Problem-Solving Systems: What’s Next after TRIZ?
Editor | On 10, Mar 1999
(With an Introduction to Psychological Inertia and Other Barriers to Creativity)
James Kowalick, President, Renaissance Leadership Institute
Voice: (530) 692-1944 ~ Fax: (530) 692-1946 ~ E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
INTRODUCTION A history of systems, techniques and approaches for solving problems is presented in the book, Birth of an Invention(1) published in 1995 in Moscow. That book contains a diagram indicating that the TRIZ approach continues to be developed. A recent paper(2) on “Triads” presents another powerful problem-solving approach. Each of these approaches lies somewhere on the set of S-curves(3,4) for “systems used to solve problems.”
It is difficult for users and developers of an old technical system to welcome new systems when they come along. This is certainly the case with the TRIZ approach, which itself comprises a “technical system.” Users skilled in this problem-solving approach may tend to believe that the system they are currently using is “the ultimate.” But progress stops for no-one. The idea of system evolution means that “something better is coming along” – something that corrects the deficiencies of the current approach, and offers greater functional performance than the previous system.
TRIZ is an “old” system(5,6), having been under development and in use for over fifty years. Although it is still relatively new in western nations, its status on the TRIZ S-curve is one of a “mature” approach.
One sign that TRIZ is a mature system is that its performance is being enhanced by the use of software(7), which merely accelerates the problem-solving process. Another sign that the TRIZ system is mature is the current demand by some practicing TRIZniks for “standardization.” It is to be expected that a new, “breakthrough” approach(8) will replace all or parts of the TRIZ approach.
Corporations that field products don’t really care whether a new system replaces TRIZ, or not. What they care about is their capability to rapidly and effectively solve problems, and to conceive breakthrough designs(9,10). Such capabilities will significantly assist them in their business!
The author is continually asked by his corporate clients: “What new and better problem-solving systems are on the horizon?” “What systems will replace, or significantly improve upon, the performance of TRIZ?” “What’s beyond TRIZ?”
The purpose of this paper is to examine:
- Some of the key capabilities of TRIZ.
- Areas of TRIZ that need improvement(11) (i.e., “deficiencies” of the current TRIZ approach).
- Competing or better problem-solving approaches that can replace or be integrated with the TRIZ approach.
- Directions that current developers are already taking from the “Classic TRIZ”
Before addressing these four areas, the history of the TRIZ approach will be very briefly presented.
HISTORY OF TRIZ AND ITS INTRODUCTION TO THE WEST The story of TRIZ is interesting and unusual. Its history has been written in various Russian sources for Russian readership, but not much of it has been presented in English.
- When TRIZ first appeared, it was superior to existing problem-solving approaches, but it was developed in a country – the former USSR – whose government did not appreciate it, nor even support it to any great degree. TRIZ was politically in disfavor with the established government (and therefore, with government-run organizations) for an appreciable time. From one perspective, it was an “underground” movement, academic and intellectual in nature. Perhaps this was precisely the environment that would support the development of such a brilliant approach.
- TRIZ could not be employed to support mainstream, commercial technology in the former USSR, because for all essential purposes, there was no widespread commercial (free enterprise) technology there. The ability to establish and run a business was prohibited. Determining and satisfying the needs of customers was also an idea that was neither practical in, nor part of the culture of the former USSR.
- It was not until much later, upon its exportation to western countries, that TRIZ could be broadly tested by applying it to a wide range of technologies and an expanded range of products (for example, the former database of TRIZ was quite deficient in “electronic” effects and electronic products; it was not until TRIZ came to the USA that this part of the TRIZ database was seriously updated). By that time, TRIZ was nearly forty years old (dating from its initial discovery by Altshuller in the late 1940’s).
- When the TRIZ approach began to catch the attention of corporations in the early 1990’s, its comprehensive power and brilliant capabilities were immediately recognized by only a few westerners – including the author. Virtually no corporations, and few individuals in the mainstream technical world, had even heard about it. Even today, most western corporations either have not heard of TRIZ, or do not understand what it is. In the United States, TRIZ is “in its infancy” as a problem-solving, creative approach.
- The first TRIZ educational opportunities for industry in the U.S. were very limited. There were public TRIZ introductory courses given for industry at the University of Connecticut. Instructors at these courses were brilliant and highly knowledgeable in TRIZ. Their marketing & training approach, however, was less than optimal. TRIZ did not “catch on” rapidly in the early 1990’s. This was another indication that TRIZ was – and still is – in its infancy in the U.S.
- Yet another reason for the slow start of the adoption of TRIZ in the U.S. was the making of wild promises, and the overly-aggressive, “get rich quickly” behavior on the part of a few TRIZ ganizations doing business with client organizations and investors. One “pioneering” U.S. corporation privately disclosed that because of this, their corporation had already developed a “bitter taste” for TRIZ. This
represented a slight setback for TRIZ – even though the approach itself is very powerful. A “buyer beware” attitude still prevails in a portion of the potential TRIZ marketplace.
- In those early days of TRIZ in the United States, two firms(13) – recently referred to in Fortune Magazine – entered the TRIZ marketplace with the goal of providing high quality products and services for customers. One was the author’s firm, Renaissance Leadership Institute (RLI), which began offering public and in-company TRIZ training and consulting to corporate professionals in 1991, and established a TRIZ executive overview session for Executives at Cal Tech’s Industrial Relations Center, in Pasadena, California(12). That course introduced hundreds of corporate executives to the TRIZ approach.
- The other firm that entered the American marketplace in the early 1990’s, Invention Machine Corporation, initiated a program to develop various TRIZ software packages that are now on sale worldwide. In a rather daring move for a group schooled in the classical TRIZ approach, IMC abandoned the use of the name “TRIZ” in marketing their software products, and took a “functional analysis” approach to problem-solving. Their software is, however, based upon a TRIZ foundation, but it also has much value added because of the manner in which functional analysis has been applied to conventional TRIZ techniques. More will be said about Invention Machine’s products later in this article.
