I Want TRIZ To Be Easy And Difficult
Editor | On 27, Feb 2018
I was reading ‘The Dumbest Generation’ (Reference 1) the other month. It’s about Generation Y. If the title suggests some kind of a sensationalist hatchet-job on the Millennials, it actually betrays the presence of some really quite deep content. Of particular note, it seemed to me, was the research showing that if students are over-cosseted – by making assignments too easy, or having teacher’s step-in when things get tricky, or, worst, allowing children to choose for themselves what subjects and topics they ‘want’ to learn – we’re not helping them. Struggling with a difficult problem is important. The learning is in the struggle.
If this turns out to be universally true, it tells us that a lot of the development trajectories educators are taking are wrong. Designing stuff to be easy, in other words, isn’t necessarily the right direction. The same applies for the development of tools and methods. Which therefore also applies to TRIZ. Which in turn should perhaps sound something of a warning bell to anyone operating in and around the subject, since the majority of TRIZ ‘research’ in the past twenty years appears largely to have been focused in the direction of making life simpler for the (novice) user.
Now, on some levels, there is nothing wrong with such a simplification strategy when we’re dealing with a capability that is still relatively immature. Things get more complex and then they get less complex. That’s how the world works. We have to go through the complex stage in order to know how to simplify without compromising capability.
It’s the ‘without compromising capability’ aspect that’s often been the problem for TRIZ developers. Especially in things like SIT (or its many variants USIT, ASIT, etc), where simplification has very definitely compromised capability.
The Systematic Innovation response to the capability-complexity conflict, at least in recent years since computer technology has sufficiently advanced, has been to subsume the complexity into progressively more and more sophisticated search tools. PatentInspiration, for example, (Reference 2) makes it possible for users to very rapidly find ‘the’ answer to whatever technical problem they might be facing. The PanSensic ‘Contradiction Finder’ (Reference 3) does an equivalent upstream job of helping users to automatically find good problems to solve. Combine the two things together, and we’re somewhere close to being able to cut out the human in the middle: PanSensic will find and rank all the problems and opportunities; PatentInspiration goes and finds all the solutions. Complexity managed; learning curve for the user heading towards zero.
What The Dumbest Generation asks, however, is, ‘is this the right direction?’ Is TRIZ and Systematic Innovation heading towards the wrong Ideal Final Result? Maybe there is a place for TRIZ being difficult. Maybe it needs to be difficult. Maybe we have a contradiction to solve: TRIZ needs to be simple and difficult…
Maybe something like this figure .(Maybe, too, the same conflict is present in any kind of tool or method?)
Perhaps the most counter-intuitive aspect of the figure is figuring out why anyone would want something to be difficult? What Dumbest Generation tells us is what I think we instinctively know: it’s only when we’ve persevered through genuine struggle that we really value something. Some things in life are just supposed to be difficult. Struggle begets meaning. If it was easy it was meaningless.
This perhaps puts a different light on the trajectory of TRIZ (and other tools and methods). By making things easy, we hold up the potential that prospective users de-value what that thing is doing.
As ever in TRIZ-World, the key insight here is not about trying to find the right balance between easy and difficult, it is to solve the contradiction. And perhaps best to do it at the level of the physical contradiction itself…
…which swiftly takes us to the separation principles and the questions: where do we want it to be easy? Where do we want it to be difficult? When do we want it to be easy? When do we want it to be difficult? Under what conditions do we want it to be easy? Under what conditions do we want it to be difficult?
Thinking through the possible answers to these questions, it seems that separation under special or temporal parameters doesn’t make as much sense as separation based on different conditions. If this is the case, the most likely solution strategies (based on the latest version of the Business Matrix – Reference 4), are as follows:
The potential value in working through the physical contradiction solution process this way around – i.e. jump into the Inventive Principles before thinking about the possible separation conditions – is that oftentimes the Inventive Principles can help us to formulate our thinking about the conditional separation question. Seeing Inventive Principle 12, ‘Equi-Potentiality’ or ‘Reduce Tension’ offers up an immediate clue about using tension or stress as a means of working out the conditions in which TRIZ needs to be easy or difficult.
A significant piece of research on stress (something we find ourselves using fairly frequently with clients) is the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle. We find ourselves using this model for the simple reason that when we’re thinking about ‘someone, somewhere solved your problem’, the most productive places to go look are people with an extreme version of your problem. Struggling with a difficult problem is nowhere near as traumatic as the loss of a loved one, but the emotional journey for the latter has an awful lot to inform the former. Whenever we get something wrong, we go through our own mini-Grief Cycle. We don’t like being wrong. Part of the reason we don’t like being wrong is it means that our predictive model of the future is wrong, and that is potentially dangerous. Admitting we’re wrong about something is traumatic because the trauma helps us to get beyond our current incorrect model and to find a better one.
Here’s the Grief Cycle in its most common five-stage form:
Denial – when problem solvers are denying a need to do anything, there’s a need to offer up a Mentor (Principle 24) to help light the way.
Frustration/Anger – when attempts to solve a problem are being frustrated, this is when the process needs to be difficult. Frustration is the mother of innovation: it’s only when we’re frustrated that we have a real incentive to change what and how we do things. Ideally, looking at the list of recommended Inventive Principles, we would like to know when our frustration turns to anger (Principle 23): frustration is a useful emotion; anger tends to means we’ve tipped over into a mind-state that is far less productive from a solution generation process.
Depression: now we want TRIZ to be easy again. Here’s where ‘sense of progress’ becomes the dominant need. Again we need to know what emotions are being felt (Principle 23) in best guide the problem solver towards a productive solution direction; giving them something ‘easy’ to allow them to feel that all is well and that progress is being made.
Bargaining: another time when things being difficult helps. Bargaining is about trying to realise meaning. It’s the stage of the journey we’re going to look back on when it comes to reliving the moments during which meaning was created.
Acceptance: in the context of problem-solving, the acceptance stage is the stage at which the problem is largely ‘solved’ and the job to be done becomes about planning and moving on. In which case it’s probably a good idea for things
There are probably a host of other conditional-separation strategies we could also make use of to solve the easy/difficult contradiction (e.g. mapping the needs at the various stages of the Hero’s Journey). It’s difficult to know the right model to use unless we know the specific context of a given situation. The intention in this article is to keep matters as universally generic as possible. Which means:
- Our job as TRIZ (or other tool/method) developers is to help resolve the easy-and-difficult contradiction
- Recognising that the contradiction is best separated depending on the prevailing context and conditions
- Finding an appropriate context model (Kubler-Ross, Hero’s Journey, Stage-Gate process, etc – whatever the problem solving team is already familiar with)
- Managing the easy-difficult shifts along that journey… informed using appropriate feedback mechanisms along the way.
I think the idea is it’s (conditionally) supposed to be.
- Bauerlein, M., ‘The Dumbest Generation: How The Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans And Jeopardizes Our Future’, Tarcher/Penguin, 2008.
- Mann, D.L., Howarth, P., ‘Simpler, Better, Faster: Solving Contradiction Contradictions’, TRIZ Journal, March 2017.
- Mann, D.L., ‘Business Matrix 3.0’, IFR Press, 2017. In press.
- Kübler-Ross, E., Kessler, D., ‘On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss’, Simon & Schuster Re-issue Edition, 2014.