Comments on "USIT in Japan" by Toru Nakagawa

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    "It seems there are a lot of TRIZ researches and discussions in EU and Japan. Do you think TRIZ researches all over the world have regional characteristics, for example, the researchers in the USA pay more attention to software solutions?"

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    By Ed Sickafus

    Be sure to read the article about which these comments are written: "USIT in Japan: A Paradigm for Creative Problem Solving" by Toru Nakagawa.

    The History of USIT

    USIT has evolved from the original work of Genrich Altshuller, the father of TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) (and his colleagues). Shortly after the introduction of TRIZ, Russian mathematician Genadi Filkovsky introduced TRIZ at the Open University of Israel.1 Working with two graduate students, Roni Horowitz and Yacob Goldenberg, Filkovsky focused on simplifying TRIZ so that it would be easier to learn and apply. Eventually they began teaching courses entitled "Systematic Inventive Thinking" (SIT) and TRIZ was considered no longer useful. SIT had supplanted TRIZ.

    SIT continued to develop and a train-the-trainer course was eventually offered to a group of industrial engineers who wanted to teach SIT within their own companies in Israel. imultaneously Ford management inquired about adapting TRIZ and SIT for their business initiatives. I traveled to Israel to take the train-the-trainer course and then modified the Israeli version of SIT for use in a large industrial company – the Ford Motor Company.

    Ford referred to SIT as structured inventive thinking and I continued to simplify it. Out of that effort came three books and a series of mini-lectures in a newsletter published for promoting USIT.2, 3

    The Simplification of TRIZ

    The goal remains to simplify TRIZ and several of the targets are to:

    All of this work is based on the universal problem representation of objects (O), attributes (A) and functions (F).4, 5

     Figure 1: OAF

    This representation is independent of technical or non-technical fields as long as O, A and F are defined in accordance with self-consistent, generic definitions. This is the focus of the USIT book on heuristics. Key to this universal representation is an understanding of what a function is and how it connects objects and attributes in our left- and right-brain thinking.

    Evaluation of USIT

    Adapting USIT for industry, as with any other problem-solving methodology, is a major issue for corporate management. While management recognizes the potential benefits of in-house training for a structured problem-solving methodology, they also know there is a steep and lengthy learning curve that technologists must overcome before they can effectively apply the methodology. There are no guarantees for successful learning, application or improvement in efficiency. It is a gamble for corporate management to invest the money and man-hours for training.

    Case studies are useful for training, but unfortunately they do not assist management with evaluating problem-solving methodologies. They do not clearly address the corporate bottom-line. This was done as an experiment at Ford with a four-man team of USIT specialists. I published a paper describing the details and success of this experiment.6

    I mention the issue of evaluation, because I wonder how Japanese companies deal with this problem? It seems to me that this would be a nice addition to your paper. If it has been addressed in Japan those results would benefit the managerial types in your audience.

    Regression of USIT to TRIZ

    In the article you state, "The TRIZ community in Japan in comparison to the world emphasizes an easier and more unified way of studying and applying TRIZ." It is clear from the article that TRIZ is the preferred problem-solving methodology, and that Japanese technologists are striving to make it easier to study and apply. USIT is being regressed toward TRIZ to make TRIZ easier to learn. No effort, however, is being made to supplant USIT. This must be due in part to an insufficient understanding of USIT, or because the Japanese technologists view TRIZ as more interesting and useful. The reason is immaterial – the methodologies need to be applied based on the specific environment.

    Purpose of the Particles Method

    "For making an image of an ideal system, USIT developed the particles method – a method of using a hierarchical structure of desirable actions, which is a modification and extension of Altshuller's smart little people (SLP) modeling method." While the particles were inspired by Altshuller's smart little people, the purpose of the method, however, is to free the right-brain for innovative suggestions by working backwards from the solution to the problem (using generic O, A and F components) – a counter intuitive concept.

