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The Triz Journal | April 30, 2017

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Who Will Learn and Use TRIZ

By Darrell Mann

How to Look at TRIZ

Is TRIZ a set of tools? A method? A way of thinking? A philosophy? Answer: yes – it is all of those. Figure 1 illustrates a hierarchical perspective of TRIZ.

Figure 1: Hierarchical View of TRIZ
TRIZ hierarchy

At its highest level, TRIZ may be seen as the systematic study of excellence, initially focused on patents (a very good source of excellence for the most part), and then evolved to look at excellence in the sciences, the arts, business, social sciences and politics. Five key philosophical elements have emerged from this study. In no particular order, these are:

  1. Ideality: systems evolving to increasing good, decreasing bad
  2. Resources: maximizing the effectiveness of things inside and around a system (even the bad things)
  3. Space/Time: viewing systems in terms of their space and time context
  4. Functionality: the overriding importance of function when thinking about systems
  5. Contradictions: contradiction elimination as a primary evolution driver

Some of these philosophical elements are unique to TRIZ; some have parallel precedent within other similar studies of creativity.

At the bottom of the TRIZ hierarchy, then, are a wide-ranging and comprehensive series of tools and techniques. The tools contain a great deal – some might say overwhelming – level of richness. To all intents and purposes, it may be said that there is a tool for practically any problem that may be encountered. In between philosophy and this collection of tools is something that can be loosely described as “method.” It is at this level that many of the problems of TRIZ occur. Quite literally the choice and quantity of available advice is overwhelming for the large majority of people encountering TRIZ.

The essence of philosophy is distillation of large quantities of knowledge and experience into a small entity. It might take users a considerable amount of time to appreciate the significance of the five philosophical strands of TRIZ, but they can at least be remembered in a few minutes.

At the other end of the hierarchy pyramid, the TRIZ toolkit contains a series of tools that, to varying degrees can be learned and applied also in a relatively short space of time. There is a deal of variation, but as an average, a half-day of learning and doing is usually enough to give a newcomer the will, confidence and ability to use a given tool.

In between toolkit and philosophy, the learning curve for any of the TRIZ methods and processes (with or without software support) is probably measurable in weeks. “Weeks” unfortunately is at the heart of a big problem for the large majority of newcomers to TRIZ. A week is a serious investment of time for anyone in these busy times; there is simply too much else needing to be done and not enough time to do it.

Different User Profiles

Figure 2 illustrates the experiences of watching several hundred students, engineers, scientists, strategists and managers go through at least two days of TRIZ “training.” (Two days is not a lot in a TRIZ learning context – but it is a fair approximation of the sort of course it is possible to sell.)

Figure 2: Typical TRIZ User Profiles
TRIZ user profiles

The first category of user types is the “not for me” variety. This is the individual who, for whatever reason (with bad teaching and instinctive aversion because people have been instructed to attend by their boss being probably the top two reasons), decides he does not like TRIZ or does not want to commit the time necessary to learn it.

The second category involves those who discover a part of TRIZ that they like and choose to adopt it into their way of doing things. This “part” might be a tool like the Contradiction Matrix or the Trends of Evolution, or it might simply be one or two of the Inventive Principles. At the end of the experience, the user has achieved some success using the particular tool or element of, is “satisfied” by that success and shows no desire to expand her TRIZ knowledge. In some small way, however, this category of user is changed by her TRIZ experience.

The third category of user might be seen as the pragmatist. They usually start as users of the second category, but find that there are certain types of problem – or a specific problem – that the TRIZ tool they know has failed to solve. Therefore, they look at other elements of TRIZ until they find something that does solve the problem. The success with the new tool is incorporated into that person”s “way of doing things.” (The importance of “success” in determining whether someone picks up a part of TRIZ or not cannot be underestimated.)

The fourth category of user profile is what is commonly described among long–time TRIZ users as “having the virus” or “being infected.” This type of user typically reads all of the books, papers and articles they can find on TRIZ, and TRIZ changes a significant part of their life.

A breakdown of how TRIZ users are distributed between the four different categories is also included in Figure 2. (These figures have an accuracy of +/-10 percent.) Even with that level of inaccuracy, they contain important messages for user and provider alike.

The Folly of “I Am Right; You Are Wrong”

People have their own ways of doing things. Some of these ways are demonstrably more effective than others, but nevertheless those embedded ways are present and are constraints that will dictate how much and which parts of TRIZ people will be attracted to and which they will reject. Many people ask: “What are the most important parts of TRIZ?” The simple answer to the question is that it depends. It depends on the circumstances of the problem or opportunity under consideration, it depends on the user and it depends on how TRIZ is delivered to them.

