By Boris Zlotin and Alla Zusman
It is a common perception in the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) community that TRIZ solutions are quite different from conventional ones; they are elegant, cost-effective and even perfect, if not ideal. What are, however, the realistic chances of delivering one?
This paper presents the authors' research based on the objective existence of TRIZ solutions for problems emerging in different stages. It provides recommendations on problem solving strategies and tools as it relates to the evolutionary S-curve. It also includes analysis of case studies used in TRIZ education.
There are two main ways to learn and use TRIZ:
While practicing and teaching TRIZ for more than 30 years (combined for both authors it is 60 years), the authors have heard numerous stories on how different people have become "hooked" on TRIZ. The most frequent reasons for this include:
The common denominator for these reasons was due to excitement and the feeling of empowerment; there are thousands of individuals that can confirm that an acquaintance with TRIZ was a life-altering experience. At the same time, the ratio of such people versus the ones exposed to TRIZ is not good. For example, a seminar attended by one of the authors in 1981 had more than 60 students. Now only two of them continue to practice TRIZ.
The situation is much worse with organizations. The majority of them do not care about logic but rather about the impact on its bottom line. This depends on many factors including solution practicality and the organizational innovation implementation system.
Given the fact that TRIZ history extends for more than 60 years (with almost two decades of efforts focused on dissemination of it throughout the world), overall the TRIZ standing is still far from what it really deserves. Although it is not uncommon that great innovations by civilizations had to go through rather long and painful ways to prove theories, it is difficult to let things follow a natural course without an attempt to expedite TRIZ implementation and consequently help others benefit from it.
There are multiple factors that can be blamed for slow TRIZ dissemination. Many of them are probably beyond an individual's control. Reliable delivery of elegant and practical solutions (innovations) is absolutely necessary for TRIZ success. The question is what are the chances of the existence of these solutions, can TRIZ guarantee them? The answer to this question is crucial for the development and application of successful problem solving strategies.
For decades, classical TRIZ education was based on special training case studies with pre-existing solutions. The assumption was that similar to math, if an individual followed the rules and logic of the tool without deviation they were expected to arrive to this target solution. If an individual could be assured that TRIZ solutions are always possible in any real life problem, the right strategy should involve (beyond the use of TRIZ) persistence and great focus. If there is no such assurance, however, a fallback position is a must.
Genrich Altshuller, the founder of TRIZ, along with his colleagues defined an inventive problem as a situation with at least one contradiction (or conflict) when an attempt to improve a particular system's parameter (or feature) results in the degradation of another.1 Altshuller introduced three types of contradictions:2
All three contradictions reflect the different levels of situation analysis and depth. Contradictions could vary in strength (severity), from insignificant, where solutions obtained by conventional trade-offs could be quite tolerable, to the most painful when compromises lead to costly and sometimes even dangerous concessions. To illustrate this point, consider typical contradictions emerging in a system evolving along an evolutionary S-curve in Figure 1.
It is assumed that the problem scale and chances of obtaining an effective solution depend on the richness of resources available in the given system and the severity of limitations imposed on the system's changes, which depend on the system's position on its evolutionary S-curve.12
In the course of a system evolution, the following conditions are typical:
Typically, the implementation of an invention of a high level requires solving numerous problems of lower levels. For example, to implement a solution of level four, two to five problems of level three have to be addressed prior to implementation; consequently, each problem of level three would require solving two to five problems of level two. Many of these problems would fit Altshuller's definition of administrative contradictions. It is unknown how it can be achieved.3
Given these points an individual can suggest that although the use of TRIZ can be advantageous in obtaining more cost-effective and expeditious solutions on Stages 1 and 2, it becomes irreplaceable in situations emerging during Stage 3. In this case, the probability of obtaining solutions mostly depends entirely on the ability of the tools used to identify hidden resources or for expanding the area the resources could be tapped from, giving TRIZ a unique advantage over conventional ways or other innovation (creativity) tools.5,10
In the case of a relatively long standing problem visible resources have been already exhausted; however, certain hidden resources could still be available. There are two main reasons for the existence of hidden resources:
Curved Shower Curtain Bar
Several years ago the authors noticed an interesting innovation in the bathrooms of affordable hotels. Straight bars holding shower curtains were replaced with curved bars. The novelty was useful, creating more shower space at the shoulder level while preventing the wet curtain from unpleasantly touching the body. After acknowledging the benefits of the innovation, the authors immediately asked the question: Why did it take so long to come up with such an apparent improvement? Obviously from a technological point of view, this solution could have been created and implemented 100 years ago.
