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Dec 8, 2014

Daniel Bonin shares his thoughts with us about “TRIZ” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Some weeks ago I learned about the basics of TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving). I find the method itself and also the history of its development fascinating. The development of TRIZ started during the mid 1940s in Russia. Round about 40.000 patents were analyzed to reveal patterns, similarities, differences and laws in order to formulate methods that help to standardize the problem solving processes*. One of the inventors TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller had to endure years in the gulag after he criticized the ignorance of the leadership regarding innovation and invention (Mishra 2006). During this time, he continued to develop TRIZ and made friends with other prisoners by telling them science fiction stories he analyzed as well. The TRIZ toolkit finally made its way to Europe and the U.S. after the end of the cold war.

The theory TRIZ assumes that typical solutions can be found for recurring problems and that psychological barriers like inertia hinder problem solving. Thus algorithmic problem solving methods and creativity techniques were developed to overcome such problems. One can say that in contrast to brainstorming or trail and error, TRIZ relies on solutions that have proven to be useful in the past. Famous methods of the TIRZ toolkit include the 40 TRIZ Principles (described later on) or the Algorithm of Inventive Problem Solving (ARIZ).

Clearly, TRIZ aims to find solutions to technical problems and does not intend to describe possible futures. But the inventors of TRIZ believed that creativity techniques are helpful to over overcome psychological inertia and can increase the degree of inventiveness of ideas. For instance the Size-Time-Cost-Operator method assumes that material, space, time and money/costs are (a) unlimited or (b) limited/ nonexistent to find new solutions to problems (Hentschel et al. 2010, Savransky). I believe that approaches like the Size-Time-Cost-Operator could be used to imagine or invent unusual and extreme futures. And what I find particularly interesting is the idea to use some of the TRIZ creativity techniques to create a “warming up and stretching program” for workshops in order to familiarize participants with outside of the box thinking.

Using TRIZ to facilitate creativity and encourage out of the box thinking in workshops

Imagine you have to carry out a workshop with participants that have never thought about the future. To make the topic easily understandable, a simplified perspective might be presented. Reading a book of Savransky (2002) on TRIZ, I came across some methods and games that might be used to create such a “warm up and stretching program”.

The Value Changing Method confronts participants with the question of what if an object (e.g. technology or societal values and norms) with an extraordinary value is rendered useless. One could then possibly use the Good Bad Game, a game that requests to find something good in a bad situation (or the other way around) to direct the focus toward positive implications and thus further facilitate creativity. The Snow Ball Method could then finally be used as a warming up activity to introduce the basics of system dynamics. Here you think about interrelationships and ask questions like: what happens to X if Y is changed and how does this affect Z.

Other application fields of TRIZ

Furthermore the more technical parts like the 40 TRIZ Principles might be used to simplify foresight methods. The 40 TRIZ Principles are usually applied to reduce complexity and increase effectiveness of systems. Foresight methods can be undoubtedly considered complex. The 40 TRIZ principles (e.g. “Taking out”, “Merging of Objects”, “Periodic Action” (replace continuous action with a periodic one), Skipping”, “Cheap Short-Lived Objects”) consist of reoccurring solutions that were used in the patents analyzed to solve problems and cut through complexity**. As foresight processes are labor and time intensive small and medium sized companies might struggle to deploy the necessary resources. A simplification of foresight methods might be desirable when educating or establishing foresight processes for such clients. Bannert and Warschat (2007) used the principles to modify management methods like the scenario analysis (click here for a illustration of their simplified method and a brief overview on some TRIZ principles).

The methods described in this blog post aim to create novel ideas by changing an existing object or its function. I am wondering if the TRIZ toolkit could be used to invent Wild Cards based on the present by using tools such as the 40 TRIZ Principles or the so called Fantogram. The Fantogram describes two dimensions: (a) the way an object is changed and (b) the methods used (see figure below; click to enlarge). The advantage of this method is that you create more creative ideas. Normally you would tend to come up with a new based on only one dimension (Zhuravleva 2005). The invention of Wild Cards will be a covered in another blog post.

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