of these two issues is responsible. If we do not take the time to understand and these issues, the TRIZ community will continue to be frustrated in its attempts to commercialize a problem solving process which is known to be an extremely valuable tool. Though the comments in this paper are generic in nature and this author believes they apply to any form of the TRIZ methodology, the experiences related in this paper have come primarily from running 3-day problem solving sessions with Ideation TRIZ and the use of the Innovation Workbench® software.

These are the issues and factors that must be considered in the process of getting TRIZ accepted by its potential customers:

  1. TRIZ must be considered as a new technology. In the sense that any new technology presents a new way of solving problems, it is no less difficult to get people to accept TRIZ than it was the copier machine, desktop computers, cell phones, or other problem solving techniques such as QFD, Taguchi methods, Six Hats® and Lateral Thinking®, or Creative Problem Solving. If TRIZ advocates assume that there is something magical or different about TRIZ that makes it easier to accept and adopt, we are deceiving ourselves.
  2. Any new technology has competition. To assume that any competition is going to instantly get out of the way and disappear is naïve. In the case of new thinking and problem solving methodologies, the resistance is not always in the form of price-cutting, hiring away key people, or the numerous other activities that are sometimes seen in product competition. However, the investment already made by organizations and individuals in those organizations in other tools can be a significant barrier.
  3. Everyone’s plate is very full and nearly everyone is overcommitted in time and resources. Learning anything new, whether it is TRIZ or any other new tool, takes time. To ignore this simple fact and not have the patience to deal with it will lead to frustration and commercial failure.
  4. New technology adoption varies with organizations and within organizations. There have always been early adapters and late adapters in any industry, and in any technology area. It is important to figure out who these people are and work with them to accelerate the adaption process. The factors mentioned above are still issues, but potentially less so. Technology adaption within organizations also varies greatly. Much less frequently than 20 years ago, a senior leader in an organization has a clear vision and decrees that a certain process and tool will be used. This does not guarantee ultimate success, but it does get things started. A far more likely scenario in today’s business world is that general interest from a senior leader generates a search to find a volunteer and champion who will try the new process and tool. Then the experience is shared and slowly pollinates within the organization.
  5. Learning and problem solving processes vary a great deal by individuals and by organizations. It is important to know these different styles and how they can affect the style in which TRIZ training and problem solving should be done.

Let’s take each of these issues and barriers one at a time and discuss them.

TRIZ as a New Technology

People have been solving problems for thousands of years with many different kinds of tools, processes, and techniques. It is hard for many people today to believe that problems were solved without computers, but they were as little as 40 years ago. Most engineers and scientist have heard the story of the first market projections for computer printers by HP as being no more than 500 per year and carbon paper would live forever (has anyone even seen a sample of carbon paper lately?). However, these transitions did not occur instantaneously and without pain, despite the fact that in hindsight they were tremendous inventions that we now find we must have.

In this particular case, what is it about TRIZ that is different? That might make it difficult to accept? Let’s look at the fundamentals of the methodology. First there is the concept of Ideality or Idea Final Result. Only children can think this way easily. By the time engineers have graduated and faced many jaw boning contradictions that they could not resolve, the concept that there is value in dreaming and imagining a contradiction free situation is very difficult, and to many, impractical and useless. The use of compromise as a design philosophy is very strong! What can help here is examples and illustration of where compromise has been overcome with TRIZ. Many corporate clients obviously require confidentiality and these examples are hard to come by. One role for the Altshuller Institute might be as a “storage” for examples which clients have allowed to be shared. Most design engineers are, by nature and by training, analogous thinkers, and anything that provides examples helps tremendously. Case studies are a key to education and understanding, especially case studies form the real world that our customers live in.

The second step in this process of acceptance is to get people to understand that the need for compromise is driven by the existence of contradictions. Most western engineers have lived with contradictions for years and it is their job security! The fact that resolving a contradiction might eliminate a complicated design in which an engineer has invested hundreds of hours of efforts can actually seem to be job threatening rather than being a productivity enhancement. TRIZ session leaders need to think ahead to a typical TRIZ problem solving session, that lasts only 3 days, generating a breakthrough solution to a problem that had generated a less than satisfactory solution and for which an organization spent thousands of dollars and months of time. All TRIZ problem solvers have seen TRIZ professionals salivate and run toward contradictions because they know that is where the opportunity is. We must recognize that most of our clients, seeing a contradiction, see bottles of extra-strength pain relief pills. An effective technique here is to borrow from other creative process techniques and get people to close their eyes and imagine the ideal world without compromise. This kind of group thinking process is used regularly in other types of creative sessions. After this exercise, one can encourage the engineers and problem owners to imagine what their life would be like without unresolved contradictions and design conflicts. Getting people to draw pictures of ideality is also an effective technique because it can start the journey. Another incentive is to get the engineers to think about what they could be doing instead of what they are currently doing. Would they rather be working on the next generation of a product or system, or fixing all the problems in the current design? Would they rather be scaling up a new product or process, or being called out on the midnight shift to fix something that never quite works right? Positive incentives work far better than fear of job security in motivating people to try new things, whether it is TRIZ or anything else.

