Re-Thinking Physical Contradictions #1: Technical Problems

| On 13, Mar 2018

Darrell Mann

The least well evolved of all the TRIZ tools feels more and more like the Physical Contradiction story. The more time and energy we devote to updating the Contradiction Matrix tool, the more the Physical Contradiction part seems to fall by the wayside as a lost orphan. Part of the issue is that, one of the larger steps forward in methodological terms, the introduction of the Contradiction Map (or, colloquially, ‘Bubble Map’) – Figure 1 – has shown users that it is always possible to convert conflicts into physical contradictions and vice-versa. The implied message of the template is, ‘don’t worry if you’re struggling with the physical contradiction part of the story, you can always convert it into a conflict pair the Matrix will help you with’.

Figure 1: Contradiction (‘Bubble’) Map

That said, a big part of the rationale for the Contradiction Map is that it is designed to force problem solvers to spend more time in definition mode before they allow themselves to start generating solutions. And, if nothing else, it also offers up more solution directions if the Contradiction Matrix fails to deliver sufficient useful insight into the best solution directions. A better – easier and more efficacious – Physical Contradiction solution generation tool would be a useful addition to the problem solvers armoury.

The heart of the problem with the current tool – based on ideas and concepts we see individuals and groups struggling with when they’re trying to use the tool – starts with the Separation strategies on offer. In our current version of the tool, we prompt people to explore three different separation strategies: Space, Time and Condition. This segmentation model is in itself an evolution of the model used in the various different Physical Contradiction models found in Classical TRIZ.

When the method forces users to think about, ‘can you separate the contradiction in space? In time? On Condition? The frequent confusion comes in the apparent overlaps between, especially, the latter two. Time is a condition. And, for that matter, so is space. Hence, to take a specific example, I want the shirt material to be thick and thin, the difference between:

I want the material to be thick when I’m outside, and I want the material to be thin when I’m indoors (the separation in time question)

and

I want the material to be thick if the temperature is low, and I want the material to be thin if the temperature is high (the separation on condition question)

are semantically very small. And if they are small, then why does the method send me to two quite different sets of solution strategy depending on which one I might choose? Or, indeed, different again, if I determine that I can solve the contradiction using both of these separation strategies.

Because time and space are conditions, having the distinct ‘separate on condition’ strategy actually makes little sense. In order to try and resolve this conflict, we’ve tended to encourage users to interpret this third separation category as ‘conditions other than time or space’. Which helps solve the first confusion problem, but then opens up a whole new problem: what other conditions?

We can get a first clue towards answering this question by heading back to the Pillars of the Systematic Innovation method: Contradictions, Ideality, Functionality, Resources and, perhaps the least well understood, Space-Time-Interface.

This latter pillar, and in particular the word ‘Interface’ represent the important clue here. ‘Interface’ represents all the ‘betweens’: the relationship between entities. And, if we add to this idea the parallel idea of functions being the action of one entity on another, under the influence of a ‘field’, then we quickly find ourselves able to find a way to help structure a search for possible ‘betweens’. If we’re going to solve a Physical Contradiction, in other words, that requires the identification and use of a field. And there just aren’t that many different types of field for us to explore – Figure 2.

Figure 2: Different Types Of Field

So, we now have three different Separation strategies open to us when we’re looking to resolve a Physical Contradiction – Space, Time & Interface. For the latter, we have 11 basic field types we can explore to see if we can harness them to help establish a means of triggering the shift between our two different desired states.

For the ‘separation in space’ category, we can add a little more sophistication to the search by examining the 9-Windows tool. It tells us that, spacially, there are multiple possibilities problem solvers can use to look for difference: within the system; between the system and the super-system and between the system and the sub-system.

Taken all together, the full range of separation strategies we have available to us, thus looks something like this:

Figure 3: 15 Possible ‘Difference Trigger’ Opportunities

Each of the categories offers us an opportunity to identify a suitable ‘difference trigger’. The associated question template we’ve been testing for the last few months looks like this:

As ever, it’s often easiest to see the template in action via an example:

So much for the full spectrum of Separation strategies, what we also notice is that, when we examine the spectrum of different physical contradiction solving outcomes (big and small, thick and thin, present and absent, hot and cold, etc), they all fit into the same spectrum of possibilities.

This insight allows us to draw a much more complete – albeit more complicated – method of mapping the Physical Contradiction space. At the moment, it looks something like this:

The way we use the template requires us to first establish what physical contradiction-solving outcome we’re looking to achieve. This tells us which row in the table to look at. Then, in order to solve the contradiction, we systematically work our way across each column in order to explore the possibility of using that ‘difference trigger’ to help deliver us insight into what our solution options actually are.

This template, comprehensive as it is, gives us a number of challenges and opportunities:

1. Can we correlate each of the boxes in the template to the Inventive Principles that might help solve the Contradiction we’re aiming to solve?
2. Can we apply the same basic Space-Time-Interface lens to a better method for solving ‘business’ and ‘process’ problems?
3. Having found a way to being ‘comprehensive’, can we also find our way back to ‘simple’? (i.e. we want high efficacy and high simplicity)

Those are the three topics we’ll be looking at in the second and third parts of this article.