The first guess was that psychological inertia could be blamed for this belated invention.11 Imagine that the first shower curtain had straight bars replaced by ropes that had to be drawn straight to prevent slacking. Although curved showers or bathtub bars were well-known (in small bathrooms a round bar could isolate the shower or a small bathtub area from the rest of the room) the idea of curving a normal shower bar in a three-wall arrangement to enlarge the shower space had not crossed the minds of builders or customers.
From the TRIZ point of view, the solution should be a no-brainer. Typical thoughts would include:
A similar idea could come from analysis of the available resources. To enlarge the shower area, additional space resources are needed; while they are limited at the floor level, there are plenty at the shoulder level. The idea is to capitalize on the additional space resources through the use of a curved bar.
Another example of a simple solution is the TRIZ problem of corrosion testing.
Testing a material's resistance to aggressive mediums (acids) is usually performed by submerging a cube-shaped sample of the material in an acid (shown in Figure 3). The acid is held at a fixed temperature for a predetermined length of time, after which the sample is rinsed, dried and weighed to determine its loss in mass. Such tests are usually conducted in platinum vessels because platinum is resistant to acids and uses other materials that result in the acid quickly destroying the vessel's walls. Platinum is expensive, however, and thus most testing facilities have only one test vessel. Testing, as a result, must be performed sequentially. This is a time-consuming process.
Altshuller indicated that this problem had been solved using TRIZ in the early 1970s; it has been widely used for TRIZ training since then. Most often, it is used as an exercise in learning ideality (ideal system) defined as follows: an ideal system does not exist while maintaining its function. One can arrive to the solution in the following two steps.4,6,9
A. Imagining the ideal container (no container):
B. Thinking how to maintain the container function (hold the acid in contact with the specimen). The answer is in order to improve the situation the test sample should hold the acid making the chamber existence unnecessary (shown in Figure 5).
Besides applying ideality or a self-service principle, it is also a good illustration of using available non-obvious resources that become obvious after resource analysis. Such as to replace the existing expensive or non-durable container a substance resource is needed. In fact, the system has two available substances: acid and the specimen (sample). Making the container from the acid (for example, frozen) does not seem practical. This leaves one choice, making the container from the specimen.
Blades are manufactured from special steel by a forging process and are then rough machined using a milling machine (shown in Figure 6). There is a problem related to the length and the weight of the blade that is machined. The long blade is held between two fixture points on the carriage and bends under its own weight and the milling pressures. A steady-rest is used to support the blade, but it does not allow the milling cutter to pass by without moving the steady-rest to a new position. It takes a great deal of time, unfortunately, to re-adjust the steady-rest to a new position to provide appropriate accuracy.
This problem was first solved during a public demonstration of how TRIZ works in the late 1970s. The first solution was obtained almost immediately. One of the first steps involved applying psychological operator DMC (dimensions, time, cost). When the length of the blade was imagined 100 times longer, it began looking like a rope or a band, making it apparent that the easiest way to prevent it from slacking was to pull it up. Similarly, the solution suggested stretching the blade between supports.
In all the examples, solutions became quite obvious after psychological barriers were removed. All solutions used resources on a macro-level, without deep analysis of the structure of the system/situation. Psychological barriers, however, are not the only ones to blame for solutions that are late with implementation.
Upon returning from a business trip (after the authors had first seen the curved shower bar) they conducted a patent search on the subject. They surprisingly found that the first invention of enlarging the (curved) shower bar (rod) went as far back as 1924. Since then, dozens of patents have been issued, with the latest in 2007. These inventions addressed various secondary problems associated with the original invention, among them:
Some of the secondary problems mentioned have been resolved by making the bar from a strip of metal instead of a pipe (shown in Figure 7). Straight strips are easy to transport and they can be easily bent during the installation to adjust to the distance between the walls.
Secondary problems were also a limitation to the solution with a stretched turbine blade. Apparently, the force sufficient to stretch a piece of steel is quite significant. During discussion with subject matter experts, it became clear that in certain cases the foundation carrying the milling machine supports was unable to withstand the stretching force. The search for the ultimate solution continued.
Transition to micro-level is one of the main patterns of technological evolution.14 The essence of this pattern introduced by Altshuller and his colleagues in the mid-1970s is in the use of micro-level properties of macro-systems, for example, using thermal expansion to provide micro-movements of a microscope stage instead of complex and unreliable mechanical gear boxes. Later, this pattern was extended to use multiple structural levels of materials, for example, if the current system's principle of operation already involves a micro-level (like chemical processes), the next step in the system's evolution could be the use of certain macro-level properties like special geometrical shapes (geometrical effects). An example could be the special design of trays in chemical separation columns for obtaining a higher purity of separated substances.