Consider the Competition

We have all seen many pictures of “S” curves as representations of systems’ evolution, growth, and eventual decline. Any mature industry or technology that is not actively trying to reinvent itself fights back with a vengeance. In the case of problem solving techniques, the resistance doesn’t always come in the form of outright negativity, but from the simple fact that thousands of dollars may have been spent training and institutionalizing a process. And it helps to remember that these processes HAVE solved problems and have a positive reputation. These existing problem-solving processes have, in large corporations, utilized sometimes tens or hundreds of trainers and thousands of dollars in training materials. Personal credibilities are frequently at risk, especially when a senior executive has committed to a program.

In the case of few or no existing problem solving tools (a rare case), the challenge is far easier, but the demonstration of the uniqueness of the tool is still required. The amount of inertia to overcome is also directly proportional to the amount of money the potential user is expected to invest to try the new tool.

One of the fatal mistakes that can be made is to attack these existing tools as inferior or useless. It is far better to take the time to understand how the existing tool is being used and then figure out how to complement and improve it. Offering to run an inexpensive experiment for a potential user can also help to overcome resistance. Collaboration rather than confrontation should be the rule. Everyone attempting to sell TRIZ to a potential user needs to be able to clearly state how TRIZ can improve and complement QFD, Creative Problem Solving, Six Hats®, Lateral Thinking®, Taguchi methods, Six Sigma, and other tools. There is no organization that is not using some or all of these tools. They will not adopt TRIZ or any of its software embodiments without understanding how it will complement or cost-effectively replace them.

Some TRIZ advocates draw a large TRIZ circle, and all other problem solving tools around it, as if it were the center of the universe. This is not the way to get TRIZ accepted. TRIZ advocates must recognize that there is value in many of the tools and identifying the collaborative and complimentary space is the best way to start.

The Plate is Full

Many times a potential user telling TRIZ advocates that their commitments are overwhelming, and that they have no time to evaluate TRIZ, is discouraging. Sometimes advocates hear about the new product launches that are underway. And other times they hear about the massive investment being made in another problem solving tool (Six Sigma is the latest), which brings up the competitive issue discussed previously.

In this case, there are two approaches. Advocates can put potential users in their tickler file and follow up when appropriate. This is frequently the right approach, depending upon the situation. The second is to try to figure out how TRIZ can help make the plate less full. This requires more patience than most advocates normally have. It requires spending enough time with the customer to understand what is overwhelming them and how they can be helped. Frequently, getting the potential TRIZ users to express their frustrations in terms of contradictions is a good place to start. Then the basic concept of TRIZ problem solving can be brought up for discussion.

One of the other commentaries that is heard is that “we don’t need any more ideas, we need to implement the ones we have.” TRIZ practitioners know that the basic problem solving principles they use can be used in either situation, but they too often narrow the application of the principles. One of the most gratifying things that this user has seen in the past few years is the application of the TRIZ principles to organizational and management issues. The use of the Ideation TRIZ Problem Formulator® has been especially useful in this regard.

All people who have run TRIZ problem-solving sessions know that the discipline that they use in TRIZ to properly define the problem is the most useful and important part of the methodology. They constantly see new awareness develop after the correct kinds of problem definition questions have been asked. The truly cost-impacting aspect of TRIZ can be in this phase. The amount of time and money that organizations spend on solving the wrong or poorly defined problem is incredible. This is the aspect of TRIZ that is most marketable to groups with full plates, because every poorly defined problem is spending valuable resources that can be better used elsewhere.

Technology Adoption

An organization adopting TRIZ is no different from an organization adopting bar coding or laser video inspection. It is something different that changes the status quo. There are whole companies and organizations that thrive on being the first to adapt new technologies and leading their peers. Others prefer to see others take the risk and invest later. They are taking the chance that the expensive learning is more of a risk than the waiting. TRIZ advocates must recognize that the use of TRIZ is a paradigm shift in how problems are both analyzed and solved, and that everyone is not prepared to be a paradigm shifter.

It is usually easy to tell the difference in conversations with representatives of organizations, or by reading the literature, patent filings, talking to other consultants, etc.