- Another entry in the early 1990’s offering TRIZ training was ASI, the co-sponsor of this conference. ASI is famous for having introduced the North American automotive world, and later many other industries, to the Taguchi Methods. Therefore it seemed natural for them to initiate TRIZ training.
- Since those early years, the author has brought TRIZ Certification, advanced TRIZ, and TRIZ Technology Forecasting to the American marketplace; a few corporations, including Melroe-Ingersoll Rand, have been using these approaches to advantage.
- In 1996, the author and Dr. Ellen Domb formed the TRIZ Institute – the co-sponsor of this conference – and gave birth to The TRIZ Journal on the world wide web. Since that time, the whole world has become aware of the TRIZ approach.
- In the current year – 1998 – there are over a dozen legitimate TRIZ consulting and training firms, but the TRIZ approach is still in its infancy in terms of its practice by corporations in the U.S. and in western Europe. Of the more than a dozen TRIZ consulting and training firms, only a few have the capability of teaching and applying TRIZ at the highest levels.
- Those few companies(14,15) who have learned to use TRIZ well are receiving many benefits. One of these, the author’s client, is Ingersoll-Rand’s Melroe Company, maker of the Bobcat and other series of products. This company is one of very few organizations who know how – on an in-house basis – to successfully employ leading-edge tools and approaches (including TRIZ, QFD and Robust Design) in an integrated way in their total product development process. Their company initiative began, and continues to be supported, by top management from Melroe’s headquarters in North Dakota. One part of the success of this company is the establishment of a group of “internal consultants,” each with expertise in one or more of the leading-edge design tools and/or management approaches. The Melroe Company is scheduled to give a paper on some of their TRIZ activities at this conference.
SOME LIMITATIONS AND PROBLEMS OF TRIZ Several articles and a few books have appeared(16) citing the advantages of the TRIZ approach; very few of these have examined TRIZ with a critical eye. Let’s take a look at some of the limitations, deficiencies and problems associated with the TRIZ approach – including TRIZ training and software.
Complexity The primary procedure of TRIZ for solving ‘Inventive-type” problems is called ARIZ – Algorithm for the Solution of Inventive-type Problems. The use of ARIZ is highly effective. The author and his clients use it to solve very difficult problems. But if ARIZ is to be judged by the same criteria with which we judge other technical procedures, it has to be stated that “ARIZ is a very complex system that is not easy to learn in a relatively short time.” Some TRIZniks will argue, “Oh, but I teach it very effectively,” or, “What do you expect? A student has to make efforts to learn something worthwhile!” There is certainly some truth to these statements. However, the very “best” systems are not overly complex, nor are they overly difficult and time-consuming to learn. In this sense, they are “elegant” systems. The response to this challenge must be “simplify the system,” and that’s precisely what TRIZ developers and instructors have been doing over the past several decades.
System Representation by Substance-Fields Substance-field analysis and substance-field models are employed in TRIZ to illuminate and clarify the problem, and to facilitate the search for solutions. According to TRIZ, a substance-field represents a technical system (in fact, it represents a function of a technical system). A real problem with substance-fields, however, is that they inadequately describe the essential system elements, or parts, required for the function to exist(17). Because of this, the domain of solution possibilities is artificially restricted. The TRIZ approach, when used with substance-fields alone, will not always lead a problem-solver to certain high-level solutions.
A substance-field, as it is defined in TRIZ, is both a brilliant and a useful concept, but it does not go far enough. What a substance-field model typically represents is an interaction between two system objects. Understood in this way, substance-field models are useful to problem-solvers. They become even more useful, however, when the problem solver applies “Triads.”(2). A Triad adequately represents a system function, and includes within itself up to three substance-fields.
It may appear from the above discussion that a Triad is not much different from an S-Field, but to practitioners who understand and use S-Fields and Triads in an integrated way, problem-solving is significantly enhanced.
Personal Creativity One of the claims of TRIZ is that its practice leads to breakthroughs in the way that people think. The practice of TRIZ actually changes personal creativity in a powerful way, significantly expanding the mind’s capacity. This is a result of the application and understanding of TRIZ philosophy and practices.
A series of exercises and practices have been created by TRIZniks – aimed at increasing the mind’s creative powers(1). This approach leads to a “creative personality.” The practice of TRIZ, however, tends to increase creative capacity without significantly raising the “level” of personal creativity. There already exist extensive tools and techniques for expanding creativity, and these are a part of the TRIZ approach. In the author’s opinion, however, these primarily expand the practitioner’s creative powers in a “lateral” direction and not in a “vertical” direction.
Successor systems to TRIZ will go further in developing higher levels of personal creativity – tapping human potential that TRIZ has left un-tapped. Next-generation creativity systems will be based upon a superior understanding of human psychology. Right from the inception of TRIZ, human psychology was dismissed because it did not lead to an understanding of creativity and problem-solving.
The author has personally verified the importance of a practical understanding of human psychology as a means of significantly increasing personal creativity(18). Certain psychological practices and exercises do indeed lead to developing higher creative powers(19). These practices and exercises will probably be a part of next-generation creativity systems.
Psychological Inertia Psychological inertia (PI) is a concept that was discovered by Altshuller, and later elaborated upon by Zlotin and Kowalick(20, 21, 22). PI is a powerful concept that very accurately describes impediments to higher thinking. PI is discussed in this paper from the standpoint of current problem-solving systems. In the TRIZ approach PI is presented as the main barrier to creative thinking.
One of the problems with the TRIZ philosophy is that it fails to present PI in an organized way. Furthermore, PI’s relationship with human functions has not been well established(21, 22).
