A Central TRIZ Hypothesis Fails the Test

G. L. Filkovsky, TRIZ Master,
Nomura Securities International,
New York, USA

This time I'm not talking about TRIZ failure to predict any of significant technological developments of recent decades. Nor am I going to talk about the TRIZ failure to produce a significant list of inventive achievements. I rather want to examine TRIZ from a perspective of testing a scientific hypothesis.

A fundamental hypothesis of TRIZ is the idea that technical systems develop, or evolve, according to their own, objective and universal laws. According to this idea, inventions are but steps along an unavoidable line of progress, driven by the Laws of Technical Systems Evolution (LOTSE) rather than by lucky coincidences or inventors' insights. In this view, technical systems evolve the way they evolve simply because they are supposed to. A system will go through prescribed steps toward a prescribed final result. Instead of trying to change a system by inefficient trial-and-error, inventors should use these laws to find the right changes.

Altshuller never tried to test this hypothesis and never suggested such a test. He did suggest a procedure to prove it, though: find the laws and apply them. This is not a test! A test has to allow for two outcomes, a positive and a negative. The suggested proving procedure allows only for a positive outcome; as long as the hypothesis is not proven, it is simply a "work in progress". (By the way, TRIZ still is a "work in progress".)

Can the LOTSE hypothesis be tested? If it can't, then, by definition, it's not a scientific hypothesis. Every scientific hypothesis should be testable. An example of a non-testable, not a scientific hypothesis is a hypothesis of existence of God.

I believe that the LOTSE hypothesis is testable. I am going to suggest a possible test. I will show that the hypothesis fails.

To understand the idea behind the test, imagine for a moment that somebody came up with a hypothesis that the species evolve according to their own, objective and universal laws; that the evolution of organisms follows unavoidable lines of progress, driven by these laws, independently on lucky or unlucky coincidences or on random mutations. How could this hypothesis be tested?

One test could be to compare separate evolutions, i.e. organisms evolving separately. For example, to compare evolution of land organisms separated by water, or evolution of organisms in isolated from each other lakes. If the hypothesis were correct and the separated organisms evolved according to the same laws, the comparison would show minor differences and major commonalities. In other words, if the separate evolutions converged, the hypothesis passed the test. If, on the other hand, the separation would have been shown leading to diversity, meaning that the separate evolutions diverged, then the hypothesis failed the test. In case of the species evolution, separation results in differences. Diversity observed by Darwin during his famous voyage on Beagle, especially on isolated islands like Galapagos, made a basis for his theory of evolution through natural selection, which rejects such an "evolution laws" hypothesis.

Can a similar test be conducted in respect to the technical systems evolution? Yes, it can: civilizations and cultures developed separately for a long time and their technical achievements can be compared. When Europeans "discovered" Far East, Polynesia, Americas, and found different cultures there, did they find familiar or rather different "technical systems"? Different! (That's why these cultures were "different", weren't they?) When Chinese, Japanese, Incas, Hawaiians "discovered" Europeans, what did they find regarding their technology? Differences!

All these parties have had fewer technical systems, than there are today, however a long list of systems is available for the comparison. Starting with the first explorers, new "inventions" flooded Europe: forks, silk, gunpowder. These were inventions that European inventors had "missed". Other systems, which Europeans had and others didn't, moved in the opposite way and made a base for fast developing trading.

This diversity was not limited to "products". One can compare a wide range of technical systems, which existed in different cultures, and find that they evolved in very different ways. Much of technology was so different that it's still a mystery today, centuries after the original engineers disappeared, or were eliminated. Compare different cultures' houses, villages and towns - shelter systems. Compare bridges in China, Andes, and Europe. Compare weapons used for warfare, or for hunting. Compare fishing technologies. Compare boats, kayaks, canoes, catamarans, pirogues. Agriculture tools, water supply systems, food storage systems, road building technologies, furniture, utensils, clothing. Musical instruments, optical instruments, writing/recordkeeping instruments. Woodcraft tools, sewing tools, cooking tools.

Comparing these and hundreds of other systems shows that when similar systems evolve separately, they very rarely converge and rather very widely diverge. The TRIZ idea of objective and universal laws driving technical systems evolution fails the test.

A note by the Editor:

The Editor disagree with the conclusions of the author. The interested reader may view the Editor's opinion on the article by clicking here.