Applied Innovations, Sydney, Australia
4 May 2010
The popularity and success of TRIZ as an enabler of innovation has not been as great as one may have expected, especially in the USA. This is a matter of concern due to the increasing global emphasis on innovation as an agent of change and recovery, and the consequently greater demand for the development of advanced tools for technical innovation. Four issues which could be contributing to this lack of success are examined.
The apparent lack of success of TRIZ in mainstream usage is largely attributable to the following four factors.
Many authors and specialists tend to consider the retro-active association of a TRIZ principle, tool or heuristic to any emerging innovation as a justifiable success. This trend may have started quite inadvertently after the release of Darrell Mann's popular book "Hands On Systematic Innovation" which used external patents to illustrate and explain the real life applications of some of the inventive principles contained in TRIZ.
In the entirety of TRIZ Journal articles and authored books by specialists on the subject, it is rare to find examples where an original concept,
not already in the public domain, has been proposed and developed through the innovation cycle.
Even with borrowed examples, the analysis is not carried to fruition, but is left unconcluded at the very point where the reader is most interested in the outcome.
Many authors regard it as sufficient to link the essence of any and all inventions to some of TRIZ thinking principles, and hence avoid the need to demonstrate any original inventive effort of their own.
Let us consider this example:
Wu Yulu, a Chinese farmer from the village of Mawu on the outskirts of Beijing, has acquired world fame by creating primitive robots, from scrap components, that perform very interesting functions. The important thing for us is to appreciate the process underlying this ingenuity, and to try to capture this capability of synthesis in some formal construct. It would be easy to analyze each robot as utilizing the TRIZ principles of dynamicity (P15), copying (P26), segmentation (P1), periodic action (P19), continuity of a useful action (P20), asymmetry (P4), mechanical vibration (P18), partial or excessive action (P16), cushion in advance (P11), universality (P6), prior counteraction (P9), and nesting (P7), to name but a few.
However, this analysis alone is of little use unless the aim is to find an immediate fit with TRIZ thinking. What is of far greater importance to capture the capability for syntheses of new forms starting with the primitive components, and to devise means of sustaining the innovative momentum.
G. S. Altshuller mentioned simple examples of innovation form the 1950's and 1960's in his books, and to this day these examples are repeated, unchanged, in almost every presentation and book on TRIZ. Most of these examples were past their use by date even then and by now they are completely outdated. I refer to examples of freezing, hydraulics, and actuation through the selective control of magnetic properties with the Curie point (at above 768°C, no less), etc.
For instance, I do not know how many times the example of the corrosive acid (HF?) and making the container from the material being tested, has been quoted in TRIZ Journal articles. It appears to be included in almost every book on TRIZ. The surprising thing is that none of the TRIZ authors has taken that example and tried to develop it even slightly further using the very knowledge they are espousing. For instance, to apply the STC size operator and reduce the amount of reactant to the smallest feasible drop on the surface, where its surface tension would eliminate the need for making a container. Or to determine the nature of the reaction being studied and to achieve it through other active yet better controlled physical phenomena. Spectroscopic analysis in its many manifestations has been around for over a century. Mathematical models can accurately predict chemical reactivity and rates with ease. Most TRIZ experts are still trading with the old gems, however.
Many TRIZ specialists tend to avoid discussing details. If the intemperate audience insists, they mention issues with confidentiality clauses. Examples presented from real life are either trivial, or are often not developed to their expected fruition so as to avoid the need to discuss any additional thinking with the audience. They may instead choose to emphasize broad generalities, emerging mega-trends, etc., which are important, if somewhat ancillary issues.
In its present state of evolution, TRIZ can not be classified as a science, nor is it complete.
If TRIZ were a complete scientific system for innovation / technical invention, then it should perform well with inputs from the user side such as their domain knowledge, technical and engineering experience, etc. Thus for simple everyday items, where they were unfettered by issues of commercial confidentiality, TRIZ specialists would be able to routinely produce examples of useful inventions, and explain the process in detail in their articles to the TRIZ Journal, or to any other medium.
If, on the other hand, TRIZ is still an incomplete work in progress, then it is up to the experts to try to identify the gaps and then to develop the missing tools and techniques. This is an even more difficult task than coming up with a simple invention.
In its current state of evolution, TRIZ is mostly a set of heuristics and these tools collectively may not be enough to achieve the required critical mass to sustain chain reaction in any organization seeking innovative capability. The provided tools are well suited to the task of analysis of an invention, as can be seen in most TRIZ literature, but they are less well suited to the follow up task of synthesis of the inventive work.
There is the need to develop greater macro level planning and structuring tools in TRIZ to provide synthesis oriented functionality. Such tools would guide the application of the existing TRIZ tools and to address the issues of what needs to be done and in which order. Systems level considerations should be processed such as the direction in which the innovative effort needs to be steered for the greatest influence over the problem space. The assumption made by the user is often not directly reflected in TRIZ tools at present. One possibility, being worked on by the author, is to model multiple assumptions from the very outset, so as to enable processing of the problem space from different directions, and to reduce the chances of the overall innovative momentum being arrested by the failure of a single assumption.
Many new tools and methodologies are required to effectively bridge issues which may be intrinsic to TRIZ, or originate from user-side limitations. It would be reasonable to think that we are still evolving towards achieving critical mass in this essential field. However, the direction and pace of this evolutionary process is neither established, nor assured. Perspectives from renowned TRIZ specialists are needed at this time to help establish the overall direction. An international academic journal on TRIZ and Innovation Sciences is needed as well, which will serve to archive and disseminate essential contributions from specialists, practitioners, academics, and especially industrial users, and to help channelize these energies productively.
An expanded version of this article is to appear May 09 in the TRIZ Home Page in Japan http://www.osaka-gu.ac.jp/php/nakagawa/TRIZ/eTRIZ/