Future problem-solving systems will recognize PI as only one of several major barriers to creative problem-solving. Two additional barriers are quite prominent in human beings, so they need to be discussed further. These barriers are “ordinary imagination” and “identification.”(23)
Ordinary Imagination A major barrier to creativity (besides PI) is “ordinary imagination,”(24) which is really a form of “day-dreaming” or uncontrolled wandering of the mind. This happens to almost all people, almost all of the time. Those who are trapped in it have little chance of observing its harmful effects on creativity. It’s possible, however, to observe it and to work against it.
While quietly driving a car alone, it may be possible to realize that the same thoughts, about the same types of subjects, keep flowing through one’s mind – over and over and over. The subject matter may differ from person to person, but for each person, the same so-called “thoughts” get repeated. This is the uncontrolled process of ordinary imagination. It requires a certain “energy” in order to operate; this energy is taken from a limited reservoir of creative energy.
The loss of (human) creative energy to ordinary imagination means that less energy is available for higher and more creative functions. Ordinary imagination is so potent because it is uncontrolled – it “just “happens to” human beings without their intention. There are exercises(19) that have the object of escaping from ordinary imagination; these exercises work, and they will be a part of successor systems to TRIZ. It should be emphasized here that ordinary imagination is quite different from “creative imagination” – the former process is uncontrolled, and the latter process controlled.
Identification Another major impediment to creativity (besides PI) is the power of objects, thoughts, emotions, persons, concepts, and situations in general to attract the attention of human beings, leaving them unable to apply attention in a creative, intentional way. Like ordinary imagination this robs them of energy that could have been available for higher and more creative functions. A word that aptly describes this process is “identification,”(24) meaning that the power of the object, thought, emotion, other person, etc., is so strong, that the “victim” actually becomes the object of thought, emotion, other person, etc., to which he is attracted. It’s very easy to think of hundreds of examples of this creativity-inhibiting process in everyday life.
As an example of identification, the author recently saw the driver of an automobile standing next to one of the tires that was flat, kicking it and shouting at the tire in a loud voice – as if the tire could hear him! The tire did get its “revenge,” however: it robbed the driver of energy that the driver could have used in a more intelligent fashion. The same is true for any objects, thoughts, emotions, people, etc., with which an individual becomes “identified.” Losing one’s control at meetings, for example, results in the same loss of energy. It is a contradiction: even fairly creative people could be far more creative, if they were simply able to control their tempers! It is usually not possible for them to change, however, because they are often “in love with” their tempers.
There are other barriers to creativity than ordinary imagination and identification. .A full understanding of what these barriers are, how they operate, and how to work against them or eliminate them, leads to higher creative powers. Successor systems to TRIZ will be based upon overcoming these barriers to creativity.
TRIZ Training As mentioned in the previous section on “History,” the training available on the TRIZ approach in the early 1990’s was relatively ineffective. There were several reasons for this, one being that it was simply not provided in good English, making it quite difficult for English-speaking students to understand. Secondly, the training materials were far from clear. A third reason was that the training was not experiential, i.e., only case studies were provided during the training; it was not possible, during the training, to work on “real” problems brought to the training session by the participants.
This has been changing considerably because of customer demand – but some of the early, original providers of TRIZ training have changed slowly or not at all. The greatest positive change in TRIZ training has been made by those training providers who conduct experiential TRIZ sessions, where participants bring real problems and design challenges to the training session, and leave with solution concepts – often patentable.
Next-generation problem-solving systems have to make the problem-solving process more rapid than do today’s systems (i.e., brainstorming, trial and error, and TRIZ). Training sessions have to be experiential – meaning that participants leave the training with more than just knowledge. Participants have to leave the sessions with the experience of working on, and solving, real problems that are of interest to them. These demands call for greater absorption of information and shorter training periods.
Creativity Software A contradiction exists in the world of inventive software. As of this date, two key parameters characterize TRIZ software: quality and price. The contradiction is that, in a marketplace where there is little competition, available software (higher-quality software that the public has a keen interest in purchasing) has historically been out of the price-range reach of those for whom it could be of the greatest benefit. Another problem with inventive software is that it is still not “user-friendly” enough.
Invention and problem-solving software of the future must be more user-friendly to users, and must offer more value than does current software. Software also has to have an element of “fun” in it! Graphics have to be excellent, with animation appropriately provided. Tutorials must cover not only “How to use the software,” but also give a background of the basic creativity approaches upon which the software is based. Use of software must be made self-evident by the tutorials – not requiring a separate “training package” in order for the practitioner to “understand” the software.
Software prices must appeal to a high-volume-based marketplace, including prices within the reach of small and middle-sized companies and individuals. This means that invention software packages must sell for $1200 or less (author’s estimate). Organizations that are able to provide such software will capture the largest shares in a marketplace that does not yet exist (a large number of potential users are still unaware of the capabilities of today’s problem-solving approaches).
The author’s company (Renaissance Leadership Institute) has created inventive algorithm templates to use with client companies. These templates are available as software and are very effective in assisting technical professionals in solving problems. The templates are “functionally” based, meaning that the practitioner has to have gone through certain initial steps of problem analysis and definition, culminating in the function to be addressed. Once the practitioner has accomplished this, the algorithm template “takes over” from there, offering either (1) generic, inventive solution prompts, or (2) suggestions that “steer” the practitioner along a specific creative path.
One template offers assistance in the problem-selection stage by generating a functional relationship diagram together with an assemblage of goal statements that can be prioritized by a technical team – in terms of payoff-to-risk ratio and market (and business) relevance. When this template was used by a computer software company, they derived several alternative solutions to a problem involving employee retention.
Another template offers solution prompts for a selected function to be improved – based upon each of the forty inventive principles. When these prompts were applied to the transdermal patch system problem of “How to deliver certain drug molecules through the skin layer, and into the blood stream?”, these prompts contained several “gems,” each of which was employed in the best solution.
Yet another template offers solution prompts from a “technology forecasting” point of view. These prompts are based upon the eleven “Laws of Development of Technical Systems.” A complementary template to that one goes into more detail, generating generic inventive prompts based upon key operations that occur as a technical system evolves over its “lifetime.” This template was one of the most effective of all the templates for the technical staff of a corporation who conducted technology forecasting on a hydraulic system.