Pairing up with rapid technology adopters is highly preferred.

If one looks at the adoption of certain types of quality and manufacturing processes, it is seen that the top of the food chain drives them. If someone is a supplier to the Ford Motor Co., and they do not choose to follow Ford’s supplier requirements, they will not be a Ford supplier for long. Using TRIZ in joint problem solving and product design sessions with supplier and customers in the room together can be very powerful. This obviously requires a co-operative, trusting relationship between the parties involved. The joint use of TRIZ could greatly accelerate the adoption of TRIZ in a particular industry, especially if the results were published.

Recognition of Different Learning Styles

In addition to differences in organizational adoption, there are distinct differences in how individuals learn new things. At Idea Connections, we have begun to use Michael Kirton’s KAI assessment tool as part of some of our Ideation TRIZ sessions. This is a globally validated psychological assessment tool that measures the style in which people solve problems. This instrument measures an adaptive vs. innovative problem solving styles. Some individuals think and solve problems in a more incremental way, requiring a stimulus to be creative. Others are capable of ideation without stimulus or structure. Note that we are talking about HOW people solve problems, not WHETHER they can solve problems. We have found that this provides a framework for discussing the analogic thinking process which is such an integral part of TRIZ, as well as providing a framework for group discussions about different ways of thinking about problems. TRIZ software products provide both stimulus and structure, assisting both types of problem solving.

The important point here is to recognize that different people learn differently and ignoring this important fact can make training and adoption of a new tool like TRIZ a less than efficient process.

In figure 1 is shown a Problem Formulator® diagram from the Innovation Workbench® software representing one view of the adoption of TRIZ problem solving within an organization. One can readily see some of the conflicts present by looking at function boxes with both red (negative “causes” arrows) and green (positive “provides” arrows) coming out of them. These would be the primary areas in which the problem solvers would typically focus. These areas are:

  1. Starting the TRIZ program
  2. Training sessions
  3. Solving difficult problems
  4. New problem definition approach
  5. Generation of an exhaustive solution list

Let’s look at each of these in conjunction with the idea list (see figure 2) generated by the Innovation Workbench® software:

Starting the TRIZ Program

If an organization already is overloaded with organizational programs, the introduction of another one can frequently result in sabotage from key members of the organization whose support is urgently needed. The idea list generated by the IWB® software (statements 1-4, Figure 2) point toward the direction of blending the introduction of TRIZ into broader, existing organizational programs. If portions of TRIZ can be added into existing programs without fanfare and their value demonstrated, the cost will be reduced and the resistance will go down, while organizational support will increase.

Training Sessions

The idea list from the software (statements 36-39, figure 2) also point toward the use of alternative ways to do TRIZ training that will improve effectiveness, reduce time, and minimize meetings. The obvious thought here is the Internet and non-meeting based training. There are downsides to this approach in that students cannot learn from each other, but the speed and flexibility of learning may more than make up for this negative factor. There is some experience in this area with Semyon Semansky and Ideation International, but published information about such experiences are rare, and the TRIZ community will have to wait for additional organizational information to emerge.

Solving Difficult Problems

One of the most fascinating psychological observations, made by this author in TRIZ session that he has run, is the reaction of experienced engineers to the sudden realization that years of work, which had resulted in more and more complicated engineering designs, was, in a matter of few days, made obsolete through the use of the basic TRIZ principles of ideality, as well as the identification of unrecognized resources. On occasion, this has resulted in subtle forms of sabotage of the TRIZ generated ideas. The software directions (statements 8-13, figure 2) suggest that enhancing the solutions to difficult problems is a helpful direction. What could this mean? For one thing, management should make it clear that long-standing problems standing in the way of significant new organizational objectives need to be solved to allow new opportunities to be attacked. It should be made clear at the start of a TRIZ problem solving session that no one is going to be “punished” retroactively for having one of their “pet” solutions be shown to be obsolete. It should be made clear that adoption and support for a new breakthrough problem solving technique is expected by all.

New Problem Definition Approach

The software suggestion of enhancing the new problem definition approach (statements 6-8, figure 2) sounds simple, but it is one of the keys based on the author’s experiences. No matter what problem solving approach is currently in use, the problem definition will always take short shrift. Most engineers cannot resist moving into the solution space, but history tells us that vast amounts of money are spent solving the wrong or inadequately defined problems. Tools such as the Problem Formulator® only add to this up front problem definition effort. This author has yet to see a problem solving team not significantly redefine their problem in the course of using this tool. The only way to deal with this is for the advocate using TRIZ to explicitly state the upfront time required and the value that will result. Experiences from other problem solving session can also be shared. Providing a group the opportunity to share organizational experiences with solving poorly defined problems can also help this process.

