Some Doubts About The Law of Completeness

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

TRIZ-journal features Victor Fey's translation of Altshuller's Law of Completeness:

The translation is not quite accurate. Altshuller wrote that

Indeed, simple rocket consists of engine and body only. There is no control means, addition of which converts rocket into missile. There is also no transmission. But rocket is still a viable technical (or technological) system. Altshuller understood it but Fictor Fey does not.

He does not notice such examples. And even when Fey stumbles upon them, he tries to make up the missing parts. For example, in "Innovation on Demand" he writes:
"In a system 'photographic camera', an object to control is the light, a working means is a set of lenses, and a focus-adjusting mechanism is a transmission. In manual cameras, the user's hand serves as both the engine and control means. Automatic cameras use an electric motor and a microprocessor to adjust the focus."
But where are engine, transmission and control means in disposable focus-free cameras ? I would not recommend to anyone to study TRIZ with Victor Fey.

But let's go back to the law of completeness. We know now that Altshuller said that any viable system SHOULD include four principal parts. But does it HAVE TO include at least one of them ? The law is silent on this matter. Meanwhile there are systems which indeed include none of them. House is an example. It is a technical (or technological) system. But it has none of the afore-mentioned parts. Instead it has foundation, walls, floors, and roof.

The example clearly shows that the law lacks generality. But it is not the only problem with it. Another one is that even if a system has an engine, a transmission and a working means in their traditional sense, these parts may turn out to be neither engine, nor transmission, nor working means respectively from the standpoint of this law.

Consider, for example, a car. Its "engine" is engine both from the standpoint of TRIZ and the commonly accepted meaning of this word. But transmission and working means are not. Car's transmission, by definition, is that part which connects engine to the driving wheels. Hence, driving wheels are working means from the standpoint of car's transmission definition. But they are not from the standpoint of the above law. It calls working means that part of a technological system, which directly works on the product, which is the last element in the energy transmission circuit from engine to the product. Are driving wheels of a car such an element ? The product is passenger, who has to be moved. The last element in the power transmission circuit from engine to him or her that directly moves him or her is car's seat ! Hence, car's seat is working means from the standpoint of Altshuller law, not driving wheels !

There is nothing wrong with changing the meaning of traditional terminology, of course, but benefits should outweigh confusion it creates.


1 Altshuller used Russian word "должен" here, which can be translated into English as "must", "has to", or "should" depending on context. Examining the context of Altshuller's article reveals that it has to be translated as "should" in this case.