TRIZ, a truly amazing resource for stimulating productive innovation, was developed from researching the entire patents database for the core inventive principles which underpinned innovation.
The research was initiated by Genrich Altshuler, a Russian Patent Agent, and from the analysis it has transpired that there are only 40 core inventive principles, and all the innovative steps, across all disciplines and registered patents, are essentially derivations and interpretations of those 40.
This has tremendously positive implications for those seeking to identify a novel way to resolve a design conflict.
TRIZ is an open source (and thereby ‘free to use’) methodology to identify which inventive principle is most likely to address any particular problem, and it is essentially based on three precepts:
The first precept is that all innovation/creativity is actually, at its root, a new way to solve a compromise between two desires that are in contention with each other; that an innovative idea is a previously unrecognised solution that gets round the compromise by the addition of another concept.
Let us explore this precept in a bit more detail, and take a pane of glass as an example – what determines the thickness of a pane of glass? Actually it is a compromise – we would like to make a pane of glass thin, so that it is light, and so that it lets through as much light as possible. But also we would like to make a pane of glass thick so that is can take the impact of a football kicked at it by an over-exuberant child.
Our problem is that if we make it thin enough to be really light, it might not even resist an over-exuberant fly, and if we make it thick enough to withstand the baseball, our window frames shear off their hinges with the weight. And so we compromise, 4mm, still a bit heavy, but able to withstand a wayward bird in flight.
But say we did not like that compromise, say we wanted to be both light and strong, what new concept could break through this compromise so that we could have both? How about lamination?
Actually, the more we think about it, the more we realise that all need for creativity is actually an unwillingness to accept a current compromise. And we can see what that compromise is when we think about what current solutions are trying to provide, and how they fall short.
Take air-travel and seat pitch for example – a compromise between the number of passengers and the degree of comfort they experience – increase one at the expense of the other, unless we can find a concept which enables us to come up with a new innovative solution.
The second precept is that the answers which have enabled progress over previous compromises are actually based on a limited number of concepts; concepts which can be seen repeated in all different fields, sciences, technologies, but in different ways.
For instance: telescopic aerials, Trojan horse viruses, Russian dolls, stacking chairs, certain types of gene therapy, subliminal messages, parables, are all based on the same idea of delivering or storing one thing inside another.
Once you identify the concept, you can generate all sorts of ideas to make it work. And the fascinating thing is that there are only 40 basic concepts which form the basis of literally millions of patents across hundreds of different disciplines.
The third precept is that some concepts are better at resolving certain conflicts/compromises than they are at solving others; that for each compromise, there are five or less concepts (and sometimes only one or two) which have proven effective in breaking through the compromise in the past.
Now that is not to say that at some point somebody might not find a solution using a different concept, but it does mean that the vast majority of new innovations addressing this conflict will be novel and creative adaptations of the innovative principles that have been successful in the past. (Please note, the innovative concept is not an idea or solution, it is simply the springboard that helps you identify likely ideas or solutions, it is the principle which is common to past successful ideas.)
This can be a bit difficult to accept; we have a temptation to believe that we don’t want to be bound by history, but what we are talking about here is the difference between looking for potatoes in a potato field, or looking for potatoes in a wheat field – as Damon Runyon put it: “The race is not always to the swift, not the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet”.
So the idea of TRIZ is actually based on productive use of these three precepts:
- Understand the contradiction or compromise which you wish to overcome
- Find the most productive innovative principle(s) at addressing that conflict
- Use the principle(s) as a springboard to develop new creative ideas (probably by means of other creative tools applied to that principle).
TRIZ does not deliver solutions to you, but if we imagine all of the possible ideas that we could conceivably brainstorm (most of which are not going to be effective) as a great big park, then what TRIZ does is take us to a few small areas of the park which are likely to be the best places to play in, some of which we might not even have realised are in the park in the first place. The resources listed below provide the structure by which this happens, but much of the principles therein have been rolled up into a useful little tool provided by Oxford Creativity in their Effects Database
TRIZ was based on Patents, most of which are scientific or technological, but can it help in looking for solutions which are business, organisation and culturally premised – can we really make such a big leap?
That question takes us to a fourth precept – the precept that a lot of the issues that we face in business have technological or scientific analogies. If we can find these analogies, then we can use TRIZ to highlight start points for solving our organisational issues. TRIZ has proven to be a productive tool in stimulating productive thought around organisational issues, and that, after all, is nothing more or less than what we ask of all our other creative tools. TRIZ is simply a tool, not a recipe for assured success. But as a tool, it is remarkably effective.
All that remains is that people learn to use it with skill and confidence.
Further TRIZ information can be found via the following links:
You can download a number of PowerPoint templates which help to support application of the tool below. However, we would alert you to the fact that you may be best getting a good understanding of the tool before you attempt to use it.
The templates can be printed off (at any size) for use in Physical meetings, or uploaded to suitable meeting or collaboration software so that it can be used in virtual or asynchronous meetings.