By Toru Nakagawa
Be sure to read the companion piece to this article, "Comments on USIT in Japan," by Ed Sickafus.
The Japanese TRIZ community emphasizes an easier and more unified way of studying and applying the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ). First introduced in Japan in 1999, USIT (unified structured inventive thinking), originally developed by Ed Sickafus under the influence of Israel's systematic inventive thinking (SIT) and TRIZ, has gained in popularity. Papers on the USIT methodology were presented at the Japan TRIZ Symposium two years in a row. The growing interest in USIT has led to two improvements: 1) all the TRIZ tools for solution generation, including the 40 inventive principles, 76 inventive standards, trends of technical evolution, etc., are reorganized into a system of USIT operators, with five main methods containing 32 sub-methods; 2) the data flow representation of USIT has revealed a new paradigm of creative problem solving called the "six-box scheme" in contrast to the better known "four-box" scheme. These improvements have provided an easier way to understand, apply and promote TRIZ.
The TRIZ community in Japan in comparison to the world emphasizes an easier, more unified way to study and apply TRIZ, making the new methodology better suited and more effective in our culture. TRIZ, developed by Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues in the former U.S.S.R., quickly spread throughout the world. It is a large system containing deep technological philosophies, a variety of thinking methods, extensive knowledge bases, software tools, training practices, etc.1
TRIZ, however, was not easy for the Japanese to understand when initially introduced around 1997 as a system of technical knowledge bases relying on software tools. Few TRIZ references were available in Japanese or English making it difficult to understand the methodologies and problem solving techniques. A number of industries in Japan attempted to apply TRIZ to real problems. Software tools and consultants guided most of the applications, and applying Altshuller's contradiction matrix was the most popular approach.
During the First International Conference on TRIZ held in the United States in November 1998, Ed Sickafus introduced me to the USIT method. After reading his textbook and attending a USIT training seminar in 1999, I introduced USIT in Japan as an easy and unified process for creative problem solving.
It took several years to establish reliable TRIZ textbooks in Japanese. We learned classical TRIZ and additional advancements in Russia by publishing a Japanese translation of Yuri Salamatov's textbook in 2000.3 The full scope of TRIZ in a modernized form was better understood after the publication of the Japanese edition of Darrell Mann's textbook Hands-on Systematic Innovation in 2004.4 International conferences in TRIZ and various web publications were good sources for better understanding TRIZ in the global environment.
Parallel to these studies of TRIZ, our experiences with USIT became deeper and we expanded it to better meet our needs. One of the achievements was reorganizing all the principal methods of solution generation in TRIZ into a new framework and forming the system of USIT operators in 2002.5
A second achievement of USIT in Japan occurred in 2004 when I considered the whole USIT procedure in the sense of a data flow diagram. The new diagram was formed in the six boxes from the user's specific problem to the user's specific solutions. This diagram was named the six-box scheme in contrast to the four-box scheme of abstraction in TRIZ. The six-box scheme became a new paradigm of creative problem solving.6
Together with these methodological expansions, USIT has been taught to university students and industrial engineers in training seminars in-house and in open multi-company situations. A number of USIT case studies have been published and have provided for the gradual penetration of USIT into Japanese industries.
My initial interests and understanding of USIT were posted on my website, TRIZ Home Page in Japan, as a report of Sickafus' USIT training seminar in March 1999.7,8 The report described the USIT procedure in detail and included two case studies presented at the seminar. These were the first (world) reports on USIT in a comprehensive, yet compact form, other than Sickafus' textbook.2
The principal characteristics of USIT as developed by Sickafus, are as follows:
Since 1999, I have given numerous lectures in Japan regarding USIT and have offered three-day training seminars for individual and multiple companies. The three-day training sessions expose participants to the basics of USIT and they participate in group exercises simultaneously solving multiple real-world problems. Handling multiple problems can be difficult for the instructor but offers the participants valuable problem solving experience in applying USIT principles.
Most participants of these early training seminars were pioneering engineers who previously studied TRIZ and were participating in a users study group organized by Mitsubishi Research Institute. Some of the engineers introduced USIT activities into their companies – Fuji Photo Film and the Fuji Xerox, etc.
The most important initial finding was that we should not rush to promote TRIZ without fully understanding what it had to offer. The predominant strategy for introducing TRIZ during the late 1990s was a combination of orthodox TRIZ already established in Russia, convenient software tools implemented in the United States and the total quality control movement that proved successful in Japan. We knew that it was important to not rush to follow one of these paths.
