Who Moved My TRIZ?
Editor | On 30, Apr 2018
Once upon a time there was a land where everyone kept losing their keys. That’s everyone as in everyone. People lost their keys all the time. No matter what they did to try and make sure they didn’t lose them. Tie them on a chain around their necks, leave them in a safe space under the doormat, or put them in a safety deposit box at the bank. Nothing worked.
Now, one would have expected when society has a problem like this, necessity being the mother of invention and all, surely someone would have found a solution. Like inventing locks that don’t need keys for example. But the truth is, no-one could remember a time when keys didn’t get lost, and so the whole situation was viewed as normal. That plus the fact that the locksmiths of the land kind of liked things the way they were. And had created themselves a quite envious position at the top of society. Everyone knew it was a good idea to have a locksmith as a friend. Otherwise, next time you lost your front door key, you might find yourself having to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights until one would deem to turn up to replace your locks and give you a new key.
This was just how things were in the land of Emba. Whenever they lost their latest key, people just shrugged their shoulders, sent a message to their locksmith to the effect that, unfortunately, they’d done it again, and then waited for him to turn up and put things right again.
Most of the houses in Emba were built around the foot of a big mountain. Actually it was an enormous mountain. So high that no-one had been to the summit. So high that it always disappeared into the clouds. Even when the sun shone and the skies were blue, still the mountain seemed to disappear upwards into the unknown. Generally speaking, Emba was quite a hierarchical place. The higher up the hierarchy you were – like the locksmiths – the higher up the side of the mountain you tended to live. Were a visitor to arrive in Emba and were he to decide to climb one of the roads up the side of the mountain, the thing he’d notice before anything else was how the houses became grander and grander the higher he climbed. The locksmiths’ houses being the biggest and highest. Unless you count the professors who taught at the locksmith college. Their houses were highest and biggest of all. Every parent in Emba hoped their child would pass the locksmith entrance exam. Every parent knew it probably wasn’t going to happen. The only children who seemed to get a place at the locksmith college were the offspring of locksmiths. Again, this was just the way it seemed to be. No-one complained about it. Everyone just got on with whatever they were supposed to get on with. It was the way it was, it was the way it had always been.
This was the Emba that Oleg and Irwin arrived at one dull, lifeless day. The day after a big storm. The two of them hadn’t known each other for very long, but had already realised that rats stand a better chance of surviving if they travel together. Safety in numbers. Even if the number in this case was two. As in most parts of the world, rats were viewed as, how can we put this politely, vermin. People, when confronted by a rat, were more likely to scream or fetch a broom than they were to bend down and stroke between his ears and call him cute. Oleg and Irwin were used to this now. Again, it was just the way things were.
Oleg had been born in the faraway land of Russia. Russia was a whole other mountain to Emba. Oleg was extremely proud of being a Russian rat and, given half a chance, would invariably declare where he came from. No-one ever needed to ask Oleg where he was from. He’d already told you. That plus his Russian accent tended to give the game away right from the get go.
Irwin used to calmly raise his eyes to the sky whenever Oleg was doing his I’m-from-Russia-you-know thing. He’d got used to it by now, but Irwin definitely wasn’t Russian and he didn’t understand why coming from Russia was such a great thing to be proud of. Irwin didn’t actually know where he’d been born. His parents had been pretty much nomadic, and in any event had disappeared fairly soon after they’d seen Irwin fending for himself the first time. Irwin had pretty quickly learned what needed to be done in order to survive. In general it meant doing stuff that other people didn’t want to do. Like scratching around waste-dumps when there was no money or food to be had.
As it happens, it was at one such dump, on the far outskirts of Emba that Irwin and Oleg had met. Oleg, too, had learned that needs must. When you were hungry and in a strange land and looked like a rat, you did whatever needed to be done to get by. And if that meant rooting through other people’s trash that’s what he’d do. Even though he knew one day he would make his way in life and never have to do it again. The first thing Irwin noticed about Oleg was he was from Russia. The second thing was he knew where he was going. And that was to the top, where any self-respecting Russian rat deserved to be.
