The Main Bottleneck of Innovation
(Which TRIZ Is Even Unaware Of)

Once I had an unusual interview at a high-tech company. It was not with the hiring manager, which I already passed, but with the HR recruiter. He asked me how I get information necessary for the work to be done. I inquired what did he mean ? He explained: "Suppose that in order for you to do the work you have to know something about a software system, etc. How would you learn it ?" "From documentation," - I replied naively, - "or by analyzing the source code, etc." "But what if there is no documentation and the source code does not answer all questions ?" - he told. "Then I would ask people around if somebody knows," - I replied.
- How would you ask them ?
- It depends on the circumstances but I would find a way to ask.
- But what if they do not want to answer you ? What if they say that they are busy and you disturb them ?
- I would find an approach to them, - I assured him, - I have always managed.

The HR recruiter paused for a moment in doubt and then announced that I would be contacted. I was hired next morning. It was only surprising that all these questions came from the HR recruiter rather than from the hiring manager. But there was no point to think about it anymore at that time.

Very early in my new job I discovered that a debugger worked intermittently. It seemed that somebody was playing with its hidden toggles. I asked the support group for the documentation on the debugger and was told that the debugger was bought many years ago and all the documentation was lost. "Software developers themselves know how to fix the debugger," - they told. "How do they know ?" - I inquired, - "Was it bought with the source code ?" "No, there is no source code, but they somehow know..."

Any software engineer can recall a lot of such situations. I suspect that other (not software) engineers face similar problems too. And such situations are really the main bottleneck of the corporate innovation nowadays. Not psychological inertia and not trials and errors approach to problem solving (as TRIZ teaches) but withholding, concealing and simply destroying information about tools, products, designs, etc. by company employees who want to be indispensable. On this backdrop TRIZ looks ridiculously past-oriented !

It is in the past when most inventions were made by the lone inventors the main obstacles were psychological inertia, etc. Nowadays when corporations are the source of the bulk of innovation the main obstacle is the impossibility to find the key pieces of the corporate information due to its concealing (or refusing to share) by the corporation's employees and inability of the managers to do something about it. Information is not only concealed but even its sources (such as documentation) are sometimes destroyed by people that want to secure their jobs, etc. When companies eventually terminate such people, it immediately turns out that they are no longer able to support some products and have to discontinue them.

During my career I witnessed how big projects failed because of concealing and not sharing information. For example, a large telecom company licensed from another one a product which it intended to integrate with its own ambitious system. However, due to the incomplete documentation it could not successfully modify the product and integrate it with its own. The employees of the second company neither ever put in writing all what they knew about the design of the product nor ever conveyed such information to the employees of the first company. Every time a piece of incomplete information was discovered, the business lawyers of the both companies got involved. There was no way for managers of the second company to force its designers to disclose information completely because the managers themselves could not verify the completeness of disclosure. Besides, some concealed information was lost forever because some employees were terminated. As integration progressed, the lawyers involvement grew as an exponent. Eventually it became too expensive and the project was canceled. Losses for the first company were in billions of $$.

The first priority of a R&D manager is to get new product released as soon as possible. The clear and complete design documentation which would allow the new employees that did not participate in the initial design to completely understand it and easily modify the system, is secondary. More specifically, it is even not secondary but something of a very low priority.

There are two reasons for it. Firstly, creating such a complete and clear documentation significantly delays release of new products. Secondly, most managers are unable to verify the clarity and completeness of documentation. That is why in all companies not the best designers survive but those who conceal most. They even sometimes set up tacit leagues of the like-minded within a company. And these informal leagues significantly affect the ability of companies to innovate.

Moreover, many products get discontinued long before they become obsolete or replaced by something better just because companies cannot support them any longer. This happens due to the loss of the information holders either because of their inadvertent termination or because of other reasons.

There are not many ways to affect the information holders and get the work done. Most managers just regularly hire new staff and simply throw them at the merci of these guys. If they manage to get along with them, they stay. Otherwise they get fired. Managers do not like those who start complaining at information withholding or concealing by those guys.

Some managers also resort to the following trick to persuade an information holder to relinquish the information. Through frequent hiring and firing they eventually find a new guy that gets along well with the information holder. As soon as this happens, he is promised a promotion to a higher position provided the new guy can manage without him. Thereby an incentive is created for him to disclose and transfer all information and gets promoted as soon as possible. After that it is up to the manager to keep his promise ...

I have not met a manager that would invent something cleverer than that. TRIZ is helpless here.

Moreover, TRIZ does not address this main bottleneck of innovation at all. That is why it is unable to enable companies to innovate better and faster.