Finally, two additional templates act as “inventive memory jogs” – forcing the practitioner to consider the idea that all technical systems have four major “parts,” and that all technical systems have the potential for moving through four “stages” during their lifetimes. These latter two templates cause the practitioner to consider “weak points” or “inventive opportunities” regarding his/her technical system.
Problem-Solving Procedural Philosophy The TRIZ approach to problem-solving is a focused approach leading rather directly to a so-called “best” solution (or to a few “best” solutions) – depending upon the constraints relative to the problem situation. TRIZ tends to dismiss procedures that involve:
- Generation of “many possible solutions,” followed by
- A screening and selection procedure.
The author and his clients have found that proceeding only with a relatively linear approach is not only rather arbitrary, but also tends to miss some rather excellent solution possibilities. The use of tools like mind-mapping and Pugh Analysis, along with TRIZ, significantly accelerates multi-path problem-solving approaches, and leads to higher-level solutions.
The TRIZ solution procedure is not “bad,” but it is not the only, or even the best, procedure for obtaining a high-level solution. Several paths are better than one path – as long as the “several paths” can be traveled in a timely and cost-effective way, and as long as the levels of solutions obtained are high. The use of invention software, mind-mapping, Pugh Analysis and other well known tools makes the “multi-path” approach quite feasible, and results in high-level solutions.
Applying the Effects of Physics, Chemistry and Geometry in an Inventive Way The TRIZ database includes many case-study examples indicating how various physical, chemical and geometrical effects can be used in an inventive way to achieve the (invented) result. These effects are related to required system actions and functions, to each other, to fields, to “substances” and in several other ways. The problem-solver or inventor applies these effects to his problem.
This is one area of TRIZ where much progress has been made in the United States. The effects and the relationships described above have been compressed into a rather brilliant database that is far more user friendly than the “effects” approach was previously.
Future approaches will take the “effects” database several steps further, and will be significantly more user-friendly. These approaches will be more tailored and customized to users’ needs – operate more like an expert system, solicit information from the user, and customize the output to the user’s specific goals.
Functional Analysis Functional analysis is really not a part of TRIZ, but is used in conjunction with the TRIZ approach (substance-field analysis is really an advanced form of functional analysis). There have been two major directions of growth of functional analysis, as it relates to the TRIZ approach:
- The Invention Machine Corporation abandoned the use of substance-field analysis in their later software, and adopted a more pure, functional analysis approach, that employs the standardized functional language of artificial intelligence. Their software has retained the laws of development of technical systems. Their “Predictions” program is indeed based upon the “standard solution approach” of TRIZ – although the standard solution approach is not cited by them as the source of this program.
- Several U.S. organizations have adopted the flow-chart relationship diagram as a tool for indicating both useful and undesirable (or “harmful”) interactions between events or parts of a system. These are very powerful because they give a clear picture of the system(s) of interest; they present options for problem-solving and goal selection; and they can even be used to generate high-level goal statements. The goal statements can be employed in various ways.
Search for a Superior Creative Process In the early formative years of TRIZ, Altshuller had the idea that an improved problem-solving process could be developed by studying the results of the efforts of problem-solvers, and then carefully observing and analyzing those results to detect laws and patterns. This is the classic approach of science: the inference of generalized conclusions (laws and patterns) from particular instances (e.g., many specific inventions from the global patent database). The work of Altshuller and his associates is extraordinary both in its scope and in its depth.
Altshuller’s search was for “the science of creativity.” He chose to follow one path in conducting that search: looking for laws and principles and patterns based upon the results of creativity. He abandoned the path of using an understanding of human psychology to discover the creative process, in favor of the “results” path.
“Creativity” according to the gospel of TRIZ, is the knowledge and use of the TRIZ approach, with its various tools, techniques, and procedures. In fact, however, these creative procedures, tools and techniques do not represent creativity itself! Creativity still remains a mystery. Admittedly, in his later life, Altshuller set out to study the “creative personality” and how it could be developed – but the approach taken in that study still did not lead to real secrets of creativity.
A better understanding of creativity itself leads to superior problem-solving and to superior creative designs. The “human system” has sub-systems that make creativity possible. Human beings are capable of working in a creative way at much higher levels of creativity than they ordinarily do. This is a fact that has been demonstrated many times in instances of so-called “enlightenment.” Such conditions, however brief and unexplainable they may be, are instances of higher-level intelligence.
A three-part question that needs to be asked is: “How can the condition referred to as creative ‘enlightenment’ be increased in duration, in frequency, and in depth?”
The TRIZ approach is based upon techniques, patterns and procedures that contribute to a person’s creative capacity, without significantly raising the level of creativity of the mind itself. TRIZ is indeed a “science of creativity.” Raising the level of creativity of the mind, however, is not dependent upon analyzing the creative results of others. It requires raising one’s own, innate intelligence – opening the doors that act as barriers to higher-level thinking.
Next-generation problem-solving approaches will be based upon higher-level thinking. Higher-level thinking can be achieved by increasing the frequency, duration, and depth of higher levels of mind activity. Next-generation approaches can be expected to be significantly more powerful than the TRIZ approach. These approaches will include certain exercises and practices(19) that lead to higher human creativity.
What are these practices and exercises? They fall into two general categories:
- Practices and exercises for eliminating, reducing, or preventing barriers to higher-level thinking.
- Practices and exercises for increasing the level of creative thinking.
The former category includes techniques for eliminating losses of creative energy. The latter category includes techniques for increasing the “productivity” of the creative energy itself.
The author has been interested in this general area (raising the level of human creativity) for over twenty years. Not only do such techniques already exist – they have existed for quite some time. One historical person who knew about, and practiced some of these techniques, was Leonardo da Vinci (a careful analysis of his notebooks(25) will reveal some of these). Although other historical persons also possessed some of these capabilities, it is not possible to adequately discover what these capabilities are, simply by studying the major “events” and “trends” in the lives of such creative persons. There are, however, other techniques for discovering these secrets.