After they first bumped in to each other at the dump, they nodded politely to each other and went their separate ways. But then, after they met again a second and then a third time at the same sustenance-rich pile of garbage, they decided they might as well stick together.
One day, around the second week of their combined trash-hunt, Oleg noticed a shiny object sticking out of a pile of discarded papers. After he’d spent a few minutes freeing it, Irwin noticed that, unlike other finds the two of them had made, Oleg surreptitiously stuck the shiny object in his pocket and then went calmly back to sniffing out dinner. Like most things in life, Irwin shrugged it off.
That afternoon, Oleg disappeared for a couple of hours, only returning so the two rats could enjoy the sunset together as had become their end of day custom. This day, after the pinks and oranges and reds had bowed away to night, the sky was filled with a big bright full moon. Life didn’t get much better than this if you were a rat. Oleg smiled at Irwin, and Irwin smiled back at Oleg.
In the morning, Irwin found himself alone. No sign of Oleg anywhere. All of his things were gone. Irwin shrugged his little rat shoulders and set about finding breakfast. When you’re hungry, you’re hungry. And that’s all there is to say on that subject. Especially when it takes the whole day to still not quite fill your stomach. It wasn’t until he settled down to watch the sunset by himself that he had a chance to wonder again what might have happened to his Russian friend.
After a week of wondering, he found himself wondering what he was wondering about. Maybe Oleg had been a figment of his imagination? Or maybe he’d decided to go back to his beloved Russia?
In the end it was some days after the next full moon when the days had begun to shorten and the weather started to turn chilly before Irwin finally found out what had happened to Oleg. He was rifling through a newly tipped load of old newspapers on the hunt for bedding material when he suddenly found himself staring at a photograph of Oleg. Admittedly it was only on page 17 of the newspaper, but nevertheless, there was Oleg smiling at the camera.
‘Oleg’s Magic Key?’ read the headline. Apparently it was a miracle. Oleg had discovered a key that could open any lock. Mrs Samson, 47, of Lower Emba had been locked out of her house, the locksmith couldn’t come and along came Oleg to the rescue. ‘He just waved the key in front of the lock’, said a clearly amazed Mrs Samson, ‘and there it was open. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen’. Irwin read further through the article. Oleg was trying very hard to be modest. ‘It was nothing,’ he said, ‘I saw this problem back in my home country of Russia a few years ago, and merely used what I learned then to open the door.’ When the reporter pushed further, all Oleg would say was that he just liked helping out when he was needed. When asked if he could see the magic key, Oleg merely shook his head and said that it was a very delicate matter and that he didn’t want to reveal what the key looked like lest it fell into the wrong hands.
‘Magic key?’ thought Irwin, how strange that Oleg had never mentioned it before. Then he remembered the shiny object and had another thought. And off he scuttled back to the place where he thought the two rats had been when Oleg found it. Maybe what he’d picked up and hidden in his pocket was a magic key?
If it was, there was certainly no evidence of any more shiny magic keys in the vicinity. After two hours of scrabbling the closest he’d come to a magic key was a rusty paperclip. It didn’t look like it would open too many doors.
The next day, Irwin resolved to spend all of the time he wasn’t looking for food or sunsets, continuing the search for another magic key. By the time the pinks and reds had turned to night, all he had to show this time was one very rusty half of a key. It was another two days before he found an actual whole key. But even this one was too rusty to be of any use to anyone.
Irwin was close to giving up. Maybe, he thought, what makes magic keys magic is that there is only one of them, and that Oleg had just been in the right place at the right time.
Or maybe not. A couple of weeks later, when the weather was even colder, Irwin found himself back at the place where yesterday’s newspapers got dumped. This time there was no photograph of Oleg to be found. Just a headline about how the locksmiths were up in arms because the demand for their services seemed to be on the decline. ‘Locksmith prices tumble’ read the headline.
Irwin resolved to keep an eye on the story, and decided to spend less of his time looking for magic keys and more time reading up about the price of locksmiths.
By the time the first snows arrived, Irwin had amassed a grand total of four and a half rusty keys and three more newspaper articles. The oldest of these articles mentioned Oleg again, and how the locksmiths had accused him of being a fraud. The middle one talked about a surge in burglaries. And the most recent was another interview with a locksmith who’d put two and two together to make five and was accusing Oleg of not only being a fraud, but also somehow who preyed on the weak and vulnerable.
This didn’t sound like the Oleg that Irwin had known. It was very unfair. Irwin decided he should head into the town and see what was going on.
Irwin Goes To Town
The following morning he roused himself early, packed an overnight bag and headed out of the waste dump for the first time since he’d arrived over two months ago. As he looked back, he felt sad. Sad as if he was leaving home.
It took the best part of the whole day before Irwin reached the first signs of civilisation, a jumbled street of shops. Outside one of the shops he saw another newspaper headline, ‘I’ll pass any test’ says Oleg the Great.’ Irwin sneaked a peak at the rest of the story. There was going to be a demonstration the following day. Oleg would demonstrate how the Magic Key would only work if someone was locked out of their house. It was Oleg’s way of demonstrating that the burglaries were nothing to do with him.
Irwin resolved to go and watch the demonstration. Not so much to see the demonstration, but he thought it would be nice to catch up with his old friend again.
The town square where the demonstration was due to take place was packed with onlookers. Irwin could see Oleg up on his recently installed platform, but when he waved, it was clear Oleg couldn’t see him. No doubt he was concentrating on his demonstration. Open the lock where the owner had lost their key; fail to open the lock where he had not been given permission. The demonstration had been very carefully set up, and the MC went to great lengths to let the throng know that Oleg didn’t know which lock was which.
Needless to say, the whole thing worked like a charm. The lock that was supposed to open opened and the lock that was supposed to stay locked stayed locked. The crowd shouted and cheered, and Oleg beamed as he looked out at the crowd. He bowed deeply, raising what looked like a new top hat. Irwin couldn’t help but clap and cheer along with everyone else. It was nice to watch one of his friends do well. Irwin smiled as he left the square and headed back to the dump. All was well in the world. The search for another magic key would begin again tomorrow.
Oleg Thinks About His Business
Oleg, meanwhile, smiled down at everyone from the platform. It was good to know that everything had gone to plan. He knew he’d made many enemies amongst the locksmith community despite his attempts to show them he wasn’t a threat. As an outsider, he’d known he would have to move carefully. That’s why he’d deliberately sought to help only those people the locksmiths hadn’t helped or were too slow to help. In Oleg’s eyes, he was doing them a favour. They kept all of their most profitable customers, while he made a pretty good living from all the lost key customers who were mainly just seen as a nuisance. The people at the bottom of the Emba mountain.
But Oleg also knew that sooner or later he’d have to sort out some kind of arrangement with the locksmiths. If only because there was only one of him and only one Magic Key. If Oleg wanted to grow his little business he’d either have to start working with others, or start moving up the mountain to the locked-out customers with more money. Neither seemed ideal. The former because, who could he trust? The latter because the higher up the mountain he went, the more likely it would be that the locksmiths would have to do something to stop him.
But there was another problem too. One bigger than both the other two. The Magic Key didn’t work in every lock. Fortunately for Oleg, only he knew this. He’d been able to find out in secret which sorts of lock he could open and which ones he couldn’t and therefore only endeavoured to help those customers he knew he’d be able to help. Even more fortunately, these customers were the ones lower down the mountain.
Oleg stood in front of the mirror in his new house, took the Magic Key out of his pocket and stared at it. Then looked at his reflection. Then back at the Key. He felt proud of how he had advanced so quickly in Emba, how he had worked hard to get here, and how he knew he deserved more. A plan began to form in his mind. Maybe the Magic Key really was magic. Maybe it was able to open other kinds of lock.
In the morning, Oleg awoke bright and early. Today was the day he would begin selling Magic Keys. Just a few. To just the right people. For just the right amount of money. He sent a small advertisement to the classified section of the local newspaper: ‘Oleg is looking for apprentices’.
Within a couple of days he had more replies than he knew what to do with. Everyone in Emba, it seemed, was interested in owning a Magic Key. Including, Oleg noted with no small amount of glee, one or two locksmiths. He made up a short list of likely candidates and set about preparing his first Magic Key training programmes.
Magic Keys was the easy part, he wrote in the course notes, the real skill comes with how you use the Key. There’s a knack. And to teach you this knack, you will have to enrol for at least three months. And you will have to do exactly as I say. That will be Rule One. Follow the recipe. Do not deviate. Do not try and reverse engineer Magic Key Technology.
When he arrived at his first class, the room was full of willing apprentices, ready to subscribe to Oleg’s every word. They wrote down everything he said. And were even patient when he refused to let them practice with the replica Magic Keys he only occasionally allowed them to touch. ‘Until you know the knack,’ he scolded them, ‘you will do more harm than good. Nobody wants a lock with a broken key stuck in it do they’. His students nodded understandingly.
Finally, the three month programme was coming to an end. Oleg had realised he didn’t need to go and help people solve their lost key problems anymore. Far easier to have a crowd of advocates clinging to your every word. Even though many of them were being made up on the spot. Or contradicted what he’d told the students earlier in the programme. Not that any of the students noticed. He’d worked that trick out very early on in the programme. Step one of the Knack, he told them, is don’t think, rely on the Knack. If the Knack doesn’t work, it’s because you’re too busy thinking instead of focusing on the Knack. If he said so himself, this was the most brilliant part of the training programme.
Or at least it was up until the first student cohort arrived at their Magic Key Master Graduation Ceremony. After today, they would be sent out in to the big wide world with their own Magic Keys. Oleg felt an uneasy feeling in his stomach at the prospect.
Sure enough, not long after graduation, he started to receive communications from the loudest of his former students. ‘It doesn’t work,’ the graduate student shouted at him, ‘the lock didn’t budge’. Oleg promised to come along and work out what was happening. You probably over-thought the situation, he said. But when he went to the lock the following day, in his heart of hearts, the moment Oleg first saw what type of lock it was, he knew he was in trouble. This was one of the locks he’d failed to open during one of his early covert experiments. Now his former student was going to see Oleg failing too. Oleg took the Magic Key out of his breast pocket and looked at it. His reflection seemed to wink back. He nodded sagely, ‘this lock,’ he said calmly to the former student, ‘requires Advanced Knackery.’ The student looked crestfallen. He had already invested a lot of money he didn’t have and this sounded like he was about to be asked for more. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Oleg, ‘Advanced Knackery classes are not expensive. I will show you how to open this stubborn lock tomorrow. We will meet at noon.’ And with that, he tipped his latest new top hat, and bade the former student adieu.
The following day Oleg failed to show. The former student waited for a couple of hours, then headed to Oleg’s home to see what had gone wrong. Maybe he had misunderstood the instruction? Maybe he had misheard the timing? He knocked on Oleg’s door. Nothing. He knocked again. And then again. Finally an old man appeared. It was Oleg’s butler. ‘I’m sorry,’ the butler said, ‘Oleg had to attend an emergency lost-key situation of a very important customer. I’m sure he will come and meet you tomorrow.’ The former student nodded. He understood the situation, and offered his apologies to the butler.
But then, sadly, Oleg didn’t show the next day. Or the day after that. On the fourth day, the former student didn’t turn up either. By now the locksmiths had come and fitted a new lock and the customer was no longer interested in Magic Keys.
The former student would have forgotten about the incident, but when he accidently bumped into one of his fellow Magic Key Master Graduates in a café one afternoon a few weeks later the incident came back to him. The other former student nodded. The same happened to me he said. And Mr Procter. And Mr Lever. The two students looked at each other. Something was beginning to smell fishy. They decided to phone the newspaper.
The following morning, when Oleg’s butler opened the curtains in Oleg’s bedroom, there was a flurry of flashing cameras. The butler handed Oleg his usual newspaper. When he saw the headline, he knew he didn’t need to read any further. Emba had turned against him. The Magic Key was one great big fraud.
Even though it’s not, sighed Oleg to no-one in particular. It’s not the Magic Key that’s the problem, it’s the occasional un-magic lock. Nevertheless, as the flashbulbs continued to light up the sky outside his window, Oleg knew he needed another plan. Or possibly two. One to tr to work out what Advanced Knackery might actually mean. The other trying to find a new audience. Either one where the people were desperate enough to try anything, or, hmm, one where the people in charge of the people needed something to help them stay in charge: maybe a Magic Key would give people hope when in reality there was none? It was a thought. I need to let that one percolate, Oleg nodded to himself, as he went over to his wardrobe and started packing a few bags.
Meanwhile Back At The Dump
Irwin had returned to the dump determined to re-double his efforts to find his own Magic Key. Now, two months later, he had accumulated a pretty decent pile of retrieved keys. None looked particularly magic. Indeed, most were broken or bent or rusty, but the amazing thing was how many of them there were once you knew where to look. The more he found, the more he came to realise that he was merely re-finding all the lost keys. And once that thought dawned on him, the more likely it seemed that he might also be able to help people that had lost their keys. It was merely a matter of numbers. Find enough keys and eventually one of them would be the right one for whatever lock might need opening he surmised. The only question then was what constituted ‘enough’ keys to try out the theory.
Two more months of unearthing keys went by. By which time the answer to Irwin’s question answered itself. Enough keys was precisely the number he was able to carry with him when he walked in to town to test out the theory. Which in turn meant he needed something to hold all the keys he had accumulated. He looked around. And looked some more. Until he saw something glinting in the sun. It turned out to be an old bucket that someone had thrown out. Irwin picked it up. And then immediately dropped it again, yelped and thrust his paw into his mouth. The reason the bucket had been thrown out, Irwin realised as he tried to stem the flow of blood, was because the handle was full of sharp edges.
Still, apart from that, the main thing was the bucket didn’t have any holes and was big enough to hold all the keys an Irwin-sized rat could hope to pick up and carry. After bandaging his cut paw, Irwin proceeded to fill the bucket with his keys. Tomorrow he would take them to town.
His first opportunity to test his theory couldn’t have gone worse. Finding a person who had lost his door key was easy enough. Convincing him to let Irwin have a go at opening the lock was almost as easy. Especially after he’d offer to open the door for free. Pretty soon all the neighbours had come over to watch Irwin set to work. Taking one key out of his bucket at a time, Irwin, tried them in the lock, then, after they didn’t work, placed them on the ground and tried the next one. After thirty or forty attempts the crowd began to snigger. After the hundredth, someone shouted out that Irwin was an idiot. And then everyone laughed. And then when they saw the doubts creeping in to Irwin’s eyes for the first time, the laughter turned to tut’s and boo’s. And within a couple more minutes of failed key matching attempts, they began to shake their heads and walk back in to their homes. In the end it was just Irwin and the person with the lost key. All Irwin could do was apologise. And then, when that didn’t seem to help, volunteer to go find a locksmith. The final insult came when the locksmith offered to forego his fee in exchange for Irwin’s bucket of scrap metal.
Tempted as he was – especially after he saw the locksmith’s bill – he knew there was something in the theory that meant he couldn’t give up just yet. He paid the locksmith and headed back to the dump with his tail well and truly between his legs.
Sometimes, you need to reach the lowest of lows before things become clear in your mind. It was all very well to have lots of keys. But ultimately pointless if you had no way to connect the right key to the right lock. And for that you need a system. And that more often than not, you can only see the system by working through lots of variations.
It was another two months, then, before he dared to venture out into the public eye again. Two months of blisters and frustration. And more rusty keys. Which, now the pile was even bigger, Irwin could see formed a kind of pattern. Finally he felt it was time again. No more mistakes.
This time it was more difficult to get anyone to volunteer their lost key problem. Word had clearly got around of yet another charlatan rat. Nevertheless, it still wasn’t too long before someone was desperate enough to get back into their house that they were prepared to give Irwin’s new theories a try. This time around, it took a dozen attempts before he found the right key. But sure enough, when he did, the door popped open and the distraught homeowner clapped her hands with glee.
