By Boris Zlotin and Alla Zusman
Throughout history, only a limited number of technological systems have possessed the outstanding qualities that allowed them to enjoy enormous success over an unusually long life. These systems cannot be called "ideal" in the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) sense because they were actual systems rather than visionary concepts; the best name for them may be "consummate" systems.
During the 1970s and 80s the authors were in complete agreement with Genrich Altshuller, who claimed that the worldwide application of TRIZ could satisfy the most significant human need – creativity. The fact that this assertion could not be proved within the environment of the former Soviet Union was not discouraging – things would be different in the free world. It is now understood that what most people need are the products of creativity: good food, nice homes, comfortable cars, exciting entertainment, reliable medicine, etc. The few individuals who are interested in creativity prefer to explore it through games or art. Within these realms, creativity is more exiting and easier to embrace because it is closely connected with emotions and feelings rather than boring technological systems.
As engineers and problem-solving practitioners, the authors believed that the progress of human society was driven by scientists and technologists. But science and technology can offer only possibilities, while the real drivers are social, business, market and other factors. With this in mind, in the mid-1980s research expanded to include non-technological patterns of evolution.9
By analyzing the evolution of human needs along with the most significant societal trends in the transition from the Industrial Era to the Informational Era, the authors concluded that the need to obtain solutions to various problems is gradually giving way to the need of an entity (i.e., an individual, organization, society, etc.) to control and manage its destiny.7
Controlling one's destiny means, first and foremost, the ability to foresee and avoid problems rather than waiting until they surface to address them. Applied to product development, this approach refers to the ability to design and build systems that remain problem-free throughout their entire life cycles – from the production stage through application by end users and, eventually, to final utilization (recycling).
Throughout history, only a limited number of technological systems have possessed the outstanding qualities that allowed them to enjoy enormous success over an unusually long life. Examples from the last century include the Ford Model-T automobile, the Douglas DC-3 airplane, the Kalashnikov machine gun, the Singer sewing machine and the squirrel cage electric motor. For many, including manufacturers and users, these systems were practically ideal in the typical sense of the word, if not in the TRIZ sense.
These systems cannot be called "ideal" in the TRIZ sense because they do not comply with the main requirement for an ideal system – that is, they were brought into existence. Perhaps a better name for them is "consummate" systems. TRIZ has many rules and instruments designed to help inventors create near-ideal systems and may help design consummate systems.
Ideality was introduced in ARIZ-59 in the form of the ideal final result (IFR, ideal ultimate result, ideal ultimate solution) – an imaginable solution that can be achieved with minimal means and no side effects.1 By extension, an "ideal machine" is a system that performs a desired function without actually existing. By this definition, the ideal machine is weightless, has zero cost, does not occupy any space, produce any harm, etc. The main underlying consideration was that people do not need systems – rather, they need the useful functions or benefits provided by these systems. Because every system has certain costs and drawbacks associated with it, eliminating the system gets rid of the negative factors. During the last several decades, the concepts of the ideal machine and the ideal final result have yielded a number of elegant and cost-effective solutions. There are no statistics, however, regarding the success rate of these solutions in terms of successful implementation. Moreover, the extensive efforts related to the notion of ideality presents certain problems, in particular:
The process of increasing a system's ideality defined earlier as a ratio of all useful functions, features and benefits versus all that must be paid for them, including various actual costs and non-tangible harmful effects associated with the performance of useful functions.
As more practical problems were addressed, it became evident that the vision of an ideal solution differs according to the objectives of the problem solver, as shown in Figure 1.
The most alarming situation occurs when the formula for the ideal system is applied to a final product; while the "no pen" formula is desirable for the pen user, it is unacceptable to the pen manufacturer, that would have no product to sell.
Moreover, the same solution might have a different degree of ideality in different situations, depending on the available resources. For example, a solution to a problem that requires welding might be nearly ideal for a company that has a welding process in place (equipment, trained operators, etc.) but far from ideal for a company that does not.
In earlier versions of ARIZ, the following steps were suggested in order to transition from the ideal to the real solution:
In later versions of ARIZ, a procedure for "stepping back" from the IFR was introduced that included the following sub-steps:
While both of these approaches were generally helpful, neither was rigorous enough to help different users obtain similar results.
In the late 1970s, Boris Zlotin transformed the verbal description of an ideal system (no weight, size, dimensions, etc.) into the formula shown in Figure 2.
This formula allows for the following derivatives:
While the ideal vision facilitates a significant leap in thinking by breaking psychological barriers and providing other creative assistance, this formula provides two ways that the ultimate ideal result can be approached in actuality.
An important feature of the this approach, as opposed to the classical TRIZ approach is its acceptance and absorption of valuable tools, instruments and approaches developed outside of TRIZ, such as value engineering, quality function deployment, etc. These tools, when combined with an advanced understanding of ideality, become quite useful in the development of consummate systems.