NEW PROBLEM-SOLVING APPROACHES AND ADVANCED DEVELOPMENTS TRIZ, brainstorming and the trial and error approach each have a history of over one-hundred years of development. The development of TRIZ is well documented(1).
Brain-Mapping ( A Result of the Evolution of Brainstorming) Not so well documented, perhaps, are the more recent developments of brainstorming, which have made this creativity tool even more powerful and rapid.
One outstanding development of brainstorming, called “Brain-Mapping,” makes brainstorming far more powerful. Brain-Mapping is the result of merging the original form of brainstorming with one of the tools of quality control – the fishbone diagram (also called the “cause and effect” diagram and the Ishikawa diagram). The author recently used Brain-Mapping to assist him in completely re-engineering his two-day TRIZ executive course at Cal Tech. He began with a simple Brain-Map, and ended with a rather thorough Brain-Map of the course contents. This Brain-Mapping was useful not only in developing all aspects of the re-engineered TRIZ course, but also in establishing a course outline. The author’s Brain-Map results are shown below in the following two figures.
The Brain-map shown above began with the subject of “creativity” and branched out in several directions, addressing the following topics: Applications of Creativity; About Problems; The Theory of Personal Creativity; Barriers to Creativity; and Creative Approaches. Some of these “main topics” were then further divided into other topics. For example, the Theory of Personal Creativity was divided into the subjects of “Brain Centers & Functions,” Personality, and Essence. The subject “Creative Approaches” was further divided into “Traditional and Ordinary Approaches,” “New and Revolutionary Approaches,” and “Integration of TRIZ with Other Approaches.”
When Brain-Mapping is combined with various aspects of the TRIZ approach, the combined results are even more powerful. Such a merged system has been used privately with remarkable success by the Melroe-Ingersoll Rand Company – who as mentioned above, is presenting a paper at this conference. The author will not further discuss this combined use because of its proprietary nature.
Triads Triads is the latest development in problem-solving systems(2). Triads discards none of the previous problem-solving approaches. In fact, it is usually applied together with the previous problem-solving approaches (including TRIZ) in an integrated way – resulting in high-level solutions and next-generation designs. Design solutions are rapidly achieved. The latest version of Triads has been developed by the author and his firm, Renaissance Leadership Institute.
A brief example will acquaint the reader with Triads from an “overview” perspective. Consider the problem of thoroughly cleaning the inside of a network of interconnected, stainless-steel pipes. The system has to be spotless and completely dry after the cleaning process is over. The present system makes use of a high-pressure, aqueous detergent solution, followed by a water rinse, a steam rinse, and then hot air-drying. The “time bottleneck” in the process is the hot air drying stage. Hot air drying takes far too long. The problem is to reduce the entire cleaning cycle time without complicating the system or adding additional cost. Another constraint is that the steam rinse is a necessity in order to completely sterilize the interior of the piping network.
Analysis of the problem situation after the steam rinse states a goal as “Increasing the rate of internal drying of drops of clean, residue water remaining from the steam rinse.”
Analysis of the problem situation after the water rinse states a goal as “Having no drops of clean, residue water present as a result of applying the steam subsequent to the water rinse.”
Although the second goal statement appears to be more difficult, this is the problem to which the Triads approach was applied. It is a law that all functions – in order to exist – must be composed of three objects: a passive object; an active object; and an enabling object. The passive object is that object that gets “worked on, changed, modified, eliminated, etc.” by the active object. The enabling object is that object, without which the desired interaction between the active and passive objects will not occur.
In this case, drops of residual water (passive object) exist inside the pipeline as a result of the water rinse. These drops must be eliminated. As given in the problem, the steam (active object) enters the pipeline, sterilizes the interior walls, and moves some water through the system – but residual water remains. The desired interaction between the active and passive objects is “Steam completely eliminates residual water.” This is not occurring, however.
What is the “enabling object” for this inadequate function? Another way of asking this question is: What is the object, without which the steam and residual water drops will not interact in the desired way (i.e., eliminating residual water drops)? It may not be obvious, but the enabling object is the “container system” that contains the residual water and the steam. Without a container system (i.e., pipes, and vessel for steam), the residual water drops and the steam will not come into contact with each other. The resulting triad is illustrated below.
Note that this triad contains three interactions (each of which could be considered to be an S-Field).
Returning to the problem: more and better sterilization is not the problem for this “already existing” system. The problem is how to eliminate residual water (the existing system shown above partially eliminates residual water by carrying it away in a liquid and vapor form). This “partial but inadequate fulfillment” of the “residual water elimination” function is indicated by a dashed interaction line between the steam and the residual water drops.
This graphic triad already suggests some generic solutions: 1) Change the nature of the containment system; 2) Change the nature of the steam itself. In what ways could the nature of the containment system, and/or the steam, be changed in order to “eliminate more residual water?” The answer is: “In ways that motivate the water to leave!” Let’s consider just a couple of these generic ways:
- Modify the container system in some way so that it becomes a vacuum, attracting residual water drops out of the system.
- Modify the steam in some way so that it attracts and carries away all the residual water.
Just these two generic solutions lead to several more specific solutions:
- Add a vacuum chamber to the container system. It will cause the water droplets to evaporate and reduce the time of drying.
- Heat the container system. It will cause residual water to evaporate, and will reduce the time of drying.
- Heat the already-existing steam vessel, causing the steam to enter the pipeline in a “superheated” state, automatically and locally absorbing all residual water droplets!
Specific solutions C and D may be costly and may further complicate the system. But solution E is excellent, because it uses existing system resources and uses energy very efficiently. No follow-on “hot air drying” stage is required! The drying time goes from a very long time to very rapid.
