Answers to the Cunning Questions About TRIZ

There are two approaches to criticizing TRIZ. The first is based on scientific verification of TRIZ claims and postulates (see e.g. Vol. 4 No. 9 for an example). The second is based on exploiting the fact that most basic notions of TRIZ were never properly defined. This creates an opportunity to "refute" TRIZ by merely showing the lack of understanding of these notions by TRIZ defenders.

One of the schemes to discredit the defenders is as follows:

Here is an example of such a question:

I do not believe that by asking unskilled defenders of TRIZ such cunningly constructed questions it is possible to refute TRIZ even if, as expected, the defenders cannot give satisfactory answers to them and instead resort to demagogy too. That is why I decided to lend them a hand and answer such questions for them.

Below is the list of typical questions based on the deliberate blurring of notions and answers to them, which clarify these notions.

  1. Question: Is there such thing as "evolution of technical systems" at all ? The reason for doubt is this: in classical examples of evolution, such as biological evolution or evolution of stars, it is always about change in material. In star evolution, for example, the material of star changes its state over time. In biological evolution the genetic material of a species changes over time. Which material changes in technical systems evolution then ?

    Answer: The word "evolution" is a synonym of "change over time". Change over time of anything, not necessarily of some physical material. In "technical systems evolution" implementation of the same function changes over time, or the set of functions performed by a system changes over time, etc. One should not impose the traits of one type of evolution on all others.

    For example, if in stars' evolution their material changes, one should not impose this trait on all other types of evolution and always search for material change. Similarly, if in biological evolution any species has ancestors, it does not mean that in technical evolution any technical system has an ancestor too.

    Generally, evolution is not something pertinent to biology or stars only. In mechanics people even say "evolution of the coordinates of an object" simply because coordinates change over time.

    Similarly, if a new function appeared or implementation of an old function changed, then there is already technological evolution. Just because evolution means change over time.

  2. Question: Machine got rusted. Hence it changed over time. Does it constitute evolution of the technical system ?

    Answer: Yes, but not in the sense of TRIZ. TRIZ is concerned not with evolution of physical embodiments of machines but with evolution of the ideas of machines, the ideas of their functioning and construction. If a machine got rusted, got dusted, etc., its idea has not changed because of this. Hence there is no evolution in the sense of TRIZ.

  3. Question: Transistor replaced vacuum tube for the same function. Does it mean that transistor evolved from vacuum tube ? Does it also mean that vacuum tube is an ancestor/parent of transistor ?

    Answer: If something evolves, it does not necessarily mean that it "evolves from" something else. If coordinate X of an object evolves over time as X(t) it does not mean that for t2 > t1 X(t2) "evolved from" X(t1). Everything depends on definition of such notion as "EVOLVES FROM", which is a distinct notion from "EVOLUTION" and not determined by its meaning.

    If "B evolved from A" means that B was obtained by gradual change of subsystems/elements of A, then transistor can hardly be viewed as to had been evolved from vacuum tube, because the entire system changed. However, if "evolved from" means just "replaced the predecessor", then, of course, transistor "evolved from" vacuum tube !

    The first interpretation of "evolved from" is a trait of some particular examples of evolution, mostly gradual evolutions, which is not pertinent to all types of evolution.

    As for "ancestor"/"parent", it also depends on definition of these words for technical systems. If they mean something that did the same function before, then all systems (except for the first ones) have "ancestors". But if they mean the same as in biology, then, of course, not. Generally, "ancestors" are also the trait of particular evolutionary processes, which is not applicable to all types of evolution.

    As a corollary, the assumption that transistor has not evolved from vacuum tube but simply replaced it does negate the fact that transition from vacuum tube to transistor was a step in evolution of the means of electrical signal amplification.

  4. Question: What is the difference between being "simply replaced" vs. being "a step in evolution", like in "transistor simply replaced vacuum tube" vs. "transition from vacuum tube to transistor was a step in evolution of the means of electrical signal amplification"? Isn't any replacement of implementation of a given function a step in evolution of the systems that implement this function ?

    Answer: Since evolution of X is nothing else but its time dynamics X(t), then any new implementation of the same function is a step in evolution of some sort. The question is whether this sort of evolution is that sort which TRIZ studies ?

    So far TRIZ admitted as evolution only those replacements, which were more successful than their predecessor. Transistor is a better signal amplifier than the tube in a number of parameters. That is why it is considered to be a step in evolution of the means of electrical signal amplification.

    Probably there were unsuccessful attempts to replace tube by something else or even by a tube of another kind. It is even plausible that some unsuccessful "would be replacements" were even patented. Are these dead leafs of evolution also the topic of TRIZ ? So far TRIZ was talking about successful lines of evolution only. Tentatively, we can assume that the subject of TRIZ is only such successful lines of evolution; that evolutions X(t) where X(t2) is worse than X(t1) for any or some t2 > t1 are irrelevant to TRIZ.

  5. Question: If there are objective laws of evolution of technical systems then why technical systems in separated cultures evolved in different ways ? (For example, bridges in China, Andes, and Europe are pretty different. The boats are also different ranging form kayaks in one region to canoes in another, to pirogues in the third, to catamarans in the fourth. Etc.)

