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Select an Innovation Approach for Problem Solving

By Michael S. Slocum and Paul A. Edney


This paper will introduce leading innovation methodologies, briefly explain their construction and application, and describe their impact on problem difficulty. We will also present a methodology that enables the user to select an appropriate method for their innovation challenge, based on a basic decision matrix.

The FarSight Group has cataloged to date some 280 different methods for creative thinking. However, many overlap or address the same class of problems. We present here a leading tool for each dominant class of issues that arise in innovation thinking: problem definition, requirements support, idea generation or expansion and contradiction resolution.

Overview of Innovation Methods

Brainstorming (BSt)

Introduced in 1953 by Alex Osborne, (classic) brainstorming is a three-step technique for idea generation. First, a small group of people, typically fewer than eight individuals, are given a problem statement. Second, people propose ideas as they come to mind, stimulated either by the problem statement itself or by inputs from other participants. And third, ideas are evaluated and selected, oftentimes in conjunction with an affinity process1. A key ground rule of brainstorming is that criticism and debating of ideas are not allowed during the idea generation phase, as these interrupt the flow of ideas; any and every idea is recorded. Brainstorming is the foundation for many other techniques, including brainwriting. The brainstorming process focuses on divergent thinking. This means the number (volume or V) of concepts generated is maximized. This volume is constrained by a single boundary-the problem statement (S). The brainstorming output increases problem difficulty as V increases at a significantly larger rate then any increase in S.

Brainwriting (BWr)

Brainwriting is a written form of brainstorming. Often called brainwriting 6-3-5, six people write three ideas at the top of a page. Each page is then circulated around the group and each person has five minutes to use the three newest ideas on their page to generate three additional ideas. The process repeats itself until each page has been worked on by each individual. While 6-3-5 is ideal, the size of the group, number of ideas and time worked on each group of ideas is flexible. Brainwriting is particularly suited to pearl building2, preventing groupthink and idea generation from “shy” individuals. Although brainwriting is a brainstorming technique, the process constraints are more significant. Not only does the problem definition constraint exist, but there is the idea coordination constraint as well. Idea coordination is the requirement that each successive idea in a column be connected to each previous idea. Problem difficulty is increased but not to the extent it is in BSt.

Heuristic Redefinition Process (HRP)

The purpose of heuristic problem redefinition is to generate new problem statements by linking the goal(s) to the system under consideration. This consists of four steps. First, the opportunity and associated goals must be clearly stated. Second, the system or process must be mapped out and its essential elements or steps identified. Third, the impact or effect of each element or step is described. Finally, each impact is linked back to each element. Thus, heuristic problem definition generates additional problem statements that stimulate thinking about the role of subsystem or subprocess elements on the overall system goal(s). In addition to mapping the system to its subsystems, it also links the process or system to the overall strategy. Therefore, HRP is a convergent thinking process that is constrained by the causal links that exist between each element in the system and its ideal impact on the system.

Transformation of Ideal Solution Elements with Associations and Commonalities (TILMAG)

TILMAG is a German acronym for “transformation of ideal solution elements with associations and commonalities” (Transformation idealer Lösungselemente mit Assoziationen und Gemeinsamkeiten). Characteristics of an ideal solution are displayed in a two-way table. These characteristics are oftentimes functional requirements that would support a specific customer desire or attribute. For each combination of two requirements, ideas are generated to support or provide this set of desired characteristics. TILMAG can be used to set up focused brainstorming or brainwriting on specific aspects or requirements of a problem. Therefore, TILMAG constrains thinking and produces problem statements that may initiate the BSt and/or BWr processes that will then produce a divergent output set.

Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ)

TRIZ is a Russian acronym for “theory for solving problems inventively” (Teoriya Resheniya Izobreatatelskikh Zadatch). Introduced in 1946 by Genrich Altshuller, TRIZ recognizes that the process of solving a problem is independent of its technical content. By leveraging abstract thinking, a type of problem known as a contradiction (a “trade-off”) can be described by two of 39 generic parameters, A and B. This “I want A, but cannot because I lose B” problem, in turn, can be approached with one of 40 generic inventive principles. The challenge then becomes to adapt that approach to the specific problem at hand (analogic thought). Selecting any of the 40 principles to use is aided by the ‘contradiction matrix,’ which summarizes the historical likelihood of success of each principle if applied to each and every A/B problem combination across all industries and businesses worldwide. TRIZ has since greatly expanded to include interaction, measurement, and detection problems, as well as forecasting technological or business trends by leveraging historical patterns. The TRIZ methodology allows the practitioner to converge on a problem statement (ideality, ideal final result and contradiction theory), apply divergent thinking as a response to contradiction theory and analogical thought, and then converge on an ideal solution. TRIZ reduces problem difficulty.

Problem Difficulty (D)

Problem difficulty is concept described by a ratio that describes the difficulty associated with solving a problem and is based on the contribution the applied innovation method brings to the numerator (V) and the denominator (S). V is the total number of potential solution variants identifiable. S is the subset of V that will yield acceptable problem resolution post-implementation. Therefore, the ideal method for identifying a solution (that can be implemented) to a problem will reduce V/S»1. If non-converged ideation is required then D becomes less significant.

Innovative Method Selector (IMS)

The Innovative Method Selector allows the user to respond to particular questions associated with a decision matrix. User responses will guide them through the matrix to the most appropriate aforementioned innovation method for their particular problem. The IMS may be used several times with a single situation as the desired output changes.


Utilization of the IMS will reinforce appropriate methodology application based on simple problem resolution requirements. This will educate problem solvers with the appropriate response generation technique and may act as a simple aid to problem solving. The authors intend to provide the details for a more complex method selector that will integrate a wider array of techniques in order to provide direction based on a wider desired output set.

[1] The affinity process is a technique that may be used to process a large output. The technique involves arranging similar concepts in groups until the higher level organization is exhausted. This process may continue until all relevant groupings have been achieved. The result is an organized grouping of concepts based on similarities. This helps the problem solver to post-process the output of a BSt session and is an intermediary step between BSt and concept selection.

[2] Pearl building is a collaborative process in which an idea or concept is provided by a member of the team. Another member of the team adds to this first idea and develops it further. This process continues until exhaustion – allowing the idea to evolve in response to multiple inputs. This process has been described as comparable to a grain of sand creating a pearl by an oyster.

About the Authors:

Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit

Paul A. Edney, Ph.D., is the owner of Edney Consulting. Contact Paul A. Edney at paul (at) or visit