Note: the use of a Triad in this challenging problem caused several solution possibilities to become more or less obvious to the problem-solvers. Had specific solutions not been so obvious, each of the three interactions in the triad could have been analyzed as S-Fields, using the various TRIZ solution techniques to arrive at candidate solution(s). The efficiency of problem-solving, and the productivity of problem-solving is significantly increased when problem-solvers and designers apply the Triads approach – together with any other solution approaches and tools as required.
From a “physical contradiction” point of view, this problem could be stated as: “Hot air is wanted (for drying purposes) but hot air is not wanted (for drying time reasons).” From one point of view, the ideal final result involved merging the “sterilizing and drying” stages, combining them into one system: “Super-heated steam!” (saturated steam and non-saturated steam, all in one). By such merging, the process time was significantly compressed, and the need for a final hot-air stage was eliminated.
The author considers the Triads approach to be a “super-system” approach that brings together other approaches (including TRIZ) in a more effective way. In this sense it is the “parent” approach of the other problem-solving approaches.
Use of Triads to Solve “Traditional” TRIZ and ARIZ Teaching Problems Two classic problems have been used by TRIZ experts to teach TRIZ and ARIZ to students:
- A solid, hermetically sealed metal vessel is used for carrying out experiments in which aggressive liquids react with various metal alloys in the form of small cubes. This reaction vessel must not react with the aggressive liquids, so it is very expensive. It is desirable to not have to use this vessel. What can be done?
- A radio antenna receives radio waves, but needs to be protected from lightning. However, when a lightning rod is used, it unfavorably interacts with the incoming radio signals. If no lightning rod is used, lightning could destroy the radio antenna. What can be done?
In his famous book, Creativity as an Exact Science(26), Altshuller describes the long and various steps of ARIZ (Algorithm of the Solution of Inventive-type Problems) that students have to learn to go through (citing various rules associated with each step), in order to solve these problems. He emphasizes that there are many pitfalls that will take students away from the best solution. He also states that there is only one solution to the first problem (the hermetically sealed vessel problem).
The use of Triads(2) greatly simplifies the solution of these problems.
For the first problem, the active object is the “Aggressive Liquid” and the passive objects is a “Metal Cube.” The interaction can be described as “Aggressive Liquid Reacts With Metal Cube.” But this reaction cannot occur without an “enabling object” to bring the liquid and the cube together in a way that they can contact each other in order to react. This “enabling object” is the “Expensive Metal Vessel.” The Triad looks like this:
The problem is that the expensive metal vessel is undesirable. Therefore it can be “pruned”(17). Unfortunately, however, the function (triad) of an aggressive liquid reacting with metal cubes or selected metal alloys will not occur unless there are three objects making up the function (i.e., active, passive and enabling). If the expensive metal vessel is “pruned,” then some other object has to replace its functions of “containment” and “enclosure” (as indicated in the Triad shown above). The most likely objects to do this would be either the metal cubes themselves, or the aggressive liquid. Each of these are, in fact, solutions. Let’’ examine the “Triads” for these solutions (shown below):
Solution A (above) is simple: the alloy to be tested is formed into a “container” shape (the enabling object), which contains the aggressive liquid (the active object), which in turn reacts with the walls of the alloy to be tested (the passive object).
Solution B (above) is also simple: the aggressive liquid is frozen to a solid having a “container” shape (the enabling object), which contains the liquid form of the “aggressive liquid” (i.e., the active object), which in turn reacts with the metal alloy cubes (the passive object).
Contrary to the statements made by Altshuller in his book(26), there are two solutions – not just one! This particular problem has been used for years to teach TRIZ students.
Either of the solutions described above may be chosen, depending upon the constraints of the problem (it is likely that solution A is the solution of choice, in most instances, but this really depends upon the problem constraints!). Please note that these solutions – using Triads – were quite simple, and they did not require moving through all the rules and procedures normally associated with the ARIZ procedure to obtain these solutions. Instead of the more complicated traditional TRIZ/ARIZ procedure, a combination of Triads and Pruning (one of the operations of functional analysis) was used in a highly effective manner.
For the second problem, the active object is the “Lightning” and the passive objects is a “Lightning Rod,” which is meant to attract the lightning – should it strike in the vicinity of the radio antenna. The interaction can be described as “Lightning Strikes Lightning Rod.” But this reaction cannot occur without an “enabling object” to bring the lightning and the lightning rod together. This “enabling object” is the “media” or ionized air that the lightning must travel through. The Triad looks like this:
The problem is that the lightning rod cannot be employed because of the “harmful effect” it has on radio wave reception. Therefore the lightning rod has to be “pruned”(17). Unfortunately, however, the function (triad) of “lightning striking a lightning rod, instead of a radio antenna” will not occur unless there are three objects making up this function (i.e., active, passive and enabling). If the lightning rod is “pruned,” then some other object has to replace its function of “attracting lightning” (as indicated in the Triad shown above). The most likely object to do this would be either the lightning itself, or the ionized air. The ionized air can have the form of an “air tower” that attracts lightning when the lightning is present (i.e., in the vicinity of the radio antenna). When there is no lightning, however, the un-ionized air in the air tower will not unfavorably react with radio wave reception. The problem is solved (the triad is shown below).
Once again, the solution is simple: a tower of air (passive object) is erected nearby the radio antenna. When lightning (active object) occurs, the atmospheric air (enabling object) around the lightning becomes ionized by the lightning. If the path of the lightning leads to the vicinity of the radio antenna, the air in the tower becomes ionized (as a semiconductor) by the lightning, and promptly becomes de-ionized after the lightning strikes. In this manner, the un-ionized air in the tower poses no threat to radio reception.
This particular problem, also, has been used for years to teach TRIZ students. Please note that this solution – using Triads – did not require moving through all the rules and procedures normally associated with the ARIZ procedure to obtain the solution. Instead of the more complicated traditional TRIZ/ARIZ procedure, a combination of Triads and Pruning (one of the operations of functional analysis) was used in a highly effective manner.