    De-emphasize Invention

    It has been said that I place less emphasis on inventions than on multiple practical and useful solutions. Promising a problem-solving methodology as "learning to invent" is more sales hype than realism. When you realize that the inventive solution differs from any other solution only by testing with post-creation filters, and not on any element of the problem-solving process, you realize that invention has nothing to do with the process of problem solving. Hence, it is embroiled in semantics and not in fundamental understanding. Consequently, I make an effort in teaching to de-emphasize invention as a reason for learning USIT. Some solution concepts are inventive others are not. Those after-the-fact decisions are immaterial to the learning and problem-solving processes. USIT motivates problem solvers to find a wealth of solution concepts quickly.

    A more pragmatic reason for de-emphasizing invention is that typical industrial technologists more often deal with routine problems not requiring invention than they do with demands for invention.7

    A Nugget of Gold

    If USIT has a golden nugget, a reduction of USIT to a valuable essence, it is the OAF diagram represented in its two extremes – the left-brain and right-brain views. In the former the OAF components are rendered in real-world technical terms. In the latter the OAF components are rendered in poetic or generic terms. In the process of building these representations unimagined hybrids between these extremes always come to mind.6

    And this observation brings to mind one of the more severe objections to the use of databases for what should be discovery of new and unrecognized ideas. When an OAF diagram is transferred from the technical to the poetic world new ways of thinking about attributes come to mind that cannot be found in databases – discovering what might be rather than what has already been recognized as possible and recorded in databases.

    An OAF diagram of ultimate simplicity has only one object. The thinking path to this goal can be very thought-provoking.

    Additional USIT References

    1. Sickafus, Ed, "A Rationale for Adopting SIT into a Corporate Training Program," TRIZCON99: First Symposium on TRIZ Methodology and Application, held by Altshuller Institute for TRIZ Studies, at Novi, Michigan, March 7-9, 1999; TRIZ HP Japan, May 1999.
    2. Sickafus, Ed and Nakagawa, Toru, "USIT Development and Its Evolution," TRIZ HP Japan, March 2001.
    3. Sickafus, Ed, "Unified Structured Inventive Thinking: How to Invent," Ntelleck, LLC., Grosse Isle, MI, USA, 1997, pp. 488. Available through USIT Web site.
    4. Sickafus, Ed, "eBook: USIT Overview," posted in USIT Web site, February 2003; Japanese translation by Keishi Kawamo, Shigeomi Koshimizu and Toru Nakagawa, TRIZ HP Japan, October 2004.
    5. Sickafus, Ed, "Heuristic Innovation," March 2007.
    6. Sickafus, Ed, "A Simple Theory Underlying Structured, Problem-Solving Methodologies – ASIT, TRIZ, USIT and Others," presented at the Second TRIZ Symposium in Japan, August 31 – September 2, 2006, Suita, Osaka, Japan.
    7. Sickfus, Ed "Injecting Creative Thinking into Product Flow," 4th Annual International TPD Symposium – TRIZ Conference, held at Industry Hills, California, USA, November 17-19, 1998. Japanese translation by Toru Nakagawa, TRIZ HP Japan, January 1999.

    Originally published on The TRIZ Home Page in Japan.

    About the Author:

    Ed Sickafus received his doctorate in physics from the University of Virginia. He joined the physics department of the University of Denver where he taught physics and did research on layered structure crystals. He worked at the research laboratory of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan and did research in surface physics. He became a manager of research and was manager of the physics department. He retired in 2000. He was president of the American Vacuum Society, served on boards of the AVS and the American Institute of Physics. He has published extensively in surface science and related fields and holds six patents. He initiated a program in structured problem solving in Ford Motor Company in 1995, taught SIT classes and led a team of SIT experts in addressing corporate problems worldwide. He has published two books in USIT, publishes a U-SIT and Think Newsletter translated in three languages, read in 43 countries and maintains a website devoted to propagating USIT. Contact Ed Sickafus at ntelleck (at) or visit

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