Exhaustive Solution Set List

One of the real assets of the TRIZ problem solving process is the generation of a near-exhaustive solution set list. TRIZ practitioners recognize this as a real positive aspect of the methodology, but many problem solving groups are overwhelmed by the output of the process, especially with the use of software such as the Innovation Workbench®. In working with a group, it is important for the facilitator to make the point that the best solution can only be obtained by making sure that all solutions have been considered. Management can reinforce the point that committing millions of dollars to new projects can only be done in confidence when all options have been considered. The other point that can be made in the direction of “enhancing the exhaustive solution list” is to recognize the value in such a list from the standpoint in intellectual property strategy. Even if the organization cannot afford or chooses not to pursue all directions, patent claims can be filed which may result in licensing revenue. The handling of large idea lists can also he enhanced by sharing the evaluation task among several individuals and groups. This not only spreads the workload, but also provides the opportunity to obtain divergent idea inputs. Directions relating to this area are in statements 32-35 in figure 2.

In summary, we must consider a large number of external factors and issues when deciding how to approach different kinds of customers with out TRIZ tools. Tailoring our approach and how we use our various tools can be the key to successful implementation and sale of TRIZ software and consulting.

FIGURE 1
Problem Formulator Diagram for the Adoption of TRIZ within an Organization

PROBLEM FORMULATOR® DIAGRAM CODE

Solid Green “Provides” something good
Solid Red “Causes” something bad
Green with Cross Line “Eliminates” something bad
Red with Cross Line “Hinders” something good

FIGURE 2

IDEA LIST DERIVED FROM THE INNOVATION WORKBENCH® PROBLEM FORMULATOR® DIAGRAM IN FIGURE 1

  1. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (TRIZ program starts).
  2. Find a way to enhance [the] (TRIZ program starts).
  3. Find a way to resolve the contradiction: [the] (TRIZ program starts) should exist to obtain [the] (New problem definition approach) and (Training sessions), and should not exist in order to avoid [the] (Competition with current programs) and (Additional costs).
  4. Find a way to do without [the] (TRIZ program starts).
  5. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Competition with current programs).
  6. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (New problem definition approach).
  7. Find a way to enhance [the] (New problem definition approach).
  8. Find a way to resolve the contradiction: [the] (New problem definition approach) should exist to obtain [the] (Improved project selection) and (Difficult problems are solved), and should not exist in order to avoid [the] (Time consumption).
  9. Find a way to do without [the] (New problem definition approach).
  10. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Difficult problems are solved).
  11. Find a way to enhance [the] (Difficult problems are solved).
  12. Find a way to resolve the contradiction: [the] (Difficult problems are solved) should exist to obtain [the] (Higher profits), and should not exist in order to avoid [the] (Professional embarrassment).
  13. Find a way to do without [the] (Difficult problems are solved).
  14. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Improved project selection).
  15. Find a way to enhance [the] (Improved project selection).
  16. Find a way to do without [the] (Improved project selection).
  17. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Higher impact projects).
  18. Find a way to enhance [the] (Higher impact projects).
  19. Find a way to do without [the] (Higher impact projects).
  20. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Higher profits).
  21. Find a way to enhance [the] (Higher profits).
  22. Find a way to protect [the] (Higher profits) from the harmful influence of [the] (Additional costs) and (Poor projects).
  23. Find a way to do without [the] (Higher profits).
  24. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Additional costs).
  25. Find a way to increase the effectiveness of eliminating [the] (Poor projects) by using [the] (Improved project selection).
  26. Find an alternative way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Poor projects).
  27. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (TRIZ is accepted).
  28. Find a way to enhance [the] (TRIZ is accepted).
  29. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Professional embarrassment).
  30. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (TRIZ is rejected).
  31. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Time consumption).
  32. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Exhaustive solution list).
  33. Find a way to enhance [the] (Exhaustive solution list).
  34. Find a way to resolve the contradiction: [the] (Exhaustive solution list) should exist to obtain [the] (Difficult problems are solved), and should not exist in order to avoid [the] (Time consumption).
  35. Find a way to do without [the] (Exhaustive solution list).
  36. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Training sessions).
  37. Find a way to enhance [the] (Training sessions).
  38. Find a way to resolve the contradiction: [the] (Training sessions) should exist to obtain [the] (Difficult problems are solved) and (Exhaustive solution list), and should not exist in order to avoid [the] (Time for meetings) and (Time consumption).
  39. Find a way to do without [the] (Training sessions).
  40. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Time for meetings).