Generic Functional Decomposition of a Triad Those practiced in the art of functional analysis regularly subdivide functions into steps that represent a sequence or a process. In doing this, no two designers will subdivide a system function the in the same way (i.e., into the same number of identical functional steps.
Consider the function, “Repairing a decayed tooth.” This function can be subdivided into various functional steps, including “drilling out decayed matter,” “washing out the cavity,” “gathering and preparing filling-alloy ingredients,” “mixing filling-alloy ingredients,” “transferring the unhardened alloy to the cavity,” “working the alloy until it is shaped and hardened inside the tooth,” “grinding/further mechanically shaping the hardened filling,” and “washing & cleaning the teeth,” as illustrated below.
Although these eight sequential sub-functions were chosen rather arbitrarily, they do represent one version of the next level of functions in a “hierarchical, functional tree diagram” associated with the technical system called “Tooth Repair.”
A question worth asking is: “Is it possible that the number and sequence of sub-functions chosen could have been universal or ‘generic’?” That is, “Is it possible that functional decomposition is generic, and that only one possible (universal) sequence of sub-functions exists?”
The author has discovered a generic way of decomposing functions into “standard processes.” The beginning step of generic functional decomposition is to form a Triad of the primary function. The next step is to form triads for each “side” interaction in the Triad of the primary function. This process is illustrated generically in the diagram shown below.
The original Triad (function) is shown as the central triangle. The primary interaction of interest is labeled as such. “Completing” the Triads for each of the side interactions shown, generates two more Triads (functions) – all of which are necessary for the primary interaction to occur. The trapezoidal figure so generated is composed of three triangles or seven interactions (each side of a triangle is an interaction. These seven interactions “comprise” the overal (primary) function. There is also a certain sequence to these seven interactions (not necessarily the one shown here). This can be either a logical cause-and-effect sequence or a sequential sequence, depending upon the particular primary function chosen.
This subject of Triads and Triad decomposition could be the subject of an entire book. The subject area is still under development by the author. Nevertheless, there are some important implications from the two “Laws” discussed above (i.e., the law of Triads: “All system functions must have three objects in order to be complete – an active object, a passive object, and an enabling object,” and the law of Triad Decomposition: “A system function may be able to be subdivided, or decomposed, into seven generic ‘sub-functions,’ each of which is also a Triad.”
In solving problems or creating an improved system, the system to be improved often performs one or more functions. Once the designer or problem-solver determines which function to “improve,” that function can be expressed as a Triad. This “primary” function may be able to be further divided (decomposed) into a sequence of functions. If this “sequence of functions” is generic, then the practitioner can identify which of the sub-functions, if improved, will contribute most to the improvement of the system as a whole. Functional decomposition organizes problem-solving by focusing on the “real problem to be solved.”
One of the first functional decomposition applications chosen by the author and Dr. Gernot Mueller(14) involves problems posed by the periodic table of the elements – discovered by Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleev in 1869. Mendeleev discovered that the physical and chemical properties of the elements are a periodic function of their proton number. A major success of Mendeleev’s discovery was its ability to predict chemical and physical properties of undiscovered and unknown elements that were only later confirmed experimentally. Since Mendeleev’s time, however, several basic questions about this periodicity of properties have remained unanswered. These questions are:
- Why are the properties of the elements periodic?
- Why is the periodicity as observed in the periodic table of the elements not consistent (i.e., why do some rows have far more elements in them than other rows?
- Is there a physical law that satisfactorily describes all this periodic behavior?
Ever since Mendeleev’s discovery, these basic questions have had no satisfactory answers. Nevertheless, the answers to all three questions stated above can be explained by the “Universal Law of Decomposition of Functions,” as discussed above. The “function” involved in moving from one element to the next element in the periodic table is simply “the addition of another electron to the outer energy level of the atom.” It is this function that results in a new element with significantly different properties and behaviors that those of its predecessor element.
Mendeleev’s problem – and a problem for all of his successors – began when the number of elements between “periods of repetition of simliar behavior” began to increase, over the initial eight elements (i.e., more elements needed to be “squeezed into” each row in the periodic table). Some of these elements – like the so-called “rare earths” – consist of groups of elements that appeared to differ only slightly from each other in their properties and behaviors, and also are very difficult to physically separate. Why are they so “close” in properties and behavior, and why are there so many of them filling the same “period”/row?
The answer to these questions that have been plaguing scientists for years lies in the idea of decomposition of a Triad. Instead of there being “one” element, as expected, in a particular position in the periodic table, that element has been replaced by elements that represent the decomposition of the element/function in question, into groups of seven sub-functions/elements.
Another application of functional decomposition lies in the medical field. BioFutures, Inc., a think-tank company in the medical devices field, has applied functional decomposition in order to predict next-generation drug molecules. That company’s discovery promises to revolutionize the research and development process that pharmaceutical companies seeking new wonder drugs currently employ. BioFuture’s discovery(15) began with the application of Triads to problems in the medical devices and pharmaceutical industries.
The author recognizes that the concepts of Triads and Triad decomposition are difficult to “digest” and to understand, upon hearing them for the first time. The same is true when an audience hears about some of the techniques of TRIZ for the first time. Nevertheless, it is the author’s opinion that these new concepts needed to be exposed, at least in an introductory way, to this audience. The author invites those who are interested in corresponding with him further about these concepts, to do so. In the author’s opinion, these concepts represent the leading edge of research on next-generation problem-solving approaches.
Personal Development of Higher-Level Creativity Next-generation creativity systems will address the challenge of personally developing a higher CQ (creativity quotient), through the application of certain exercises (as discussed above) and practices. Such systems depend upon a clearer understanding of human functions. This creativity development process begins with a study of the human being as a technical system – focusing on human functions that are related to the goal of increasing personal creative powers. Human functions were discussed in a recent article(18,22).
