TRIZ: Infinite in All Directions
Editor | On 22, Dec 1998
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D.
Principal and Chief Scientist
The Inventioneering Company*
(*Adjunct Assistant Professor
North Carolina State University)
This column is the first in a series that will attempt to address issues relevant to the position of the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) in society today and in the encroaching 21st century. My journey to TRIZ understanding will be discussed so that a “roadmap” may be presented that will light the path others may follow as well as outline the current status of the theory. It will be important during this journey to often remember the motto and phrase of The Royal Society of London (1660): Nullius in Verba, meaning “No man’s word shall be final.” These columns will discuss the issues that hindered my progress, at the personal and corporate level, as well as resistance encountered along the way exerted by the existing scientific paradigm [ref 1][ref 2][ref 3][ref 4].
This resistance to change, the current paradigm, must be understood if it is to be defeated. In order to increase our understanding of paradigms some discourse on this topic is necessary. Thomas Kuhn states in his thesis [ref 5] that every scientist (or engineer), just like the rest of humanity, carries out their day-to-day affairs within a framework of presuppositions about what constitutes a problem, a solution, and a method. [ref 6] Such a background comprises a paradigm, and at any given time a particular scientific community will have a prevailing paradigm that shapes and directs work in the field. Kuhn further claims that scientific revolutions involve bloodshed on the same order of magnitude as that commonly seen in political revolutions, the only difference being that the blood is now intellectual rather than liquid – but no less real. [ref 7] (The author believes any doubts concerning the necessity of a revolution to introduce TRIZ to the scientific field will be removed during the subsequent lectures.) It is this type of resistance that I believe plagues the corporate body as cancer does a human body (pervading and multiplying to its’ own demise).
Kuhn delineates a Fivefold Way for characterizing the features of a good theory:
Accurate: Consequences of the theory should be in agreement with the experiment.
Consistent: The theory should contain no internal contradictions and, moreover, it should be consistent with currently accepted theories applicable to related aspects of Nature.
Broad: The scope of the theory’s consequences should extend beyond the particular observations, laws, or subtheories that it was created to explain.
Simple: It should bring order to phenomenon that without it would be individually isolated.
I will discuss these points along the journey as they served as signposts that helped me take the right turns (or left turns as the case may be) to my current reality, which is not perfect but has allowed me function as a very successful TRIZ consultant and TRIZ educator (undergraduate and graduate levels). Personal resistance was experienced along my path and these episodes will be relayed and diagnosed so that my travails may be avoided by future pathfinders. [ref 9] Presuppositions concerning personal ability also interfere with the integration (or even the acceptance) of a new methodology into your set of skills applicable to your daily duties. This was evidenced in my own life as well as many others I am aware of. [ref 10] This column will address philosophical aspects of TRIZ as well as relate a “state of the art” analysis indicating what must happen to relegate this science to the same level of mathematics. 3
I will address the information I learned and the many associated aspects pertinent to the evaluation of information processing: the Hermeneutic Principles for Learning.4 These Principles are roughly as follows: (1) who wrote it and what data is it based on, (2) why was it written, (3) when was it written, (4) who was it written to, (5) what where the prevailing customs influencing the author, and (6) what was the intent in the original language. The knowledge I amassed will be discussed in these terms and the integration of each pieces will be discussed with regards to the whole.
Three times in the past theoretical astronomers have invented a new planet on the basis of indirect and circumstantial evidence. The first time was in 1845 when Adams and Leverrier independently deduced the existence of the planet Neptune from the perturbations which it had produced in the motion of Uranus. One year later, Neptune was discovered in the predicted region of sky. The second prediction of a new planet was in 1859 when the same Leverrier deduced that perturbations in Mercury’s orbit could be explained by the existence of one or more planets circling the Sun inside the orbit of Mercury. The name Vulcan was given to the hypothesized planet. In 1915 Einstein showed these deviations as a consequence of general relativity without any help from Vulcan. The third prediction of a planet was also in 1915, when Lowell deduced from residual perturbations of Uranus the existence of another planet beyond Neptune. This time Pluto was found, but possessing a mass too small to account for the observed perturbations. This discovery then was by accident. Adding up the score, we may say that out of the three theoretical predictions of new planets, one turned out right, one turned out wrong, and one turned out to be a fluke. I consider the value of the theory under discussion to be analogous to the theoretical predictions of the three new planets discussed previously. Let us call this planet Innovation,5 in the universe of Observed Reality. It remains to be seen if this planet exists, if it does not, or if we have stumbled upon something greater, by accident. [ref 11][ref 12]
