Thursday, November 23, 2006

TRIZ: Top 12 questions (part 1)

1. Should I learn TRIZ?

If you wish to increase both efficiency and effectiveness of your problem solving and idea generation capabilities, you will find learning TRIZ useful. TRIZ is a heuristic science which studies trends of system evolution, reveals patterns of inventive solutions, and attempts to extract principles and understand a process of inventive thinking. Knowledge of TRIZ helps considerably increase your innovative productivity. Interestingly, my first acquaintance with TRIZ was negative: back in 1986 I bought a book of Altshuller at the university bookstore, and after reading 30 pages put it away since I decided that it was all science fiction rather than real science. A year later I was working on a project and I was stuck – there seemed to be no solution available to my problem. I checked all the sources during 3 months – no solution was available and no one was capable of producing one. And then, by accident, I had visited a short 2-hours introductory evening TRIZ workshop at my university, and when I came back home I applied a technique I learned at the workshop and immediately found a solution to the problem I was working on! Needless to say, next day I hurried to the lab at the university which was experimenting with TRIZ. Three months without a solution and 2 hours to find it – this speaks for itself. Today when sustainable innovation becomes not just a competitive advantage but a matter for survival, learning TRIZ which provides “innovation on demand” becomes even more crucial than ever before.

2. Is TRIZ different from brainstorm?

Brainstorm is the oldest method of producing ideas by trials and errors. This is our natural way of thinking. It works well when a problem is relatively simple and we do not need to explore large knowledge area; therefore we do not need to make many trials to find a solution. But modern innovation demands thinking out of the box and exploiting outside knowledge more and more often. Many innovations, especially the most difficult ones require a huge number of trials and errors. As pointed by the Industrial Research Institute (Washington, DC), on average, one successful project requires 5.000 raw ideas to be generated. When Altshuller started to work on TRIZ, his primary goal was to overcome this major disadvantage of brainstorm. TRIZ provides navigation within the search space thus directing a problem solver towards a right segment with the highest chance to find a required solution.

3. I took one day training in TRIZ, but still, why can't I produce great inventions?

In fact, technology around us demonstrates that all great inventions were made without any TRIZ at all. But is it true? TRIZ is not just a number of techniques but a way of thinking, and TRIZ studied how inventions were produced – in some way, by possessing TRIZ skills we become capable of working just like strong inventors – and probably they used the same way of thinking as introduced by TRIZ. In my professional life (thanks to it I very often meet all types of creative and inventive persons) I only met few persons who were what I call “natural born inventors” and could successfully deal with virtually any complex problem due to vast and encyclopedic massive of knowledge they possessed. One day of TRIZ training can provide you with a good introductory overview of TRIZ and develop some very basic skills with its simple techniques, but I doubt one day is enough to absorb the TRIZ way of thinking and learn TRIZ at a proper level. TRIZ does not solve problems; the problems are solved by people; and you need practice and knowledge how to use the tool. In addition, there is no a single unique path from an inventive problem to its solution: all problems are different, some of them can be solved by simply rearranging existing knowledge, but some require outside knowledge, and some require complete problem reformulation to achieve desire results. TRIZ is complex since it helps attacking a large variety of different problems.
Minimum 40 hours of training is a necessary condition to start successfully applying TRIZ in most cases. Since TRIZ is not a just a set of tricks, it is not easy to learn and master; but this investment pays back.

4. Does TRIZ work in other areas besides technology?

Yes. TRIZ studies how to deal with a category of problems which we call “inventive”, and these “inventive” problems can arise everywhere, not necessarily in technology only: in business, in organizations, in family life. And it seems like our brain deals with all inventive problems similarly no matter where they come from. This makes the TRIZ way of thinking universal. Today we know extensions of TRIZ to business and management, arts, advertising, public relations, politics. However each new area of application requires TRIZ to speak with its own terms.

5. Are there successful examples of TRIZ applications?

As reported by Samsung Electronics, in the years 2002-2005 there were over 200 successful projects which used TRIZ to come up with innovative solutions which resulted in economic benefits of Euro 2 billion up to date. At Value Innovation Program Center “the goal is to train every engineer and researcher in the company in TRIZ think” (see Fortune, 75, 2005: "A Perpetual Crisis Machine" ). Most commercially successful product of Procter & Gamble, Crest Whitestrips was developed with TRIZ, generating $200 million in sales in the first year. TRIZ was used to win over competition in developing a new refueling tanker by Boeing. In fact, there are a lot of successful applications of TRIZ within different industries, although many companies often choose not to mention that they use TRIZ to maintain their competitive advantage. In 1984, Altshuller wrote in his report on TRIZ that there were thousands of successful applications of TRIZ in the former Soviet Union reported to him and his associates.

6. Does TRIZ replace creativity?

Absolutely not. Instead, TRIZ enhances creativity by introducing knowledge-based and systematic approach to understanding problems and defining the best strategies to search for a solution. In some cases TRIZ recommendations can directly lead to solutions, but it is not always the case. Most of TRIZ recommendations have generic and abstract nature, and creativity is definitely needed to translate these recommendations to specific ideas and solutions.

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