If TRIZ is such a good idea, why isn't everyone using it?
Editor | On 16, Apr 2002
If TRIZ is such a good idea, why isn’t everyone using it?
I have been learning and using TRIZ for over two years now and have often wondered why TRIZ is not being more widely used in the UK. I offer my thoughts below and would be very interested in the opinions of other readers. I should emphasise that I am a believer in TRIZ and so any negative points below are aimed at trying to increase the implementation of TRIZ.
Over recent years industry has been bombarded with many initiatives which have proved costly and with little or no apparent benefit. Against this background “Not another acronym” or “Not another initiative” tends to be the response when people hear about TRIZ. My reply is that it can hardly be seen as the latest fad given its long history. However then can come the killer phrase of all killer phrases “If TRIZ is such a good idea, why isn’t everyone using it?” The obvious response is that using that type of thinking you will never try anything new but it is a valid question.
Let us assume that the first barrier is overcome and that a person actually starts reading about TRIZ. I have been surprised at people saying how complicated TRIZ is. This is, I believe, because some TRIZ books are written to impress the writer’s peers, not to explain to the lay reader (writing to impress not to express). I do not include Altshuller’s books in this category – they are simple to understand and inspiring to read. However I find it amazing that “And suddenly the inventor appeared.” is described as a children’s book. I have not tried my two children on it but doubt that they would cope with it. ( Another book I read a year or so ago with the word “Introduction” in the title I found extremely difficult. I would have been amazed if a new comer would have embarked on TRIZ having read that book).
I believe that the easiest way by far to learn TRIZ is to attend a course. What appears complicated in print starts to make sense when explained in person and with a basic foundation then the TRIZ books start making sense. The trickiest time is once the course is over. Ideally the TRIZ initiate would return to work and start to use his new skills on real problems. This is easier said then done. He may return to a back log of work and it is quite easy for a few weeks to pass with no practice being carried out. What was once fresh in the mind is fading fast…..
TRIZ is not a quick fix.
A big barrier to TRIZ being introduced into a company is I believe that there is a need to practise the methods on real problems. It is unlikely that a person coming back from an introductory course will find enough problems within his own area to work on. He or she will need to help out / practise on other people’s projects, in other departments to become proficient and that is not easy. Time constraints, company politics and a host of other obstacles mean that the skills are not practised and fall into disuse.
“We solved the problem but we didn’t use TRIZ”
TRIZ does not leave fingerprints. Because it is based on simple techniques that have been used many times before the efficacy of TRIZ is hard to prove. Particularly because a good solution appears obvious. (See Darrel Mann’s article- http://www.triz-journal.com/archives/2001/06/c/index.htm in which he talks of the irreversibility of a good idea).
Any problem which is approached with the help of a TRIZ adviser needs the active help of the problem owners. And the very act of describing the problem to an outsider can perhaps help the problem owner to understand the problem better. Probably the biggest drawback is that TRIZ provides the direction of the solution but doesn’t hand over a fully calculated solution. The problem owner, when presented with an answer from TRIZ will still have to do a certain amount of re-designing to carry out. If the solution works was it due to TRIZ or to the careful design of the new component?
It is important therefore at the outset to explain that TRIZ can only be used in conjunction with expertise in a given field so that the solution comes from a team effort. It reminds me of a cynic’s definition of a consultant – Someone who asks for your watch and tells you the time. (The even more cynical version states that he/she also keeps the watch).
Problems, Problems, Problems
Ironically one of the biggest problems of learning TRIZ is finding problems to work on. The people who have the most problems to solve are people in production who are too busy fire-fighting to step back and think, let alone learn a new technique.
TRIZ aimed at operators not engineers?
A possible solution to this is to aim a course at the shop floor operators. After all the concept of contradictions is very simple and none of the forty principles require a degree to understand. In addition they are the people who know all the problems. (This ties in very much with the Kaizen approach of going to the “Gamba”-the workplace). This might also help to break down the resistance of the engineers. The ideas generated by the team would have to be drawn up or designed by the engineers. The engineer would be happier helping out the operators rather than being told how to solve the problem by a consultant.
In conclusion here is how I feel TRIZ should be approached.
How to implement TRIZ
Need to accept that the process will take a year at least.
Important to involve one’s best people – TRIZ will not turn a poor “engineer” into a good one. But it will turn a good one into an excellent one.
Course in isolation is a waste of time. Further background reading will be required and follow up courses should be attended.
Line up problems in advance – Instead of a Suggestion scheme run a Problem scheme to find out what problems could be worked on. The trainees must be given the authority to work on problems throughout the organisation.
Make contact with other TRIZ practitioners and learn from them.
I would be very interested to hear other people’s views on this article.
About the Author
Brian is a physics graduate who spent 23 years in research and development within the glass industry. He came across TRIZ 3 years ago. He has attended several courses run by Oxford Creativity and has read widely on the subject…….