    Answer:

    • Even in classical mechanics the same body may follow different trajectories. The fact that there are different trajectories does not refute the existence of the laws of dynamics. Trajectories are determined not by the laws only, but also by the initial conditions, etc.
    • But nobody even said that laws of technical systems evolution have to be akin to the laws of dynamics. In my opinion they should be formulated not in the form of so called "lines of evolution" but in the form of options: from state like this it may go to the states like these (see Vol. 2 No. 10 for details). If the laws of evolution formulated in the form of such transition options then diversity of systems in different portion of the world is explained quite naturally.
    • Moreover, this diversity looks rather minor than major. In all regions people came to the idea of wheel in that form or another. All came to the idea of bridge, in one form or another. All learned to use the floating bodies for transportation on rivers, in one form or another. Etc.

  6. Question: What are the criteria for giving a set of examples the status of "pattern", or "law", of technical systems evolution? It is relatively easy to collect such sets of examples with a common attribute. Are they all "patterns" or/and "laws"? Here is a candidate: "Transition of a Subsystem from One System to Another System". Indeed, there is a number of examples that confirm such a trend:

    • An air-tied zipper developed in NASA for space walk, is used in dry suits for scuba diving.
    • Punch cards developed for mechanical sorting machines, are used in computers to input information.
    • Iconic symbols on caves walls developed to visualize goals (like killing a big animal), were later used on wood panels to visualize hidden powers (like religious images), and are now used in computer displays to visualize the purpose of available program functions.

    Why such "Transition of a Subsystem from One System to Another System" would not be called law or pattern in TRIZ whereas "Transition of a system to Supersystem" is called law ?

    Answer: None of them are laws. "Transition of a system to supersystem" and "transition of a subsystem of one system to another system" are both HEURISTICS. Altshuller was too quick to call his heuristics laws.

    However, he was good at proposing non-trivial heuristics. His "transition of a system to supersystem" is a strong and non-trivial heuristic in a sense that when it works it gives rise to unexpected nice solutions. Whereas "transition of a subsystem of one system to another one" is a trivial heuristic, which hardly can result in unexpected solutions.

    Nevertheless, the latter probably works more often than the former. There seems to be a kind of technical contradiction between the strength of a heuristic and the probability that it would help ! The contradiction which TRIZ is neither aware of nor has a means to resolve !

  7. Question: Oh, now I understood that evolution of technical systems is change over time of something. But what is this something ? Can it be anything ?

    Answer: No, it cannot be anything. By evolution of technical systems it is meant evolution of implementation of their functions:

    • one can trace evolution of implementation of a single function. (E.g. evolution of the means of electrical signal amplification.)
    • or one can trace evolution of implementation of a set of functions. For example, let F1 be a function of recording, and F2 be a function of playing. Then transition from their implementation in separate devices (recorder and player) to their implementation in a combined device (recorder-player) is a step in evolution of implementation of this set {F1, F2}.
    • one can trace evolution of implementation of big sets of similar functions, such as evolution of the means of transportation, for example. (The means of transportation is not one function but a spectrum of similar functions ranging from ground transportation to sea transportation, to air transportation, to space transportation, to people transportation, to cargo transportation, etc.) In the beginning (say, at moment T1) this set was just, say, {boat, cart}. At moment T2 it already became {boat, cart, car}. At moment T3 it already became {boat, cart, car, bicycle}. At moment T4 it became {boat, steam-boat, cart, car, steam-car, bicycle}. Etc. Within evolution of sets there is also evolution of their elements. For example, boat at moment T1 may differ from boat at moment T2, etc. Then we have evolution of this element: boat(T1) --> boat(T2) --> boat(T3) etc.
    • one can even try to trace evolution of the entire set of all technical systems.

  8. Question: Does "evolution from a technical system A to a technical system B" always mean that:

    • A and B were both used for the same purpose P, and
    • B replaced A ?

    Answer: First of all "evolution from A to B" is an incorrect term. It should be "evolutionary step from A to B in evolution of something." This something has to be specified.

    Thus, the above question has to be reformulated as follows:
    does "evolutionary step from technical system A to technical system B in evolution of X" always mean that:

    • A and B were both used for the same purpose P, and
    • B replaced A ?

    The answer to this question is obviously no. It is only true for successful evolutionary steps of implementation of a function. If evolutionary step is unsuccessful, then B does not replace A.

  9. Question: Oh, now I see that there is evolution from wagon to steamship to nuclear clock because all of them implement moving parts (from mechanical to molecular to subatomic). Is not it ?

    Answer: "Moving parts" is not a function to be implemented. Wagon, steamship, nuclear clock have their own functions and these functions are different.

  10. Question: Glasses and LASIK eye surgery are both used for vision correction. The former is an old means and the latter was invented recently. Does it mean that transition from glasses to LASIK eye surgery is a step in evolution of the means of vision correction ?

    Answer: Glasses and LASIK eye surgery have different functions. The function of the first is to modify the optical field in front of the eye ball. The functiuon of the second is to modify the eye ball itself.

    "Vision correction" is not one function. It is a set of functions. Hence, here we encounter a set evolution, like transition from {bicycle, car} to {bicycle, car, plane}, rather than elements evolution. There is not transition from car to plane in such a set evolution. Similarly, there is no transition from glasses to LASIK eye surgery in evolution of the means of vision correction.