The thrill of TRIZ
Recently in a conversation with Saman Farid, the CEO of Formic, we touched on TRIZ. It isn’t as well known as Design Thinking, Six Sigma, Lean, etc., but a very powerful approach to systematic inventing.
The author (Genrich Altshuller, a prolific inventor himself) reviewed 40k+ patents in the 50s and 60s to develop what he called a method transforming an inventor’s random trial-and-error meandering into a structured process.
It’s well known in Asia, where Samsung is a prominent adopter (making TRIZ skills mandatory for some promotions), though there are several F500 companies in the West using it too: like Rolls-Royce, GE, Mars, etc.
The core idea of TRIZ is that most inventions are based on solving a contradiction — introducing a useful property without simultaneously adding negative side effects. The best (ideal) way to do that is to change the existing system so that there is no new part but the new property has been added. The inventor’s goal is to get as close to the ideal solution (introduce as few changes to the system) as possible.
An example of an (almost) ideal solution: to protect the pipe elbow transporting metal balls at high speed from the impact damage of the balls hitting the elbow add an outside magnet holding a few balls on the elbow surface as protection.
TRIZ offers an algorithm guiding the inventor from a fuzzy description of the situation to recognizing the key contradiction, identifying the typical approaches to solving that class of contradictions, and applying these approaches to the target problem.
It also offers tools to eliminate psychological inertia and open the inventor’s mind to otherwise overlooked opportunities.
Example: how to produce wooden boards painted through (not only surface). Standard painting technics do not penetrate deep enough under surface.
-->> Water the tree with a colored solution as it grows.
TRIZ also suggests a framework to think about systems evolution:
- Evolution of sub-systems toward more ideal versions
- Dynamization of the system (subsystems are not rigidly connected anymore)
- Shift to micro (atomic) level: e.g. moving from vacuum tube to silicon transistor
TRIZ operates from the idea that:
- Problems and solutions repeat across industries and sciences.
- Patterns of technical evolution repeat across industries and sciences.
- Innovations used scientific effects outside the field where they were developed.
So it offers a set of known solutions to typical inventive problems that can be applied to the target problem
The full list is located here.
While focused mainly on technical inventions, the TRIZ toolset can be applied to business and other creative problems. If you are ever bored — google TRIZ problems.
A couple of sample problems.
1. How to lower a large and very heavy part of the structure into a recess without using a special crane?
2. An arc lamp has two parallel electrodes. The arc’s length must stay constant as it gradually moves down the electrodes. But the “+” electrode is consumed much faster, the length increases and the arc goes out. How to fix the problem without changing electrode material/width (to change consumption speed) or introducing mechanical systems to move the electrodes?
A very brief intro into TRIZ: https://www.aitriz.org/articles/40p_triz.pdf