We needed to better understand TRIZ to make it easier for Japanese practitioners to learn and apply. They needed to solve problems by using their brains instead of software tools. It was evident that promoting TRIZ at a grassroots basis would have the most impact. So in October 1999, I proposed a "slow-but-steady" strategy for promoting TRIZ in Japan.9, 10 The understanding of USIT formed a solid foundation for this strategy and became a pillar of TRIZ in Japan.
Using the solution generation methods was difficult for many USIT users. Even though Sickafus had examples in his textbooks, his description was logical in some places, but intuitive in many others. Because of the nature of idea generation in general, this was unavoidable, but left room for improvement.
To better understand Sickafus' methods of solution generation we linked his ideas to TRIZ methods. Hideaki Kosha made a comparative table of the 40 principles and USIT methods, and I analyzed the sub-methods in the TRIZ knowledge bases (including the 40 principles, 76 inventive standards, trends of evolutions, etc.) to find the relationship with USIT methods. The USIT methods were enriched by using the elements of TRIZ solution generation and then classified into a hierarchical system.5 (See Figure 1)
The new system, a system of USIT operators, has five principal methods and 32 sub-methods. The five principal USIT operators are revisions of Sickafus' principles.
The first three USIT operators are performed on the objects, attributes and functions of the present system. They are object pluralization, attribute dimensionality and function distribution. Transduction was mainly classified into the function distribution. The fourth operator – combining solution pairs – is performed on a pair of preliminary solutions. This is a new category and is comparable to the TRIZ separation principle. The steps of solving physical contradictions in TRIZ are 1) separation of contradictory requirements, 2) making two solutions separately to satisfy the two requirements and 3) combine the two solutions. (The real breakthrough must occur in the third step.) The fourth USIT operator is to combine solutions. The fifth operator – solution generalization – is an extension of Sickafus' work and introduces the concept of building a hierarchical system of solutions.
Under these five principal USIT operators, all the elements of solution generation methods coming from TRIZ and from Sickafus' Heuristics in USIT are classified into 32 sub-operators.2 A frequently used USIT sub-operators is 1c) divide the object (into 1/2, 1/3...etc.). Recall TRIZ principle 1, segmentation. The guideline for this USIT sub-operator is defined as: 1) divide the object into multiple parts (1/2, 1/3...etc.), 2) modifiy the parts slightly or differently for different parts and 3) combine them for using together in the system. This guideline was derived by unifying four TRIZ principles:
The "picture hanging-kit problem" is a textbook example of using USIT operators. Figure 2 shows one of Sickafus' solutions where the string is adjusted on the smooth part of the nail and then placed on the rough part of the nail.11 This solution can be interpreted in five different ways by applying USIT operators, as shown in the figure. Such redundancy is typical when using USIT operators and is useful for generating multiple ideas.
The USIT procedure is shown in a flowchart in Figure 3.6
By translating TRIZ books to Japanese, and studying books and applying TRIZ and USIT to specific problems, in 2003 we moved from a "slow-but-steady" strategy to a "steady" strategy for promoting TRIZ. We are now confident in our understanding of TRIZ and in our successful application of TRIZ/USIT to industrial problems.12
Another, even more important, extension of USIT was achieved when I tried to draw the whole USIT procedure in the style of a data flow diagram (DFD). DFD is a concept in computer science – any information process may be drawn in DFD by specifying the boxes representing the information used/obtained in the input and output and at each intermediate step. The arrows with names connecting the boxes show the processes. DFD specifies the required/used/obtained information without describing the details of the transformation. The four-box scheme of problem solving with abstraction is also an example of DFD representation.
The six-box DFD representation of the USIT procedure is shown in Figure 4.11, 6
The first box represents the initial problem, while the second box states the "user's well-formed problem" as defined by Sickafus.2 At the lower right, the fifth box is the conceptual solution – the final result of the USIT procedures according to Sickafus, and the sixth box represents the final result implemented in the industrial products/processes. The four boxes at the bottom of the figure reflect Sickafus' basic idea of USIT. Boxes two, three and four are new.
In the upper left, is the wording "understanding of the present system and the ideal system." In USIT, the present system is understood in terms of the objects, attributes and functions as well as space and time. We are trying to understand the mechanism, or cause-effect relationships, of the present system/problem on the basis of these five concepts.
Placing "understanding of the ideal system" in this top-left box along with understanding the present system is a minor but significant point in this scheme. Understanding the ideal system, or target of the problem solving must be obtained at this position in the procedure. The flowchart in Figure 3 suggests analyzing the present system and then the ideal system in sequence, in contrast to the earlier instruction to either or both of the present and ideal systems – not always both.