The most significant aspects of product/process development in the informational era can be described as follows:
The first scientific methods for technological forecasting were introduced in the mid-1950s.6 These were based on the notion that a system's past is the key to its future and, therefore, studying a system's past can reveal certain trends that, when extended into the future, can predict the future of the system. These methods resulted in a number of successful short-term predictions; however, most long-term predictions failed, seriously discrediting these methods.
Today it is clear why these methods failed – short-term evolution is more or less linear and can be somewhat reliably extrapolated. On the contrary, long-term evolution involves non-linear events such as inflection points on the evolutionary S-curve, making simple extrapolation inapplicable, as shown in Figure 4.
Another explanation is that short-term evolution depends in large part on the internal resources of a system, while long-term evolution depends more on the evolution of many other technological systems as well as the market as a whole.
The evolution of technology in the informational era is strongly dependent on the evolution of society and vice versa: the increase and change in human needs continually drive the evolution of technology via market demands, while new scientific and technological discoveries offer new opportunities that shape these needs, which in turn push technological evolution further. A countless number of these evolutionary spirals influence one another to create an environment of mutual dependence. For example, existing industries provide capital that can be used to launch new start-up technologies that boost long-established businesses. The evolution of contemporary technology spreads like a fire in a town made up of closely packed homes. Increased productivity in agriculture releases an abundant workforce to the cities; cheap labor combined with the growing demand for agricultural machines and technology stimulate the metallurgical, chemical and transportation industries, which yield improved technologies that serve to further increase agricultural productivity. The growth of the transportation industry creates demands for better technologies and management; new management methods revolutionize the older industries and so on. Traditional forecasting methods do not offer tools to foresee these complex changes.
It is even more difficult to consider the relationships between forecasting and its results: merely making a prediction and publicizing it can affect (either positively or negatively) the realization of one or another variant of the future. In addition, the fact that the short-term and long-term results of an action nearly always produce opposite results adds to the complexity of the task. For example, cutting income taxes at first reduces the revenue, and can create or increase the budget deficit. In the longer term, though, it can stimulate economy, increase the taxes base and eventually produce more revenue from the taxes. Indeed, as short-term results come closer to meeting expectations, long-term results often become more unexpected.
Given this, companies find themselves in a vicious circle: to reliably predict the future of a specific system, one must first predict the future of human society as a whole, which can be done only by incorporating the predictions for the specific system. Even if this were possible (using multiple iterations, for example) it makes no practical sense to forecast the future of the entire world just to identify the next-generation air freshener or flash light.
According to TRIZ, a contradiction resides within every difficult problem that can often be resolved by applying the appropriate tools. In this case, for example, by applying the inventive principle preliminary action the following were suggested:
While the work described in the first direction has been in progress within TRIZ since the mid-1970s, the second direction, which requires the development of a bank of completed forecasts in different areas, is new. The most recent predecessor is a book describing 24 futuristic technologies that will significantly impact human life.3 At the same time, while the book addresses important enabling technologies that could be used in many different industries and areas of human activity, the authors' approach seeks to build the most comprehensive futuristic pictures for these domains.
The following milestones in the development of this approach should be noted:
As of 2008, millions of various technologies and methods for providing various functions have been developed. As a result, it is often more cost effective to find a suitable existing technology and adapt or modify it (if necessary) rather than invent an entirely new system. Indeed, building new systems from existing modules is a main trend in contemporary design. In the past, this trend was seen only in simple parts such as nuts and bolts, followed by bearings, gears, etc. Today most designs are made using catalogs; for example, the designer of a new vacuum cleaner selects the appropriate motor or pump from a catalog, while creatively addressing the new style, additional features (which might entail adding new parts or assemblies) and the integration of systems elements. Modular or catalog design allows for the maximized use of proven technologies and designs, and minimizes unexpected drawbacks and other unpleasant surprises that can surface as a result of excessive novelty.
This trend also explains the surprisingly low effectiveness in utilizing the TRIZ knowledge base of physical, chemical, geometric and other effects. Designers prefer to apply working modules rather then spend time exploring new effects, experimenting, prototyping, etc.
To the best of the authors' knowledge, the first TRIZ group to label this direction was the group of TRIZ practitioners led by Simon Litvin. In the late 1980s, this group began constructing and applying a guide of technological effects, and later developed a method called functionally-oriented design. The method is based on identifying a main functional need and then searching for the leading technology in the given area to find the most suitable prototype.5
For decades, this kind of search required the creation of special databases along with other considerable efforts. Recently, powerful search engines such as Google, Delphion-Thomson and others have made such tasks easier, but even the smartest search engines (based on semantic analysis) cannot help with the most difficult part – identify leading technologies. This requires extensive TRIZ analysis, which can only be conducted by TRIZ professionals with substantial TRIZ experience.
