The Failure of TRIZ Research

G. L. Filkovsky, TRIZ Master,
Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

A basic assumption of TRIZ is that a method of invention should be based on changes occurring in systems rather than on mental actions of inventors. Accordingly, TRIZ research focuses on analysis of system states before and after an invention, and on comparison of various stages of systems’ evolution.

This is wonderful! This is a unique aspect of TRIZ, and it’s promising! This is an ingenious shift made by Altshuller in this field of research.

TRIZ changed the WHERE of the research, but unfortunately it got stuck with a wrong WHAT: what to look for. It looks for repeating patterns.

The “40 Principles” are patterns. The “Technical Contradictions Matrix” is a pattern of using these principles. The “Laws of Technical Systems Evolution”, the “Standards”, and the “Vepol Formulas” are all patterns.

Not everything in TRIZ is patterns. There are concepts like “IFR”, “contradictions”, and “a use of resources”. There is ARIZ. Nevertheless, most of TRIZ consists of patterns.

Nothing’s wrong with it, if patterns are used to direct a research process. However, patterns being a research result constitute a failure. Patterns are incomplete and temporary. They don’t explain a phenomenon or “connect dots”. They can’t be proved, refuted, or verified. They can’t predict a new phenomenon or suggest a critical experiment. Patterns are logically weak, since they only say what COULD happen, but not what SHOULD or SHOULDN’T happen. They might help to organize existing knowledge, but they don’t deepen or widen it. They don’t provide for a better understanding, just for a better presentation. Shortly, patterns are not a THEORY.

Let’s look into some examples. In chemistry, classification of elements into metals, halogens, etc., based on their common characteristics, is just a helpful pattern, nothing more. On the other hand, arranging these elements into a periodic system based on their elemental weights provides for prediction of new elements. It uncovers interdependencies among the characteristics. This is a concept, which goes beyond organizing of existing knowledge. However, the periodic system is still not a theory, but rather an advanced pattern. The atomic theory and quantum mechanics explain the periodic system as well as its anomalies, and do much more.

Biological classification of species by organizing them into a hierarchical structure of kingdom, phylum, family or group makes a helpful pattern. However, the theory of evolution gives it meaning, explains its connections and dynamics, and provides for directions to and interpretations of new discoveries.

The classification of stars in astronomy is an organizing tool, but astrophysics is a theory explaining the existence of such types of stars, predicting new types and showing ways of looking for them.

Most of TRIZ research doesn’t go beyond noticing patterns, thus usually doesn’t lead to a meaningful result. In the best case, it is a promising start. In the worst, it leads to nothing. Yes, the later also happens. For example, astrology, a science of patterns without a theory.

By the way, astrology is sold quite successfully. Why TRIZ is not as successful as astrology is a different topic.