Paradoxes of ideality (Part 2): the ideal product

Y. B. Karasik,
Thought Guiding Systems Corp.,
Ottawa, Canada.

A year ago I wrote about paradoxes of ideality on the example of the ideal management. This time I would like to focus on something closer to the scope of the classical TRIZ. Products seem to be good candidates for this.

On the one hand, they are technical systems and consequently fell directly into the scope of TRIZ. On the other hand, they are distinguished from other technical systems in that they can be sold. This dual role of products leads to two definitions of the ideal product.

On the one hand, the ideal product is a product, which does not exist but its function is performed. On the other hand, the ideal product is a product, which sells itself.

These two definitions stem from the fact that products have two different functions (or two different sets of functions): to perform some action(s) as a technical system, and to entice people to buy it.

The second definitions can be articulated (or deciphered) as follows: the ideal product is a product, which requires no effort to sell, which automatically wins market and finds customers, etc. The ideal product needs no advertising, pitching, etc.

This definition shifts emphasis from product itself to the supporting infrastructure. It has to be minimized in order for product to be called ideal. However, not only products have supporting infrastructures. Other technical systems have them too. For example, a tool may have a tool holder. The supporting infrastructure of a tool also includes motor and transmission that set the tool into action. In short,

the supporting infrastructure of a system = its supersystem - the system

The ideal (in the sense of classical TRIZ) system may have an anti-ideal supporting infrastructure. That is why sometimes it is more prudent to eliminate/minimize the infrastructure rather than system itself. But it is already another story deserving a separate article. So, let's go back to the ideal product.

Suppose that you need to come up with an idea of a new product. It is an inventive problem. And in solving inventive problems TRIZ recommends to aim at achieving the final ideal result, at creating an ideal system. In this case it means to aim at creating an ideal product. Would it be helpful ?

The more useful a product is, the easier it wins the market, the less effort is required to sell it. Thus, a useful product is more ideal in the above sense than a useless one. However, would it be always prudent to try and create useful products ? The answer depends on the situation.

If it is a product for an established market which has already other products, then the new one should, of course, at the very least do what customers expect it to do. Thus, it has to be useful. Otherwise, it would not stand the competition. But if it is a product for an as yet not existing market, a product which has to provoke and stimulate new customers' needs and thereby to form a new market, then answer is not so obvious.

For example, from the very beginning the effort to convert TRIZ into a computer program aimed at creating a useful TRIZ software. Useful meant to be more useful than the TRIZ books. It was a harsh requirement. In the 1970s and 1980s it was simpler to write down on the paper answers to the ARIZ questions rather than type them in on a computer. Some TRIZ steps even required answers in the form of drawings. The computer monitors of the day were completely unsuitable for this.

Moreover, even if such a program was created in the former USSR, why would one need it (unless to channel the state money into the private pockets, which was impossible until the late 1980s) ? There were free TRIZ schools in all industrial cities. Outside of these cities there were no computers. But in the cities they who wished, could easily get the free TRIZ education. One should have had a very pervasive mind to try to use the software first rather than to go and study TRIZ in a school or at least to read a book.

Surprisingly, the subsequent success of Invention Machine in the US was due to the inversion of the above conditions: no network of TRIZ schools (albeit not free), no TRIZ manuals or even clear books, etc. Instead, Invention Machine software as the sole source (until 1993) of information on the mysterious Russian technique called TRIZ. Plus change in the habits of people by 1990: they began to prefer to read from computer screens rather than from books. Plus tax incentive to spend money on risky investments into new technology. Etc.

Any TRIZ garbage could be sold under these circumstances. And it is used to be sold.

So, what is the morale of the story ? Do not try to create a useful product for an unclear new market right away, when customers' base, their needs and criteria are not defined yet. Aiming at creating the ideal product in these conditions will bring you no money. Create an anti-ideal product instead. It may have brisk sales. The time for ideal products will come later.