Emil Wiechert, speaking to the Physics and Economics Society of Koernigsberg in East Prussia in 1896, said the following: “…The matter which we suppose to be the main constituent of the universe is built out of small self-contained building-blocks, the chemical atoms. It cannot be repeated too often that the word “atom” is nowadays detached from any of the old philosophical speculations: we know precisely that the atoms with which we are dealing are in no sense the simplest conceivable components of the universe…. We have to abandon completely the idea that by going into the realm of the small we shall reach the ultimate foundations of the universe…. I believe we can abandon this idea without any regret. The universe is infinite in all directions….” [ref 13] I believe these words to be pertinent with regard to our tasks at hand as they parallel my belief that our current understanding of creativity and innovation is only a precursory knowledge that is a gateway to a more beautiful algorithm for innovation. We must not allow ourselves to believe that we have understood Innovation and Creativity in the fullest, but consider it a challenge to increase the boundaries, as truly the universe is infinite in all directions……
In 1995 I read a short article in NASA Tech Briefs that referred to a Russian methodology for pooling patents generated throughout the entire country. This patent fund was then made available to engineers and scientists as well as certain principles that comprised the fundamental paths to solution embodied in this patent fund. It was not evident at the time of reading but it is clear now that this was a veiled reference to TRIZ. This brief article stimulated much curiosity and I requested further information from NASA. There was no further information provided. I thought about this article for several months with an increasing desire to find out what this was all about. During this time period I was a Staff Scientist for a major space and defense firm. My primary responsibilities were research, development, and problem solving. I was very successful and productive and this would later impede my personal acceptance of TRIZ as I had developed methods for solving problems and being creative. There was my own paradigm for accomplishing tasks that would interfere. I eventually, in May of 1997, discussed this article with the director of the space and defense group, my direct superior, and he had heard of this method previously as well. He had also received an advertisement from a company that produced software and conducted training relevant to the article in question. This was the major breakthrough necessary for the beginning of my TRIZ education. The document was an announcement for training from Invention Machine Corporation (IMC). IMC was offering a software package called IMLab 2.11 and this appeared to be similar to what the NASA Tech Briefs article was referring to. We purchased a copy of the software and I registered to attend training. I attended the training in July of 1997 and became aware of the IMC product TechOptimizer. TechOptimizer included the IMLab software that we had purchased but also included some modules akin to value engineering (function modeling). References to the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving were made during this course and major works were cited. [ref 14][ref 15] I obtained copies of these works and studied them. I also attended the 3rd Annual Total Product Development Symposium in Dearborn, Michigan, in November of 1997. [ref 16] References 14-16, the IMC training, and the vast amount of information I learned from the symposium will be discussed in detail in PART II of this column. The next column will comprise my first real understanding of the underlying principles of TRIZ.
[ref 1] The International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, University of Chicago Press.
[ref 2] Kuhn, T., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
[ref 3] Briggs, J., and D. Peat. The Looking Glass Universe. New York: Cornerstone Library, 1984.
[ref 4] Shapere, D., “The Paradigm Concept.” Science, 172 (1971), 706-709
[ref 5] Kuhn, T., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
[ref 6] Casti, J.L., Paradigms Lost, New York: Avon Books,1989.
[ref 7] idid.
[ref 8] ibid.
[ref 9] Lecture presented at the 2nd Annual IMC User’s Group Conference, Cincinnati, OH, June 1998
[ref 10] “An Interview with Boris Zlotin: TRIZ Scientist”, TRIZ-Journal, November 1998
[ref 11] Dyson, F., Gifford Lectures given at Aberdeen, Scotland, 1985.
[ref 12] H.N. Russell, R.S. Dugan, J.Q. Stewart, “Astronomy, Volume I, The Solar System”(Boston: Ginn and Co., rev. ed. 1945), discusses three planets: Vulcan, p. 358, Neptune, pp.399-400, and Pluto: pp.404-407.
[ref 13] Proceedings from the Physics and Economics Society of Koernigsberg, East Prussia, 1896.
[ref 14] Altshuller, G.S., Creativity as an Exact Science, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers Inc., 1984
[ref 15] Terninko, J., Zusman, A., Zlotin, B., Step-by-Step TRIZ: Creating Innovative Solution Concepts, New Hampshire: Responsible Management Inc., 1996
[ref 16] Proceedings from the 3rd Annual Total Product Development Symposium, Dearborn, MI, November 5-6, 1997, American Supplier Institute
- Contrast this Fivefold Way, which Kuhn states the selection of the five criteria has no justification, with Feyerabend’s statement that there are no rules whatsoever but, like Kuhn, rests much of his case on the existence of incommensurable theories. We can also compare Kuhn with Popper and Lakatos by noting that: Paradigm = Hard core + Positive heuristic.
- These Fivefold Way points have parallels in the McCullough Criteria for Historicity: Accurate-supported by corroborating data; Consistent-supported by corroborating witnesses and artifacts; Broad-explanatory scope and power; Simple-an appeal to Occam’s Razor; Fruitful-epistemic value.
- Boris Zlotin, TRIZ Scientist, of Ideation International, has stated this analogy (TRIZ to mathematics) as well during a personal communication in October of 1998.
- The Hermeneutic Principles for Learning where created by the author for the purpose of use in this column. These principles have a theological equivalent relevant to the interpretation of scripture.
- Its’ formal name being: The Reduction of Innovation to a Predictable, Repeatable Practice.