Seeking - and Measuring - Innovative Ideality
Regardless of how extensively you deploy a systematic innovation engine, one of the first steps you take is to define your ideal state. In the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ), this is your ideal final result (IFR), a philosophical construct that provides a measurable framework within which you can gauge progress on an innovation project, as well as an overall innovation roadmap. The IFR can also be used to create the perfect solution to strive for in problem solving.
Leonardo da Vinci suggested that it is good practice to think of the end before the beginning, embracing the definition of a target before taking aim. The TRIZ methodology proposes that you develop this target, so that you do not find yourself randomly shooting and are then feel surprised when you do not hit anything. From this perspective, it is not important whether the IFR is practicably attainable; what matters is that you release the creative process from the hold of psychological inertia – accept the possibility for a perfect innovation event to occur.
The IFR’s Four Criteria
The IFR is a tremendous improvement over current approaches that promote the search for mediocrity, which is more commonly referred to as “compromise.” If you do not envision your ideal result, you never learn how weak your resolutions are and you never know how to gauge your innovation progress. Four criteria apply to the configuration of any IFR for any innovation project:
- The IFR does not introduce new harm into the system at hand.
- The ideal solution preserves all the advantages of the existing system.
- The new solution eliminates the disadvantages of the existing system.
- There is no, or minimal, increase in the system’s complexity.
The IFR of any innovation problem is conceptualized into a metric called ideality, which is the sum of the useful functions in a system divided by the harmful functions in a system. Although the IFR is philosophical in nature, ideality is mathematical in nature. Ideality is a useful metric; ideal result attainment is usually not possible but multi-generational progress toward the IFR is possible and expected.
In other words, concepts developed during TRIZ-directed problem solving processes are not equal; the litmus test for all innovation ideas is ideality. And ideality is the inverse of the distance between the current state of a system and the ideal state of the system. Therefore, the closer the current state is to the ideal state, the higher the ideality. It is the intention of the TRIZ practitioner to maximize ideality by maximizing the numerator and minimizing the denominator. However, the actual calculation of ideality may never be strictly necessary, or possible, as it is difficult to capture every element in a system, then perfectly distribute each element’s impact on the numerator and the denominator – let alone normalize all the units of measure involved.
Closing in on the Ideal
Even approximations of the elements in a system and their impact on the ideality ratio are very helpful. Axiomatic design techniques can be used to populate the system, depositing the diagonal elements of the axiomatic design equation into the numerator and the non-diagonal elements into the denominator. You can also use functional modeling to identify the elements in a system and then use their useful and harmful functions to determine distribution of the element to the numerator, the denominator or both. These techniques provide some objectivity to the subjective concept of the ideal. The subjective concept, however, is powerful enough to drive problem solving in the right direction.
The IFR and the ideality equation are critical in the battle against mediocrity – and therefore absolutely necessary ingredients of systematic innovation. If you can increase the useful functions in a system while decreasing the harmful functions – with no additional cost per unit of benefit – you have achieved the objective of innovative adaptation.
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) inventioneeringco.com or visit http://www.inventioneeringco.com.