The fourth box "ideas of a new system" signifies that an idea at this stage may be an idea to change a part of the present system. This is not a hint in the conventional analogical thinking, but may be the essence of a hint whose effective use is already found. The idea at this stage is not yet a solution, but a core idea around which the user tries to derive a conceptual solution. For building conceptual solutions from a core idea, one needs the capability of the relevant field of engineering more than the ability to apply the USIT methodology.
We can convert (or process) the information from one box to another in this six-box scheme.
There are a number of comparisons that can be made between the six-box and the four-box scheme.6, 13 The four-box scheme, shown in Figure 5, has been regarded as a sophisticated problem-solving method.4 The four-box method focuses on the abstraction. Users are instructed to develop an abstract general problem by mapping the specific problem onto a chosen model. Once practitioners have solved the general problem into the general solution they can use it as a guide for solving the specific problem.
Based on the four-box scheme practitioners developed a variety of theories and models in different fields of science and technology that work well for problems in specific fields of the model. With creative problem solving, however, the problems are not necessarily easy to formulate in any field or by any model. Typically in enforced analogical thinking, various models and examples are searched for and tried during idea generation.
In this context, TRIZ contributes several models applicable across different fields of technology – the contradiction matrix with the technical contradiction formulation, the separation principle using the physical contradiction formula, su-field modeling which leads to the inventive standards, etc. Each of these models, however, handles a limited, different aspect of the problem. To fully explore the problem and find new solutions practitioners must perform multiple processes.
Conversely, the six-box scheme deals with all aspects of a problem in different fields of technology. The scheme provides a standard set of methodological tools for problem definition, problem analysis and idea generation, and advises users how to introduce relevant technological methods.
The essential point in the new scheme is that the information in box three is obtainable with the standard set of analysis tools and provides the understanding of the present and ideal systems in terms of the standard concepts of objects, attributes, functions, space, time, and desirable behaviors and properties. This information does not come from models outside the problem, but from the problem itself. Ideas for a new system also arise by applying USIT operators to the information in box three, or during the process of deriving information for the box.
With this understanding, Nakagawa has recognized that the six-box scheme in USIT is a "new paradigm for creative problem solving." 6, 13 The six-box scheme provides a clear definition of the boxes, in comparison to the four-box scheme, and offers a concrete way to perform the scheme using USIT.
USIT, along with TRIZ, has been taught to undergraduate students in Osaka Gakuin University. These students obtained several case studies of everyday-life problems. Such case studies are easy to understand and useful for explaining how to think with TRIZ and USIT.14
USIT training seminars for engineers have been established with a two-day agenda as shown in Figure 6.14 The same agenda is applicable to both in-house and multi-company situations. Small groups solve three real-world problems in parallel. The groups are ideally comprised of four to seven individuals with diverse backgrounds. If there are more participants, two or three subgroups may work on the same problem simultaneously.
The training seminars are often conducted with engineers who are new to TRIZ and have little or no experience with USIT. The instructor provides an overview of TRIZ/USIT and then the USIT problem solving process starts. The USIT processes are carried out in step-by-step sessions, where each session consists of a short lecture, group work, and presentation and discussion. For most participants, including the instructor, the problems handled in the seminar are new and do not have solutions. The participants know the results are obtained through individual group work using the methodology and therefore, they gain a sense of accomplishment.
Many companies including Fuji Film, Fuji Xerox, Ricoh, Nissan Motor Co., Matsushita Electric Works, Konica-Minolta and Sekisui Chemical Industries have actively worked with USIT. In many cases the USIT experts in these companies are developing their own training materials. They are promoting USIT through problem-solving meetings and workshops for engineering groups while maintaining the USIT philosophy that the experts are a methodical supporter of the engineers and not a contract-based expert inventor.13 Most of these corporations first introduced TRIZ and then started a grassroots introduction of USIT. USIT is easier and quicker to learn and master than TRIZ.
USIT was introduced to Japan in 1999 and has been accepted as an easy and unified process for problem solving in industries as the next generation of TRIZ. All the solution generation methods of TRIZ have been reorganized into the system of USIT operators. The data flow diagram representation of USIT resulted in the six-box scheme, which is recognized as a new paradigm for creative problem solving, overcoming the shortcomings of the four-box scheme. Based on these methodological refinements, various industries in Japan have already used USIT and its popularity has been growing steadily. USIT is an easy and unified process of problem solving, another generation of TRIZ and offers a new paradigm for creative problem solving.
Originally presented at the Fourth TRIZ Symposium in Japan September 10-12, 2008, Laforet Biwako, Moriyama, Shiga, Japan and published on The TRIZ Home Page in Japan.
Dr. Toru Nakagawa is a professor and faculty of informatics at Osaka Gakuin University in Japan. Contact Toru Nakagawa at nakagawa (at) ogu.ac.jp.