Y. B. Karasik

Thought Guiding Systems Inc.
Ottawa, Canada

Larry Ball's "Magnum Opus" on breakthrough thinking [1] is too big to complete its critique on a short notice in this issue of our journal. That is why I intend to do it piece by piece, as time permits. Right now, I would like to focus on the following excerpt from the article:

"The action or change which the tool performs on the product will be referred to as the Modification. In some texts, this is referred to as the action. It is usually a verb. The use of the term “Modification” will be new to many readers, however it is used to stress the requirement that the action verb must describe a change or maintenance. This is sometimes difficult for new students to grasp. Students of the author are encouraged, in the beginning, to use a longhand form of the modification. The longhand form begins with “Change” or “Maintain”. For example, we can describe the action that occurs between a tool “liquid” and a product “thermometer” which is immersed in the liquid. The short form of the modification is “ heats” or “cools.” The longhand form of the modification would be “Changes the temperature.”

The use of the term “modification” helps the student to understand that the tool and product must be physical elements. It also helps the student to correctly describe “confusing functions,” such as how paint protects wood. New students often say “ Paint-protects-wood”. While the word “Protects” is a verb, it is not a modification as it does not describe a change to the wood. Insistence on using the word “Protects” will hamper the problem solver in later steps. The longhand form immediately encourages the student to correctly write “Paint-maintains the location of ---moisture” and “wood-maintains the position of ---paint.” The short version now becomes “ paint -- stops-- moisture” and “wood-holds-paint”. Once the long-hand form is firmly entrenched, the student can usually revert back to the short form of the modification for brevity."

In this regard, I would like to notice the following. Larry Ball is right that the longhand version of a modification is better than the shorthand one. But primarily not for the reason that he thinks. It is primarily better because more precisely describes the essence of a modification (action) and not because "helps the student to correctly describe “confusing functions,” such as how paint protects wood". The more precise the physical description of a modification, the higher prospective from which one is looking for the approaches to the solution of a problem. And the higher prospective, the better approaches can be seen, which otherwise would be hidden from the problem solver.

Unfortunately, there is no limit to the precision of a physical description of a modification. That is why, there are many longhand versions for any shorthand one. For example, "changes the temperature" is not the only longhand version for "heats". Another longhand version could be "changes the average speed of the molecules of the substance", or "changes the average distance the molecules travel without interaction", etc. The deeper one goes into the physical essense of a modification, the higher probability he will end up with a strong invention, with a real breakthrough solution. But because there is no limit to the depth of physical description of any modification, it appears, therefore, that the number of the longhand modifications can be indefinite. And to pick up a proper one is no less difficult than to solve the problem itself.

R E F E R E N C E:

1. Larry Ball, "Users Manual for Breakthrough Thinking", March 2002 issue of the TRIZ-journal.