The resources of a micro-level typically include various properties of materials used, like electric conductivity, thermal capacity and magnetism. Each has a fairly good chance of remaining untapped, especially if the principle of the system's operation is mainly mechanical; people designing and operating these systems typically lack knowledge of the inherent properties of the materials used, focusing instead on the mechanical side.
No wonder that starting from the early 1970s, the most powerful tool of the Algorithm of Inventive Problem Solving (ARIZ) has been evolving gradually into a main tool for unveiling micro-level resources. First by highlighting the part of the element that cannot meet the requirements (ARIZ-1971) then by introducing an operational zone (ARIZ-1977) followed by smart little people (SLP) modeling (ARIZ-1982). Later versions offered a more comprehensive approach adding physical contradictions on a micro-level and more.
Applying SLP modeling to the problem allows for obtaining the following picture for the current situation:
The desirable situation will look as follows:
Based on the physical description of desired actions of SLP, an individual can formulate the ideal final result (IFR). The requirements to the certain "X" resource that should be introduced to resolve the problem include:
To come to the IFR as close as possible an individual should select an "X" resource from resources available in the system such as:
The second solution offered by the team of TRIZ specialists was as follows:
Before milling, the blade should be enclosed in a soft casing of cylindrical shape, for example, from foamed plastic and placed on a steady-rest supporting the casing from the bottom. The mill is moving forward cutting into the plastic and simultaneously working on the blade. This way the support is always there without preventing the mill from moving (shown in Figure 10).
A plasma generator (cutter) is used for cutting thick metal sheets (shown in Figure 11). It consists of body, nozzle and cathode. One pole of the power supply is connected with cut metal, another one is connected with a cathode of a plasma generator and an electrical arc appears between them. Pressurized gas (air or some inert gas) is directed through the nozzle into an arc; it is ionized by the arc and turns into plasma. Ions of plasma reach the metal surface and turn into gas molecules (recombination). In doing so, a substantial amount of energy borrowed before from the electrical arc is liberated. Temperature in cutting zone increases to several dozens of thousands centigrade. Metal is melted and evaporated. But the cathode is overheated and also destroyed. The more powerful the arc, the quicker metal is cut, but the quicker the cathode is destroyed.
The use of SLP modeling produced the following picture (ARIZ-1982):
In Figure 12, SLP (persons) of the current lead are keeping SLP (persons) of flame. Fiery persons are hot, but lead persons under no circumstances should let them go. At this point the team used the analogy: holding a hot potato. To avoid getting burnt, one would flip the potato from one hand to another. So the solution idea was that the people from the current lead should alternate in holding flame people.
The next step was to figure out how to organize the arc end moving by using available resources.
|Current lead||Copper||Thermal electrical|
|Flow of flame (arc)||Ionized gas|
|Gas||Carbon dioxide argon|
Mechanical: movement, pressure
|Other||Electric current||Electrical magnetic|
The first idea was to use gas rotation to force the arc end to rotate, however, this idea was quickly killed because the gas flow could blow the arc away. The final idea was to use the micro-level resource – electrical properties of the ionized gas. It was suggested to make the current lead in a conic shape and to place a winding around the outer surface of the cone. The electric current passing through the winding will create a magnetic field that will force the arc's end to rotate inside the cone (shown in Figure 13).
In the last two cases, successful TRIZ solutions have been achieved due to unveiled resources; these problems have been used as training case studies for decades. At the same time, what if these resources hadn't been found?
Is TRIZ a Lottery Ticket?
When necessary resources are not available, obtained solutions can be far from ideal and not exciting. To a certain extent, unveiling hidden or forgotten resources can be compared to winning the lottery: sometimes small, sometimes big. In this case, TRIZ serves like a lottery ticket, giving you a chance but not guaranteeing the prize. Listening about exciting TRIZ success stories is like hearing about winning jackpots. In spite of all the excitement, however, people usually do not make their living out of lotteries; they rely on real jobs. Following the given analogy, TRIZ is not going to become a real success until it is capable of providing reliable, feasible, and implementable solutions.
Analysis has shown that the chances of delivering a practical solution to a long standing problem are significantly growing in the following order:
Classical TRIZ analytical tools, like the ARIZ and substance-field model analysis can help in these situations; however, because all of them heavily depend on the availability of necessary resources, the chances of obtaining solutions are limited. At the same time, the ways presented are practically always possible because instead of relying on resources available in a narrow zone (operational zone or the zone limited by a formulated mini-problem) they basically reach out and bring new resources to the game.