Given this belief, it is perhaps surprising that many in the TRIZ community insist that their way of doing things is the right way. In each case, while it might be “right” for them personally, it might be the complete opposite of right to someone else. For example, certain versions of ARIZ place the Psychological Inertia tools before Physical Contradiction separation methods, while others reverse the sequence. Which is right? Answer: both and neither. It depends.

The point? For users – find something that fits your way of doing things (whether it is one Inventive Principle or a complete problem solving method/recipe). For providers – think carefully before you tell people that your way of doing things is “the right way.” You can probably guarantee that it is not.

Self–Adapting Systems

A large proportion of users will only ever know and use one or two tools of TRIZ. If TRIZ is about encouraging people to think, perhaps a useful goal would be to offer them a structure that allows them to – as much as is feasibly practical – mix and match tools (both within and beyond TRIZ) to suit their particular individual circumstances.

Mastery

The profiles illustrated in Figure 2 bear some striking similarities to the profiles described in George Leonard’s book, Mastery. (1) The book describes the four broad categories as “dabblers,” “hackers,” “masters” and “obsessives” respectively. The book makes two points that have particular relevance to the latter two categories:

  1. The third profile in the figure – the “I’ll learn a new bit when I need it” category – is the most effective route to “mastery” of a subject. The book makes the point that the time gap between picking up successive new capabilities (i.e., the flat parts on the graph) is an important part of the knowledge acquisition process. The gap is useful because it provides an opportunity for consolidation; it allows the brain to fully embrace the new capability. In many senses it emphasizes the importance of a learning-doing cycle as a fundamental necessity in “mastering” anything new.
  2. The book draws a different characteristic profile of the “obsessive” character, describing a strong correlation between obsessive drive toward a goal and burnout. The characteristic is reported to be particularly common in situations where individuals pursue singular or non-diverse pursuit of a particular tool or method.

Overlap

Some people are concerned that TRIZ appears to contain a considerable amount of overlap. This overlap exists between different tools, but it also exists within the same tool – note for example how much overlap exists in among just the Inventive Principles. The response of some people to this overlap – particularly among TRIZ providers – is to eliminate it.

But what about the 50 percent of people who will only ever learn one part of TRIZ? Or the next 35 percentwho will expand their knowledge only after what might be a considerable period of time? Is the overlap useful to them or not? Two answers: 1) they are not aware of the bigger picture they are unlikely to be aware of any overlap and so it cannot harm or frustrate them and 2) if they are using TRIZ to try and solve a problem – or “achieve a benefit” – the existence of overlap means that they are more likely to reach a solution. This point is illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The Overlap Advantage. In Case A, the user will solve the problem only
with
the relevant tool. In case B, the users have several opportunities to reach a
successful solution.

TRIZ users overlap

Conclusion

There are generally believed to be two basic ways of achieving a goal. The first involves having a clear vision of what the goal is and an absolute determination to achieve it no matter what the obstacles are. The second involves having a clear vision of what the goal is, and an absolute determination to maximize the use of available resources to help reach the goal. Both can succeed. One route is harder work than the other.

The same choice exists when thinking about the spread and use of TRIZ. We can bludgeon people until they submit, or we can recognize that everyone is different, learns in different ways and wants different things. We can force them to do it our way or allow them sufficient slack to adapt TRIZ (and indeed other tools, methods and philosophies) to suit their particular differences. One is more likely to succeed than the other. One is harder work than the other.

References

  1. Leonard, G., Mastery: The Keys To Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, Plume Books, 1992.
  2. De Bono, E., I Am Right; You Are Wrong, Penguin Books, 1991.
  3. Mann, D.L., “Ideality And Self,” paper presented at TRIZ Future 2001 conference, Bath, November 2001.

About the Author:

Darrell Mann is an engineer by background, having spent 15 years working at Rolls-Royce in various long-term R&D related positions, and ultimately becoming responsible for the company’s long-term future engine strategy. He left the company in 1996 to help set up a high technology company before entering a program of systematic innovation and creativity research at the University of Bath. He first started using TRIZ in 1992, and by the time he left Rolls-Royce had generated over a dozen patents and patent applications. In 1998 he started teaching TRIZ and related methods to both technical and business audiences, and to date has given courses to more than 3,000 delegates across a broad spectrum of industries and disciplines. He continues to actively use, teach and research systematic innovation techniques and is author of the best selling book series Hands-On Systematic Innovation. Contact Darrell Mann at darrell.mann (at) systematic-innovation.com or visit http://www.systematic-innovation.com.