TRIZ for Everyone - Beyond Engineering: TRIZ Journal

Posted on May 15, 2016
Archive : May 2016
Category : Triz Blog

Beyond Engineering:

TRIZ for ...Marketing, Senior Management, Medicine, Software, Supply Chain, Scientists, Economists, Psychologists...and Me?

Lilly Haines-Gadd's article was first published in the TRIZ Journal, May 2016.  Read the full copy of the article below:

One of the things that gets in the way of TRIZ being more widely known and adopted is its technical background. The TRIZ community is rightly proud of the strong engineering and scientific pedigree behind the TRIZ tools and processes – and TRIZ has traditionally been used more on technical problems than any other. As a result, most of the literature about TRIZ is written by engineers, for engineers – using the language of engineering. As a result, engineering can form the lens through which TRIZ is described and explained – even in books aimed at a more general audience – which might be clear for a technical community but can be off-putting (and a bit intimidating) for the rest of us.

One of the most common questions I get asked is when a non-engineer (such as a manager, marketing professional, economist, zoologist, physicist or doctor) is first exploring TRIZ asks is...”but will TRIZ work for me?”. The next question is usually “can I see some examples of TRIZ applied directly in my line of work” and once I have persuaded them to actually learn TRIZ and start using it they suggest that perhaps it would be useful to have a book or training courses directly targeted at their specific subject area or industry.

Often people point out that the language used in TRIZ reflects its engineering background and suggest perhaps some of the terms could be modified for different industries to make it more “user friendly”; also that some of the tools might be less useful in certain industries and perhaps a subset could just be taught.In many ways it would be totally brilliant to have multiple books and training programmes targeted at different subject areas – but there are downsides.

Let’s consider the Ideality of having many, tailored learning opportunities and materials aimed at specific industries and fields of enquiry.

 Figure 1: Ideality Equation Benefits

TRIZ and Ideality Equation

Benefits

  • Confidence for novices that TRIZ will work in their field
  • Specific examples make it easier to start applying TRIZ to real-life problems
  • Wider range of TRIZ examples that broaden its appeal
  • Easier to get started with a smaller toolkit, which uses familiar terms


Costs

  • Time, effort and money developing many different specific sets of materials/training workshops
  • The difficulty of finding/developing examples that are real, but not confidential, and can be easily grasped by people within your field but perhaps not your specific line of work without lengthy explanations


Harms

  • Use of familiar industry terms leads to more psychological inertia, not less
  • People start thinking TRIZ ONLY works for their kind of problems
  • We create a number of different versions of TRIZ which are incompatible with each
  • People can only use THEIR OWN version of TRIZ – and can’t communicate with other TRIZniks

Of all the problems, this last is the worst, as creating a Tower of Babel of different types of TRIZ is very….unTRIZzy.


One of the Altshuller’s greatest insights was that the fundamentals of inventive problem solving and creative thinking are the same across all industries and fields of science. A huge amount of research that was then conducted to uncover the patterns in problems and solutions, distilling the essence of what made problems hard and solutions inventive – removing all specific domain knowledge.


It seems to run counter to the whole TRIZ philosophy to then start putting specific detail – from only one industry or subject area – back in!


Figure 2: Prism of TRIZ

Prism of TRIZ: the world's problems solved

My solution to this problem was instead of writing many,  specific versions of TRIZ, to write one, simple, general explanation: “TRIZ for Dummies”.


Why I wrote “TRIZ for Dummies”


When I was just starting with TRIZ I struggled with most books as the examples used to explain the TRIZ concepts were technical and I often didn’t understand them; even if the examples were very simple I worried there was some technical detail or assumption I was missing. For example, when you have only the broadest understanding of how an engine actually works, using engine problems as examples is not helpful, as you don’t really have a grasp on what kind of problems typically occur in engines – or what are common solutions - and therefore, what would constitute an inventive or clever solution. I tried reading material using more general management examples but still found them heavy going – the language was still influenced by engineering thinking, because the authors had a technical background, and that language made sense to them (and other engineers) – but not to me.


