Geoff Ficke's Fallacies

Y. B. Karasik,
Thoughts Guiding Systems Corp.,
Ottawa, Canada.
e-mail:karasik@sympatico.ca

Geoff Ficke is a prolific author on innovation. His articles are intended to coach innovators. Each article presents a story purpoted to prove a point, which innovators should be aware of, take into account and/or employ. The points are pretty simple:

However, the ways these morales are taught manifest a broad spectrum of various undocumented fallacies and errors of thinking.

Error #1: Projecting the past into the present and/or the future

Firstly, Geoff Ficke systematically employs emotional proof rather than logical proof. Consider, for example, how the first morale is proved. Mr. Ficke tells the story of a Russian Jewish immigrant of the turn of XX century, Max Factor, who came penniless to America without knowledge of English but revolutionized the cosmetics industry. He concludes the story with the following emotional corollary:

"Max Factor always praised America and revered the freedom, opportunity and economic system that he discovered here. He came with no money, spoke no English and had no formal skill. During the course of his remarkable life he was instrumental in the maturation of two major industries: cosmetics and movies. This could never have happened had he stayed in Russia. The opportunity to fail, or succeed, is just as possible today. The opportunity to try is not available in much of the world. Men like Max Factor are inspirational. They confirm that our system, while not perfect, is better than anything else yet invented. When you hear a citizen of this country whine about, well, about everything people whine about today, remember that millions of immigrants want to still come here for a reason. There is no place on earth so open and offering so much possibility."

Logically, the piece proves nothing. Max Factor is a success story of the past. How can this prove that opportunity to succeed still exists in the present ? This is a typical error of thinking when the past is projected into the present and/or the future.

Error #2: Assuming that the same system is really the "same" all the time

The fact that Max Factor always praised economic system that he found in America also does not imply anything. Did he praise American economic system of the turn of XXI century or American economic system of the turn of XX century ? Is there really no difference between them ? As already ancient knew, one cannot enter twice into the same water. The same system can never be the same.

The fact that "immigrants want to still come here for a reason" also does not prove anything. Do they want to come for the same reason as Max Factor did ?

On the whole, Geoff Ficke presented an emotional argumentation based on unsubstantiated parallels which have no value. He could have saved space in the web-zine and our time by simply saying: stop whining, we are the best !

The same fallacies were used in proving that in order to succeed an inventor has to address a need of his own life experience. As an example Mr. Ficke chose ... Thomas Jefferson.

Error #3: Assuming that theory of doing X well can only be developed by those who do X well.

Geoff Ficke doubts TRIZ for two reasons. The first one is as old as TRIZ itself: TRIZ was developed in a country, which was not especcially innovative in XX century. Whether that true or false is beyond the scope of this article. But belief that a good theory of innovation could only be developed in countries that are the most innovative is rooted in the afore mentioned fallacy.

Error #4: Assuming another meaning of an ambiguous word than that which is supposed to be assumed.

The second reason why Geoff Ficke does not like TRIZ is that no innovation can be attained by an algorithm:

"I tried to keep an open mind. I want to believe that anyone can achieve success by following a structured how-to outline. But I know better. Entrepreneurs are not easy to come by. Most people are dreamers. Entrepreneurs are do-erís. Most people can not accept rejection. Entrepreneurs pay no attention to rejection and keep pursuing their goal. Inevitable problems become roadblocks to dreamers. Entrepreneurs adjust and overcome these roadblocks. Dreamers quit. Successful entrepreneurs never quit, they have a laser focus on their task. The pursuit of success is difficult for many reasons. It is like natural selection, survival of the fittest rules. TRIZ has a growing worldwide following. So did the Luddites and the Shakers in the 1850ís. I hope TRIZ avoids historyís dustbin unlike the Luddites and Shakers. I encourage my clients and students to study an array of philosophy in order to increase their scope and knowledge. TRIZ is interesting in theory but flawed in its promise. We can follow a process to assemble widgets but no one has yet figured out how to manufacture the entrepreneur that invents the widgets."

Geoff Ficke is right and wrong. Innovation is an ambiguous word. It means both the innovative idea of a new product, the new product itself, and its successful prolifiration. It is true that to be such an innovator as Edison or Ford which converted their innovative ideas into successful products TRIZ is not enough. Moreover, had they knew TRIZ, it would have played a marginal role in their success (if any at all). But for just generating an innovative idea TRIZ is enough. (Sometimes, of course.)

(To be continued)