On inter- and intra-niches struggle between technical systems in the course of their evolution

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

One of the weak points of TRIZ is that it does not take into account that any technical system has various niches of application. Consider, for example, how this weakness manifests itself in TRIZ theory of S-curve. This theory says that when improvement of the main characteristics of a system stagnates it gets replaced by a new system. But it is reasonable to ask in what niche of application improvement of the main characteristics stagnates? It may happen that improvement stagnates in one niche but does not stagnate in others.

Generally, TRIZ knows just one scenario of how an old system gives way to a new one. It is when its improvement stagnates. But in the reality another scenario is far more frequent:

  1. A new system appears in a niche where the old system does not exist. (For example, internal combustion engines appeared in a niche where steam engines could not be applied. This were carts as steam engines were too big to fit them.)
  2. The new and old system evolve in parallel in their respective niches until one acquires the ability to start encroaching on the niche of the other.
  3. As soon as the later happens the encroaching of one on the niche of the other begins. It is not necessarily that improvements to the new system enables it to start encroaching on the niche of the old one. It could be the other way around. So, it is not always that the new system is a killer of the old one. Sometimes it is vice versa. Moreover, sometimes the fact that a new system starts encroaching on the niche of the old one stimulates its improvement so that it also starts encroaching on the niche of the new one. For example, when improvements to the TV cable technology allowed it to start encroaching on telephone networks by providing phone service over coaxial cable, the phone network started getting improved in the direction of being able to provide TV over it. Telephone copper lines were replaced by fibers and fibe TV took off.

It could happen that a new system emerges in the same niche as the old system. This leads to dividing the niche in two, the one where the old system continues to reside, and the one where the new system managed to gain a foothold. As technology progresses, either niche can either shrink or expand.

It could happen that a technical system loses all its commercial niches and dies out commercially. But no technical system dies out in the niche of the research. This is the only niche where they do not struggle but co-exist. Eventually, a system that died out commercially could get improved in the niche of the research and spread to a commercial niche again.

Generally, technical systems evolution is more about their intra- and inter-niche struggle and advancement that about anything else. But this type of evolution is completely missed in TRIZ.