I only understood TRIZ books once I had understood TRIZ (and of course I now enjoy them – particularly Altshuller’s books). Technical terminology is not off-putting to engineers: and in my experience, while engineers and technical people are not afraid of highly complicated and apparently difficult concepts (in fact, it can seem even more appealing!), for everyone else, it can be off-putting.


Most introductions to TRIZ lead with a description of Contradictions and the 40 Inventive Principles, as these are the first tools to be developed and are a nice way to introduce how TRIZ was discovered and therefore an essential aspect of its logic. Contradictions also get engineers excited: show an engineer the Contradiction Matrix and they think “how exciting! How intriguing”. Show a manager, a lawyer, a doctor the same Matrix and they are much more likely to think “this is not for me”. 


Figure 3: The Contradiction Matrix

TRIZ Tools and resources - Contradictions matrix and 40 Principles

However the reality of life and problem solving is that the Contradiction Matrix is a tool of minor importance compared to some of the other tools and approaches. Often a large part of the value of using TRIZ comes from stepping through the problem solving process and applying tools such as the Ideal Outcome, Thinking in Time and Scale and Function Analysis to understand where the real problem lies then correctly defining the problem. Once you have a correctly defined and scoped problem there may be other tools that will be more appropriate for solving your problem, such as the 76 Standard Solutions or the Trends of Technical Evolution.


This focus on Contradictions and the TRIZ’s technical background I think can be intimidating to non-technical people, which is a shame as TRIZ helps everyone think better. I thought that a simple introduction to TRIZ that anyone could read and understand (regardless of their background) could be really valuable to help make this powerful problem solving approach better known, and I thought perhaps I might be the right person to write such a book.


I am a bit of an anomaly in the TRIZ world, in that I have absolutely zero technical, scientific or engineering experience (I have a psychology degree and MSc – I am interested in how people work, rather than things). Yet despite my lack of technical background I am able to use TRIZ successfully, and help others use TRIZ; I have first-hand experience of the power of using TRIZ on all kinds of problems – from highly complex engineering issues, to strategic issues where it’s difficult to see to the wood for the trees, right down to simple everyday problems where TRIZ has delivered not only great clarity of thought but also the triggers for fantastically inventive solutions.


One of my theories about why TRIZ works is that it helps everyone think like a genius engineer. This is of benefit to engineers (it makes sure that they are always thinking in the best way possible) but it will be particularly powerful for everyone else. TRIZ helps deliver clarity of thought, keeping detail in its place, enabling you to see your true goals and then gives you logical processes to follow to achieve them. It allows both great freedom of thought and a provides a useful structure for problem solving. Assumptions are challenged and the correct boundaries for your thinking are set; and most uniquely, when you have a well-defined problem, there are triggers of previous (technical) solutions that have worked in the past that can be usefully reapplied to generate practical yet innovative solutions.


My hope is that “TRIZ for Dummies” will generate interest in TRIZ in areas where it has not yet been embedded: providing a useful introduction and generating both more usefully solved problems – and potentially some more research on the use of TRIZ in new areas.



So what next?


“TRIZ for Dummies” is a very short introduction to a very big topic. Hopefully it will drive more interest in TRIZ across many different disciplines and we will be able to gather a broader range of case studies than before: and we will learn how best to teach and apply TRIZ in different areas. Perhaps we do need to develop specific ways of teaching different disciplines, based on the same logic and “golden rules” for problem solving we find in Classical TRIZ. If so, I hope we can find the ways forward together, as a community.

 



Lilly Haines-Gadd

TRIZ teacher, facilitator, author and MD of Oxford Creativity - a TRIZ company based in Oxford, United Kingdom. www.triz.co.uk

Lilly Haines-Gadd


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