All Altshuller's books begin with a critique of trials and errors approach to solving problems. They teach that more difficult problems require more trials to solve them. What trials ? - the reader may ask. Random trials ? Or trials in the numerical order ? Or in some other order ? Trials of relevant approaches only or trials of anything (say, of praying, relaxing, jumping over, or even kicking the source of the problem, etc.) ? It is in vain to search for answers to these questions in Altshuller's books.
Let us assume that he meant random trials of relevant approaches only. Then the concept that the number of such trials grows with the difficulty of a problem implies that the number of available approaches to solving problem also grows with its difficulty. However, it is very often not the case. Very often problem is difficult only because there is seemingly nothing to try in order to solve it. (I mean relevant trials, as we agreed upon. Not such trials as taking vacation, resorting to drugs, etc.) Here is an example of such a problem.
Suppose that you have two transparencies, each of which represents a black-and-white 2-dimensional image. (The two images are not identical.) If you superimpose these transparencies, you will obtain a new transparency (two times thicker, though, but it does not matter), which depicts the intersection of the two original images. This elementary fact is the basis for direct optical image manipulation, which found applications in various fields of technology. It is direct in a sense that one need not digitize images and use computers to manipulate them. You manipulate them optically directly which is natural for images. The number of applications would significantly increase if one could similarly manipulate 3-dimensional images. However, it is difficult to record 3-dimensional images in 3-dimensional medium (3-dimensional photographic films). Even if it was possible, superimposing of two 3-dimensional frames of the film would not given rise to a frame that depicts the intersection of the two original images. What is to be done ?
The reader has already imagined thousands possible approaches to the solution of the problem, I guess ? What, don't you see even one approach ? How come ? The problem remained unsolved for 30 years and this fact alone indicates that it is at least of level 4. According to Altshuller there have to be tens of thousands of approaches to be tried before a solution is found. And don't you see even one to try ?
Well, one you probably see. You know that 3-dimensional images can be recorded on 2-dimensional films as holograms. Let's try this approach. Let us superimpose two films each of which contains the recording of a hologram of a 3-dimensional object. (The objects are different for the two films.) Will we thereby obtain a film (albeit two times thicker) that contains the recording of a hologram of the intersection of the objects ? Not at all. This trial turns out to be an error.
What else to try ? I guess you do not see many other options. Do not be disappointed. You are not alone. Researchers throughout the world for 30 years did not know what to try either until the author of these lines accidently came across a solution in the beginning of 1990s. The solution was to represent 3-dimensional image on 2-dimensional film as a half-tone image.
Was it possible to arrive at the solution not by accident but by a systematic logical procedure such as TRIZ, for example ? Not at all. To employ logic, the situation has to be analyzable, there have to be approaches, which guarantee at least a partial solution. TRIZ builds upon such partial successes - partial failures as a starting ground. But if there is nothing then "nothing will come of nothing".
What did help me then ? The strong desire to solve the problem. Belief that it is solvable. The open mindness and persistent alertness to the signs or traces of a solution. In short, a very high state of the spirit.
How did I achieve this state of the spirit ? By recent successes in the field coupled by their surprising recognition by the scientific community. All this filled me with strength and excitement.
I suppose that the high state of the spirit was a decisive factor with many other people who broke a new ground. They achieved it in different ways ranging from religious devotion to revolutionary zeal.
So, what is the morale of the story ? A few fundamental TRIZ myths got refuted: