This is part 4 of a 4-part series.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
MY EXPERIENCES WITH MY TEACHER GENRIKH SAULOVICH ALTSHULLER (part 3&4)
Keynote Papers for
MY EXPERIENCES WITH MY TEACHER GENRIKH SAULOVICH ALTSHULLER
Until the end of the year l982, I was prevented from going to the Soviet Union for my work on Ph. D. dissertation because of many unreasonable bureaucratic reasons on four occasions. Finally, after I had passed a tiring exam with many requirements, I flew to the Soviet Union. This time, I studied at the State University of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) some thousands of kilometers away from Baku. On January 2nd, l983, the teacher Mr. Altshutller replied: “Pleased to get your letter from Leningrad, not somewhere else. It is wonderful, because there are schools of TRIZ with many instructors and researchers. They will give you a lot of information about TRIZ as well as its accomplishments. I am writing immediately here some addresses of those who are in Leningrad".
Further, he gave me a list of three with their full names, addresses, and telephone numbers: V.M. Petrov(2), E.S. Zlotina(3), V.V. Mitrofanov(4) and wrote: "You tell them that I introduced you to them, and today I will write to Zlotina about this”. He added: "Today I will also send you the following books: "Creativity As An Exact Science", and “The Wings for Icharus” and a new document “ARIZ-82B”. I’m going to write to the Trizniks(5) in Leningrad and they will provide you with other materials. How about the Journal “Technology and Science”(6). Have you subscribed to the one for the year l983? And how about the old ones? You must read the issues from l to 9 from the year l981, and from 3 to 5 and 8 from the year l982”. He reminded me of his ten-year old suggestion, taking my interest in psychological inertia into his account: "I really expect you to do something on "Guiding of the Usage of Physical Effects in Inventing", while you are living in the Union these days. If necessary, the above mentioned Journal will publish your research, or also your research on psychology... Happy New Year with many best wishes for your health and prosperity in the days living in Leningrad". After receiving the teacher Mr. Altshuller's letter I contacted Volodia Petrov and Fira Zlotina. And we became friends.
At the beginning of October, l983, I went to Baku to visit my old places, my old teachers and classmates, especially the teacher Mr. Altshuller's family. Never has the trip faded from my mind. It was an extremely emotional, unforgetable one. Maybe you can guess why. I myself, during the last ten years, had worked, was now married with a child, had faced the severe reality of daily life and work. As a result, I looked much more experienced than before. So this time, meeting Mr. and Mrs. Altshuller I could discuss with them many subjects in a deeper and more thoughtful way, even some “delicate” topics in comparison with the standards of that time. I knew much more about his personal life with its many ups and downs as well as his intentions about TRIZ. I told him about what I had done in Vietnam (I had taught the first course on TRIZ in Vietnam in 1977) and my opinions about TRIZ … He gave me positive encouragement about my work, gave me his own ideas and his own experiences. They were so precious to me. If he had some points to disagree with me, he just suggested, “You may be right in such a case”. Then, he presented me with many materials on TRIZ and others including magazines, books, and typewritten research papers.
He saw me off at the bus station. He went with his back just beginning to be bent over and a slightly slow walk which I had not seen before. I felt moved and loved him so much. From the bottom of my heart, I prayed for his health. I wished that he would live a long, long time.
Quite different from my arrival with a light traveling bag, I flew back to Leningrad with my overweight baggage. Although I did not have to pay tax for 20 kilos according to the rules, additionally, I had to pay the same amount as an excess baggage charge for the presents from my old teachers and classmates. The teacher Mr. Atlshuller’s gift alone weighed over 10 kilos.
Thanks to him and TRIZ colleagues, especially, my new friends: Volodia and Fira, I always kept up with the development of and new studies on TRIZ (including the manuscript materials that would be published later in the form of articles or books). Leafing back through his letters, I encountered the things he used to write to me, such as “ Let me know about this material... that one, have you got them yet ? If not , I will send them to you ". Or ," In the package I am sending to you today there are the following materials...”
I remember one episode. It was the third time I was living in the Soviet Union (again in Leningrad), doing my research on my Doctor of Science's degree, and I discovered two books in the package he had sent me. These books were written by his former students about TRIZ and about how to teach it with acknowledgements and dedications to him from the authors in ink on the first page. At once, I phoned him to confirm: "Genrikh Saulovich, you must be mistaken in sending me the books whose authors had presented them to you". He just laughed, "No , I am not mistaken. You need them more than I do" Hearing nothing from me on the end of the line, he thought that I must be so embarrassed. So, he added, “Don’t worry. I will tell them that I presented the books to you from me. Now let's change the subject…”.
Here is his last letter of February 2nd, l997: “I’ ve got your letter of January 6th, l997 with your report on your teaching trip in Malaysia and your photos. Thank you so much”.
“I am enclosing here with this letter for you the “Information” about the TRIZ Association. I would like you to know all about its activities”.
“TRIZ has begun its long steps towards the West. Many TRIZ related institutes and schools have been established, the translation of TRIZ is in progress. The book “And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared” that was translated into English (in America) has just been printed. As soon as I receive it, I will send it to you. Write to me more often. Good luck !”
“PS: Did you get the two books “How to Become a Genius” and "The Corner of Attack?”.
After that, I did not get any letters from him any more although I had written to him several times. I thought that, maybe, he had moved to a new address like before, when his family went to Petrozavodsk from Baku to live, but... maybe... sometimes I shuddered with fear when my mind was lead to that terrible thing... In the end of the year l998, our Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity (CSTC) was connected with the Internet, on American TRIZ websites I got the distressing news that he had passed away on September 24th, l998 after a long sickness.
Getting the bad news, I quickly sent the teacher Mr. Altshuller's family a fax of condolence to share the great loss all Trizniks had suffered. Then I phoned Mrs. Valentina Nhikolaevna Zhuravliova, his wife, to talk more about him and remember with her my sweet memories of him. During the conversation, she repeated several times, "You Vietnamese students were very lucky to have a long time to study with him. Many Trizniks did not get an opportunity like that".
In my mind, I often think I had a very good opportunity to improve myself immensly when I was his student, working and corresponding with him. It is said that one of the most effective ways of learning is imitating, willingly following other's examples. This impulse naturally comes from the learner's need and internal aspiration. Considering the typical example of a child's learning to speak at home, we can see that he lives, plays, and communicates naturally without realizing he is learning and accepting the effect of nurture from his teachers. But he can learn how to speak from the family members very rapidly with everyday improvement. If you are lucky enough to have regular contact with those who get your admiration, your love, and who are better than you in many aspects, you will learn a lot from them almost as if you had been infected by them, although they do not have the intention of teaching you at all, and you yourself do not have the intention of learning, either. This is such a natural, effective way of learning that what you have learned will be digested and transformed into your own flesh and blood. It is not a borrowing process.
Remembering what I knew about him (directly or from TRIZ colleagues and other's memoirs), the idea sometimes springs up in my mind that he was real and not real at the same time. He was real in his worldly body as my teacher. And he was not real like a legendary hero stepping out of the pages on which great names are written, for I had read much about them. Many of them encountered obstacles, they were even crushed by the evil powers, but with all their efforts, endurance, strong will and, of course, their talents, they contributed their great achievements to mankind's prosperity. I knew all this, but before meeting the teacher Mr. Altshuller, I had no chance to contact let alone to learn from them, or to work with such people.
The teacher Mr. Altshuller's life, indeed, had been unlucky even when he was in his mother's womb. His father married his mother when they were working together for the Azerbaigian News Agency (Azerbaigian was one of 15 Republics of the Soviet Union) in Baku. His father had already been married once previously to marrying his mother. So his grandmother on his mother's side objected to the new mariage so violently that his parents had to move to Tashkent city, the capital of the Republic Uzbekistan, where he was born on October 15, 1926. In 1928, his family returned to Baku amid the cool attitudes of his mother's relatives.
His parents worked for the Press. So his home, of course, was packed with books that interested him from a very young age. He went to schools where there were many professional and devoted teachers. This enabled him to look for new things, arouse his curiosity about inventions. He got his first patent when he was still at high school.
The Soviet Union was attacked by Fascism in 1941, at the time he was 15. After high school, he joined the army and was assigned to an infantry regiment. Then, he was recommended to train in an air force school. No sooner had he finished the training, than the war ended. He applied for a position as a navy patent examiner at the Patent Office of Caspian Fleet, located in Baku. Right here, his interest in invention from a young age was combined with the needs of his job: he studied the patent information, examined invention documents, gave his advice to inventors. In 1946, he began the first steps on the path to constructing TRIZ. His desire to help the general populous to invent methodologically in a scientific way became stronger than his original purpose: how to get many patents for himself.
In 1949, he and his associate Mr. R. Shapiro directly wrote Stalin a thirty-page letter which took them 6 months. Beside the presentation of their invention, they proposed many measures to improve the Soviet patent system and creative, inventive activities in the Soviet Union. In the end, he and his friend were mistakenly accused of terrorism, arrested in 1950 and sentenced to twenty-five year's penal servitude. He was exiled to Vorkuta, a hostile area with ice and snow, to work as a coal miner. During the time he was in his labor camps his father died. His mother applied many times for his amnesty, but failed. She was so disappointed that she committed suicide in 1953. Stalin died in the same year. So many sentences were again judged. In 1954, he and his friend, Mr. Shapiro were released. Back in Baku, he had to change his workplace several times, for a former prisoner was not welcome when he applied for a job. Finally, he decided to be his own employer. He worked as a freelance. He turned to writing for newspapers, then writing science fiction under the pen name Genrikh Altov. With the little money he earned he had time to develop his ideas originating from 1946. Sometimes, his life was not secure in this way. He had to sell his books, which he had collected over years and which he appreciated like his own children, to second - hand book-stores.
The first results of his and Mr. Shapiro's research, which laid the basic foundation for TRIZ, were published in the Journal "Psychological Issues"( No. 6, 1956, pages 37 - 49). Later, Mr. Shapiro migrated to Israel. So, only the teacher Mr. Alshuller kept on his study of TRIZ. From 1958, he began to spread TRIZ through seminars, first in Baku, then in other cities such as Moscow, Donhetsk, Tambov, Ryazan ... As the results of the success of the seminars, over 9 years from 1959 to 1967, he continuously wrote to the Central Council of the All Union Association of Inventors and Rationalizators (Russian acronym is VOIR) with many proposals, but did not receive any positive responses although the proposals were within Regulations and met the criteria of VOIR. Until, in 1968, the Central Council's president, Ivanov was seriously sick. So, the secretary of the Council, V. N. Tiurin took his place temporarily. At that time, the situation seemed to get out of its darkness. The Public Research Laboratory of Inventing Methods (OLMI) was opened in 1969 and the Public Institute of Inventive Creativity (AzOIIT) was formed in Baku in 1971. In 1972, Sofanov, the newly-elected president of the Central Council of VOIR returned to the old policies, causing many problems for Mr. Altshuller's activities. The highest tension point was reached in 1974. On one occasion Mr. Altshuller admitted some cadres from the School of Perfection of Management Qualification belonging to the Polish Council of Ministers to study at the AzOIIT, without an official permit from the VOIR's Central Council. So Sofanov closed OLMI. To give his protest to the decision, Mr. Altshuller withdrew from AzOIIT.
Since then, the research and spreading of TRIZ has completely relied on the interest and willingness of volunteers, who expected no financial returns, under Mr. Altshuller's leadership, without any legal financial support from the government, or from other societies. Many times he and his followers gave TRIZ classes in a "nomadical way" from city to city. Then they created TRIZ groups, centers, schools operating in clubs or cultural houses… Until the 1980s, hundreds of cities in the Soviet Union with such activities came into being. At first, he was the only one who taught TRIZ in the 1950s, 3 more began teaching TRIZ in 1968, and there were over 200 teachers by 1979. After that, conferences on the special subjects of TRIZ were held in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988 with more and more participants. The TRIZ Association was established in 1989 and the Journal of TRIZ came into being in 1990. The flourishment of TRIZ led the State Committee of Invention (GOSKOMIZOBRETENIE) and VOIR to make their decision to support the teaching system of the methods of invention and creativity (in Mr. Altshuller's opinion, this decision should have been made 20 years before).
As soon as the cold war ended, the Soviet Union's economy changed into the market one. So TRIZ development faced other new advantages as well as disadvantages. Due to the information exchange between the East and the West being better than before, some developed countries discovered TRIZ and quickly welcomed it to their countries. Now TRIZ became an international movement and the term TRIZ became an international term.
Unluckily, at the triumphant time of TRIZ, Mr. Altshuller left us forever with much love and respect from those who knew him and knew of him. At least, I think, one thing could console him and all Trizniks, that is he had witnessed how his loved child TRIZ had been internationally recognized.
There is one Vietnamese saying: "You can make a cake only if you have flour. It is a true genius who builds his whole cause with empty hands". In fact, Mr. Altshuller created his brand new cause from nothing in hard conditions. He worked without any financial support from the government or other organizations. You can imagine that at that time the Soviet Union did not follow the market economy. Its economy consisted of only two components: the national and collective. They were strictly and directly controlled under the government. Therefore, all scientific and technical research was concentrated in institutes and universities that were managed by the state. At that time, he did not belong to the staff of any organization. Because of that, he could not get his passport to go abroad to report on TRIZ at international conferences. During "perestroika" the passport procedure changed but his health would not allow him to travel abroad. In other words, he had no chance to go out of his country even to the neighbouring socialist countries right up to the day he died. He also did not have a Kandidat Nauk degree (Ph.D.) yet he dared to invent a different way from that accepted by the state scientists in the field of creativity and innovation. Under the eyes of almost all scientists working for the above state institutes or universities, he was a "heretic", incompetent to give his ideas on professional issues. In addition, there were other discriminations including a delicate one - he was a Jew.
Thinking about the teacher Mr. Altshuller and his cause I believe that the following reasons may explain why he persistently followed the ideal he had discovered and won deep love and respect from his disciples and students.
1. Victor Hugo wrote: "There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the world. And that is an idea whose time has come".
Apparently, Mr. Altshuller had managed to catch the idea and foresaw the "time of idea"; therefore, he became stronger than any obstacle he met on his way. And he got more and more supporters, and followers, in his own country as well as all over the world. Since the 1990s, more and more researchers have predicted that the age of creativity and innovation will come after the age of information.
Not stopping at the creation of TRIZ, he also put his theory and tools into action as a great innovator. He knew how mobilize the "intrinsic creative resources" inside people to maximum effect, resolved many "physical contradictions" in his life and work and always kept the direction towards " the ideal system" and "the top ideal final result " in a flexible way.
What he did was motivated by his great love of mankind which included every ordinary person. He used to say things such as, “The inventing process may and must be scientific. Creativity science, which will be an exact science, can be taught as well as learned in order that everyone (even a housewife) can invent in a scientific and methodological way”.
Those who knew him all admired his ability to work. Some people believed that he worked as much as a whole research institute. His huge amount of published books and articles on creativity and innovation and science fiction stories were merely the tip of the iceberg. To illustrate his working ability I want to tell you about his minor deed: his writing and reading letters. Between 1974 and 1986 he cooperated with the newspapers "The Truth for Children" writing the special column "Invention? So Simple - So Complex” to introduce TRIZ to the youth. After some publications, he received some hundreds of reponses. Later, there were 6 - 8 thousand letters to him per issue. The amount of letters only relating to this work which he read was about 22,000. To lead the TRIZ movement, he had to reply to at least 20 letters a day to his students living in other cities. His great love helped him overcome any barries, any obstacles ... to calmly control his own suffering: his father had died; his mother had killed herself while he was at his penal servitude. In 1985, his only son, Evghenhi (pet name was Gienhia, about 10 years younger than I) whose unjust death was due to a mistaken appendix operation at a hospital left him and his family a granddaughter who just born - Yuna.
Despite the difficulties of his life, Mr. Altshuller was lucky in many aspects. He had a faithful wife, Mrs. Valentina Nhikolaevna, a real friend who could share everything with him, and he also had his friends, disciples, followers and students. These may seem ordinary and natural but in reality they are elusive for many.
One Vietnamese saying states: “ You cannot succeed without the help of your teachers”.
We all have our own teachers and thank them for their nurture. As a matter of fact, I have many ones like those. However, the teacher Mr. Altshuller, truthfully speaking, has given me the deepest impression. I was very lucky to be his student.
You may question, “What did you manage to learn from him as his student?”. My answer is: “I have just learned a little from the teacher Mr. Altshuller. However, this small amount seems great to me because it changed my life in every way in comparison with the time before.
(1) : There are two doctor's degrees in the Soviet Union. The first one called "Kandidat Nauk" is roughly equivalent to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy ( D.Ph. or Ph.D.).
The second one called "Doktor Nauk" is the highest degree. It is translated into English as Doctor of Science (D.Sc. or Sc.D.). The degree "Doktor Nauk" is awarded for a dissertation where its author having the first degree has opened a new research direction or solved a highly generalized problem in the given field.
(2) V.M. Petrov, at the beginning of the l990s migrated to Israel. Now, he is the president of Israel - TRIZ Association.
(3) E.S. Zlotina, at the beginning of the l990s migrated to Israel. She passed away because of cancer on December 8th, 1998.
(4) V.V. Mitrofanov, at that time, was the principal of the People University of Scientific and Technical Creativity in Leningrad and now he is the president of the International TRIZ Association located in Saint Petersburg.
(5) Trizniks are people who work in the field of TRIZ.
(6) The Journal "Technology and Science" (“Tekhnhika i Nauka”) came into being l894, published monthly in Moscow with its special subjects on science, technology, and manufacture. In the Soviet time, the Journal was directly managed by the All Union Council of Science and Technology Associations.