Although certain tools of classical TRIZ-like patterns of technological evolution are capable of helping with hybridization and creating ideas for the next generation, overall classical TRIZ does not have well-defined processes to do so. Classical TRIZ is lacking processes for the systematic and exhaustive exploration of alternative ways to address the problem situation.
To address the deficiency of classical TRIZ, additional analytical tools and processes (including software supported) were developed in the last two decades, including:
Besides delaying implementation of high level solutions (often serious) and depriving proud inventors from enjoying success stories with a dollar sign in the end, secondary problems can be annoying for many TRIZ educators.
During education, case studies from various disciplines are used, often from the areas not exactly professionally familiar to the students (or to the teacher); for those TRIZ solutions could look attractive, encouraging intensive learning. Once in a while a student happens to know the problem (or area) well. Although these professionals do not "buy" TRIZ solutions because of psychological inertia, conservatism or not invented here syndrome; in many cases they just cannot see how these solutions can work in real life.
When clay pigeons are used in skeet shooting, someone must periodically remove clay fragments. It can be done in conventional ways – for example, by sweeping. If necessary, the cleaning can be expedited by using simple devices or even by buying a special machine. Obviously, certain costs will be associated with each method depending on its level of sophistication and productivity.
This problem is typically used for practicing an ideal approach based on one of the first versions of the ARIZ. The approach involves the following steps:
At this point students are typically happy. They have landed on a target solution. They may start asking questions, for example:
Clay pigeons are easy to handle. An individual keeps them in a simple storage place and uses them as needed. If they are made from ice, they will need a freezer for transportation and storage. If an individual decides to use machines for molding ice pigeons right at the shooting place, it will also be costly. In any event, certain economical calculations have to be made. As a result, it may appear more practical to hire somebody with a broom.
Educators and providers of TRIZ with experience know that the hunt for good case studies and success stories has never stopped. Although dozens of thousands of problems have been solved by TRIZ practitioners, apparently not every problem can become a good case study. Long time colleagues might remember that any new problem suitable for education was treated in TRIZ like a jewel.
Another issue associated with solutions obtained in the TRIZ training process was practicality, which was often jeopardized by applying an overenthusiastic application of exotic scientific effects, like shape memory, use of ferromagnetic particles and many others. There were few opportunities to leave labs and start working in the industrial environment.
The majority of these educators and providers, including Altshuller, were convinced that the practicality of training solutions was not that important. The main goal was to make sure students would develop and nurture the TRIZ way of thinking and remain excited about TRIZ; the hope was that they would sort other things out later.
From the beginning, the ARIZ played two possibly equally important parts in TRIZ:
The ARIZ evolution was moving in the direction of strengthening both functions by increasing the number of steps and making them more and more incremental. Besides direct recommendations, each step was getting additional comments, notes and illustrations. Altshuller considered the main purpose of TRIZ education as discipline of the mind, keeping it focused on the problem and the process used and preventing the method from succumbing into a random trial and error search. In fact, his continuous work on ARIZ reflected his adjustment to human nature; he believed that trial and error method was inherent to people.
For solution power, increasing the number of steps was critical. When the entire problem solving process had only four to five steps, the gaps between steps was rather large, allowing for various interpretations and reducing the solution process repeatability. Not every student could successfully arrive to the next step. To a certain extent, going from one step to another was like jumping over a trench. The success depended on the wideness of the trench and an individual's jumping skills. For decades, more and more steps have been built to reduce gaps, making the transition easier and more reliable.
The last version of the ARIZ developed by Altshuller included about 60 steps and numerous comments and notes. At the same time, while increasing solution power, an increasing number of steps started reducing the transparency of ARIZ logic. That is the transition from mini-problem to technical contradiction, formulating and resolving a physical contradiction and exploration of resources. When the authors compiled the next version including recommendations, comments and suggestions of the most experienced TRIZ practitioners and educators, the number of steps had grown to more than 100. It became extremely powerful, but the transparency of the TRIZ thinking process was practically gone. In fact, teaching ARIZ in its full capacity in an industrial environment became a torture for both students and educators.
The increased power of the ARIZ has also made its use inadequate for obtaining solutions for levels lower than four. Given the fact that the number of solutions for levels four and five combined is approximately 0.5 percent and five percent. More practical tools for everyday use were in order.
It is time to separate the functions of the ARIZ between two instruments:
For the first purpose, earlier versions of the ARIZ are more effective; no wonder that in the last two decades of disseminating TRIZ throughout the world, numerous abbreviated versions of the ARIZ have been developed. For problem solving, new TRIZ-based tools have been developed, including software supported tools.13
Note: This paper was originally presented at The Altshuller Institute's TRIZCON2009.
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.