The author has verified that this goal – raising the “level”, and not just the capacity, of personal creativity – is achievable by considering two general processes that occur in human beings, from a “systems” point of view. All systems consume fuel to generate the energy required for certain operations. Some of this energy contributes to “useful products,” – this is the first process. Some of the energy contributes to “harmful or unwanted products” – this is the second process, which represents “losses of energy.”
The first process leads to increasing one’s creative output. There are exercises and practices for achieving this; these exercises and practices involve the controlled application of intentionality.
The second process is the process of preventing energy losses that would otherwise be available for human creativity (several types of energy losses were discussed above in the sections on psychological inertia – ordinary imagination and identification). For each of these creativity barriers/losses, there are one or more exercises that can be practiced to reduce the loss of creative energy. These exercises also involve the application of intentionality.
Barriers to personal creativity have to be “crushed” or eliminated. This “crushing” process is not dissimilar to the experience of “tasting” various foods. The author recently read a quotation by D. Stam about the herb called “thyme”: “Only when thyme is crushed does it yield its beautiful perfume.” This metaphor holds true for barriers to creativity.
Interested readers can already verify something about their own creative capabilities, by carefully and honestly answering the following questions: “Is my creative capability constant, or does it vary with time (i.e., during the 24-hour day, during the week, etc.)?” “If my personal creative capability does indeed vary between some minimum and some maximum – yielding a certain “average” level of creative capability – is it possible to move this average in the direction of my personal maximum creativity?” “Under what circumstances is my creative capability very low?” “Under what personal circumstances is my creative capability higher?”
There is one category of exercises that readers who are seriously interested in raising their personal creativity “level” can practice. This category of word exercises has several purposes:
It gives the practitioner practice at being “out of pattern.”
It requires that the practitioner increase his/her general level of attention.
It acts as a “source-generator” of creative energy.
Such exercises are quite simple to describe, but difficult in practice. The instructions to the author’s students (in the TRIZ Certification Program) include (A) not mentioning any of the exercises to anyone not in the program, (B) attempting the exercises in such a way that no one else will notice them (i.e., the exercises will not appear out of the ordinary, or unusual, to any other party), and (C) kindly reminding others in the program, when they say the “veboten” word, that they in fact have spoken it. A typical example of one such exercise for the reader to practice:
For one entire month, avoid ever using a specific word: “the”
Mastering such exercises ultimately raises the levels at which a person functions. The author invites feedback from anyone who takes on this simple trial exercise, with the goal of increasing his/her personal creativity. Not all of the exercises in the program are word exercises. Some exercises involve other human functions than the human intellectual function – which is the slowest of the four basic functions(18,22).
SUMMARY Like other technical systems, TRIZ itself, as a technical system, has also been evolving. Parts of the TRIZ approach have already been replaced since its discovery in the late 1940’s. It is likely that TRIZ will ultimately merge with other systems, because it is at or near the top of its “S-Curve of Evolution.” Next-Generation problem-solving systems will help problem-solvers to achieve solutions more rapidly, will yield higher-level solutions, and will also be easier to apply.
- Gasanov, et.al., Birth of an Invention, Published by Interpraks, Moscow, 1995
- Kowalick, James, Triads: Their Relationship to TRIZ, TRIZ Journal, June 1998
- Kowalick, James, The TRIZ Approach, TRIZ Journal, November 1997
- Kowalick, James, 17 Secrets of an Inventive Mind: How to Conceive World Class Products Rapidly Using TRIZ and Other Leading-Edge Creative Tools, TRIZ Journal, November 1996
- Kowalick, James, Editorial, TRIZ Journal, May 1998
- Kowalick, James, Altshuller’s Greatest Discovery – And Beyond, TRIZ Journal, August 1997
- Kowalick, James, No-Compromise Design Solutions to the Air Bag Fatalities Problem: Problem Analysis with TRIZ Using Invention Software, TRIZ Journal, April 1997
- Kowalick, James, Advanced TRIZ Developments, TRIZ Journal, March 1998
- Kowalick, James and Domb, Ellen, How to Bring TRIZ Into Your Organization, TRIZ Journal, October 1997
- Kowalick, James, TRIZ and Business Survival, TRIZ Journal, November 1996
- Interview with a TRIZ Pioneer, TRIZ Journal, August 1997
- Kowalick, James, Creating Breakthrough Products, Two-Day Executive Overview Session on TRIZ, California Institute of Technology, Industrial Relations Center, Pasadena, California
- Bylinsky, Gene, Editor, Fortune Heroes of U.S. Manufacturing (Industrial Management of Technology), May 25, 1998
- TRIZ Journal Interview with Dr. Gernot Mueller, President, BioFutures, Inc., TRIZ Journal, November 1997
- Mueller, Gernot, M.D., Rapid Conception of Next-Generation Transdermal Drug Delivery Systems and Next-Generation Drugs: The End of Technology Chaos, TRIZ Journal, December 1997
- Breakthrough Press, Sacramento California, Ph: (916) 974-7755 – Books and Reports on the TRIZ Approach (direct-mail sales catalogue)
- Kowalick, James, Tutorial: Use of Functional Analysis and Pruning, with TRIZ and ARIZ, to Solve “Impossible-to-Solve” Problems, TRIZ Journal, December 1996
- Kowalick, James, Human Functions, Languages and Creativity, TRIZ Journal, May 1998
- Kowalick, James, TRIZ Certification Program (see “Calendar” section in The TRIZ Journal)
- Zlotin, Boris, Private Translation by the TRIZ Institute.
- Kowalick, James, Psychological Inertia, TRIZ Journal, August 1998
- Kowalick, James, Human Functions: The Source of Psychological Inertia, TRIZ Journal, August 1998
- Zannos, Susan, Human Types, Weiser Press, Maine (available through Breakthrough Press – see reference 16)
- Nicoll, Dr. Maurice, M.D., Psychological Commentaries (6 volumes), London, 1972, Robinson & Watkins Publishers
- Linscott, Robert, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, translated in 1957 by Modern Library from the Italian language.