The new approach, on the other hand, offers a set of standard procedures that can help in the preliminary analysis prior to the search. In particular, these procedures include:
The instruments shown in the following table are recommended for a more effective implementation of the modular approach:
|Modular Approach Instruments|
|1. Revealing (or inventing) and verifying new needs and/or functions capable of satisfying certain needs||• Set of patterns, lines and trends of evolution of human needs and functions|
• Knowledge base
|2. Searching for solutions and selecting suitable modules||• Inventive problem solving process|
• Search based on a practically exhaustive set of obtained solutions
|3. Integrating modules in the system to build a "monster system" (an initial blunt-force attempt, often imaginary, to combine all modules necessary to perform the required function)||• Step-by-step algorithm for creating a new system|
• Technique for formulating and resolving contradictions
• Module coordination (matching) technique
|4. Conducting an effective search for missing modules, or modules that are especially easy to adapt to the needs of a given system||Inverted approach to the search, including:|
• Inventive problem solving targeting the best way to perform the given function
• Patent search for existing variants for realizing this function
• Search for a product (producer) that can provide a needed solution and enhancing or adapting it, if necessary
|5. System optimization||• Subversion analysis|
• Hybridization technique
• Idealization technique
|6. Further system enhancement as new, more advanced modules are introduced||Return to Step 2|
A consummate system can be characterized by the following features:
In the history of technological evolution, consummate systems typically emerge under the following conditions:
American experience in the development of mass consumer products shows that with adequate effort and investment, almost any product can be made perfect or almost perfect (a multi-blade shaving razor, for example). The process of achieving perfection, however, is costly if carried out in the absence well-defined processes and effective tools.
In the mid-1900s, two main approaches were introduced that targeted system perfection:
Traditionally, cost and quality are in conflict (contradictory): the typical means for cost reduction can negatively impact quality and vise versa. Both of the above approaches, however, were initially quite successful, especially with products that originated without much consideration of cost and/or quality (producer's market) and possessed significant resources for improvement. The marketing revolution that took place between 1955 and 1985 shifted market domination from producer to consumer. While earlier consumers bought whatever they could find without much regard for a product's excessive weight, low quality, etc., they could now choose better products, pushing producers toward continuous improvement. Unfortunately, each cycle of cost reduction or quality improvement depleted the inherent resources available in a system, sharpening the contradiction between them and increasing the competition for resources. As a result, most contemporary products have had the resources "squeezed out" of them and cannot be significantly improved without resolving contradictions and applying other TRIZ-based methods for increasing a system's ideality. For example, to increase an automobile's electrical power in the 1950s, a more powerful alternator could be placed under the hood – there was plenty of empty space. Today this task would require completely redesigning the whole under-hood area, at enormous cost.
The first attempts to successfully address the cost/quality challenge using TRIZ instruments were made in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Later, this work resulted in the creation of value/quality engineering, which summarized all effective techniques and allowed for simultaneously reducing cost and increasing quality. In the early 1990s, this approach resulted in the development of a knowledge base that included a specialized set of operators dedicated to system idealization; these operators integrated all relevant TRIZ principles, standard solutions (such as self-service, use of voids, foam, etc.) and newly developed operators, such as the following:8
Certain items from this menu represent a sub-group of operators. For example, "exclude elements (eliminate the need for an element)" says:
To find a way to exclude an element or to eliminate the need for it, work with these operators:
- Use foam or empty space
Each operator, then, consists of a recommendation and one or more illustrations. Altogether, these specialized operators, which include additional references to other relevant operators, checklists of possible resources, and other useful links, form a comprehensive system. (A simplified, manual process for the idealization of simple parts or small assemblies can be found in the appendix.)
Prior to the Industrial Era, creating a new product was a one-man process; an architect would specify the customer's primary requirements, develop the architecture, design and manage the project's logistics, etc. Craftsmen and other providers of unique products would work in a similar fashion.
The Industrial Era extended the division-of-labor principle into the new product development to create new professions: inventors, designers, production engineers, quality personnel, etc. (In certain cases some of these professions can still be attributed to one individual.)
The Informational Era should – and is – spawning additional professions:
This paper was initially edited with the assistance of Victoria Roza.
(can be carried out manually or with software support)
This paper was originally presented at The Altshuller Institute's TRIZCON2007.
Boris Zlotin received his MS in electrical engineering from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, Russia. He has more than 30 years of experience in TRIZ, is widely recognized in the TRIZ community and considered one of the foremost theorists and TRIZ scientists in the world. He is responsible for the majority of the advances made to the methodology to date. He facilitated solving of thousands of various problems, is the author or co-author of 15 books on TRIZ and several patents, and has conducted numerous seminars, workshops, and lectures. Mr. Zlotin is the Chief scientist and VP at Ideation International Inc. Contact Boris Zlotin at azusman12 (at) ideationtriz.com or visit http://www.ideationtriz.com.
Alla Zusman received her MS in radio physics from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, Russia. She has more than 14 years of experience in corporate R&D and over 25 years of experience as a TRIZ expert with patent education. She is one of the main contributors to the development of TRIZ applications - specifically to ARIZ, the patterns of systems evolution, AFD and DE methodologies, and the TRIZSoft® family of software. She is the author or co-author of 14 books on TRIZ and several patents, and has conducted numerous seminars, workshops, and lectures. Ms. Zusman is the Director of TRIZ products development at Ideation International Inc. Contact Alla Zusman at azusman12 (at) ideationtriz.com or visit http://www.ideationtriz.com.