The next time it took just nine attempts to fit the right key to the right lock. The time after that eight. Then six. Then he started attracting a small crowd wherever he turned up with his bucket of keys. A week after that, he was averaging four attempts before the lock would obligingly click open. And now he was getting a round of applause. His efforts weren’t earning him much money, but they were already enough for him to take on an assistant to stay back at the dump and look out for more keys.
Then came the day when someone shouted out from the crowd that Irwin’s secret was a Magic Bucket. That brought a news reporter to come and talk to him. And then a small article in the newspaper. And then a bigger one. Irwin’s Magic Bucket was beginning to attract wider attention.
At The Dump Again
Not long after this headline, Irwin was at the bottom of one of the holes he’d excavated, looking for more keys, when he noticed a familiar face looking down at him. Irwin smiled up at the face. The face smiled back. ‘Hello, Irwin,’ Oleg shouted down, still smiling, ‘you haven’t changed a bit.’
Irwin shrugged his shoulders and started climbing out of the hole, ‘what about you though? You’re looking much smarter.’
Oleg admired his new silk cape and nodded in agreement, ‘I came to see your Magic Bucket.’
Irwin paused, ‘there is no magic,’ he said, finally, ‘it’s just a system.’
Oleg waved his hand dismissively, ‘the papers say it’s Magic. The people who see you call it Magic.’
Irwin shook his head, ‘it’s just learning how to put the right pieces together.’
‘That’s not what people want to hear,’ Oleg responded.
Irwin looked at Irwin with a confused expression on his face.
‘Systems. And learning,’ Oleg shook his head solemnly, ‘they sound like hard work. People don’t want hard work. They want someone to turn up with a Magic Bucket, shake it a couple of times, pull out a Magic Key and unlock their door for them. Bam. Just like that.’
Irwin laughed, ‘it really doesn’t work like that.’
‘You’re missing the point,’ Oleg responded, head still shaking, ‘the Magic Bucket idea. It’s not even a very good metaphor.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, who’s going to believe in the powers of a rusty bucket with a broken handle? A bucket for goodness sake.’
‘It’s not the receptacle that’s important,’ Irwin sounded a little bit hurt, ‘it’s…’
But Oleg held up his hand, and before Irwin could finish his sentence, interrupted, ‘it can’t be a bucket,’ he paused a moment, ‘we need something else. Something more believable. Something…. Something like a samovar. How about a Samovar?’
Oleg nodded, ‘a Magic Samovar. Someone loses their key, they call for help, we turn up with our Magic Samovar, tap it a couple of times, lift the lid, and, hey presto, lift out a Magic Key that will open their door.’
Irwin shook his head, ‘it sounds like you have this all worked out.’
‘I know what the people want,’ Oleg smiled, ‘that’s why we always made such a good team.’
Oleg nodded, an even bigger smile on his face, ‘you work out the system, I work out how to make it believable.’
But Oleg interrupted again, ‘what do you say? Do we have a deal? I can give you money. I can take the Magic Bucket back to town with me. We can help everyone. There won’t be anything the locksmiths can do. We’re unstoppable.’
‘You want to buy the bucket? Even though you know it’s not really magic?’ Irwin looked puzzled.
‘And all the keys. Of course,’ Oleg held out his hand, ‘and a promise that you’ll stay out of the way. Let me do the selling.’
‘You want it that badly?’
‘Just tell me how much you want.’
Irwin shook his head, ‘you can have it. If it means that much to you, I will let you have it.’
‘Really,‘ Oleg hesitated, then extended his arm further towards Irwin’s, ‘you’d do that for me? You’d stay here? What would you do?’
Irwin looked deep into Oleg’s eyes and thought for a moment. Then his turn to smile, ‘there’s still work to be done. The locks in the houses at the top of Emba.’
‘The ones where no key works?’
Irwin nodded, ‘the further up you go, the more complex the system gets.’
‘You can work it out?’ Oleg looked confused.
‘I think I can,’ Irwin nodded slowly, ‘I just need to work out what holds Magic Samovars’
Oleg looked back at him, confused.
Irwin smiled some more, ‘if Magic Samovars hold Magic Keys,’ he stroked his whiskers, ‘what holds Magic Samovars? That’s the question.’