Response to Comments by Pentti Söderlin on "Four Critical Issues in TRIZ"

S. Saleem Arshad,
Applied Innovations, Sydney, Australia

I thank Pentti Söderlin for his comments on my article "Four Critical Issues in TRIZ". A fuller version of this article was posted on the TRIZ Home Page in Japan.

Rather than proceed through each paragraph of the comments, I have categorized my replies to the key points raised therein.

A. The basic questions regarding TRIZ:

My original article was written to answer the following three questions:

  1. Q1. Under present requirements, is TRIZ performing well?
  2. Q2. What could be any critical underlying issues?
  3. Q3. What steps can be taken to help improve the situation?

I believe the answer to Q1 cannot be a resounding yes; therefore Q2 was answered by the four critical issues mentioned in the above article. A partial answer to Q3 was provided by the eleven aspects suggested in the fuller version of the article.

To criticize is to cause unease and invite counter-criticism. Introspection, however, is a necessary part of the learning process.

The far more important, and also more difficult part is to come up with ideas and solutions for improvement. I would therefore request Pentti to apply his thinking to this question Q3, and to elaborate some further items of guidance for the benefit of the interested community.

This request on Q3 is also specially made to the many renowned TRIZ authors and experts of international standing, who have contributed a large number of articles to the TRIZ Journal.

B. Why talk of TRIZ being “scientific”:

TRIZ, or any other innovation method, can never be purely scientific because it can never meet the “independent and consistent reproducibility of results” test of the scientific method.

With this being the case, why should we assume TRIZ principles to be absolute and perfect. In fact, Pentti also agrees with the need for replacement of outdated principles with new updated ones, and with developing their versions in other disciplines. My original point is directed towards those who mindlessly suggest the application of the contradiction matrix as a solution to every problem, and insist that classical TRIZ is the only way to go.

C. More fundamental issues with TRIZ being “scientific”:

A fundamental issue concerns the basis on which these original TRIZ principles, such as for the contradiction matrix, were compiled. G. S. Altshuller was able to claim 40,000 patents as a base for his research because he had access to the USSR state patent office monthly bulletins which systematically analysed and provided concise abstracts in different technical sections (ref: "The Algorithm of Inventing";, my thanks to Yevgeny Karasik for clarifying this point out to me. My earlier response contained an error).

But some TRIZ proponents also claim ongoing TRIZ research being based on a continuing process of further analysing hundred of thousands or millions of patents.

Other than the practical difficulties of analysing modern patents that are more complexly designed, would this not change the principles somewhat, especially considering the phenomenal changes in technology which are now taking place?

The basic fact therefore is that most of the technology principles contained in TRIZ existed long before, and they would still be here with us regardless. Most innovative persons use them intuitively, without realizing any link to TRIZ. The primary contribution of G. S. Altshuller is to study and compilation of these principles into easy to access formats and methodology, the use of which can be taught and learnt.

D. TRIZ vs. Innovation Science:

Since any changes to TRIZ will change its original essence, which needs to be preserved as a legacy, one possibility may be to contain these alongside TRIZ in a larger body of knowledge which I call Innovation Science. This has no relevance to pure science as has been explained above, nor is it “lip-service” as commented by Pentti.

The closest analogy can be Management Science, which is an established and well-regarded discipline. Although, it started out as being based on applications of mathematical programming or operations research, it now encompasses a much wider array of disciplines, both quantitative and also qualitative.

People use methods of management science as per their training, preference and the requirements of the task, and the same should be the case for innovation science.

E. Generalities vs. details:

We learn best when something is explained in a context that we can understand, and preferably when that context is maintained throughout the presentation or case study.

I do not refer to advanced scientific or technical details which are of little use to the audience. I feel that the presenter or case-study should focus on providing necessary details which fill in the gaps between the specific applications of different TRIZ tools within the context of one single continuing problem. The aim should be to select any common everyday problem or issue and develop it into a longer case study.

Such longer case studies would better illustrate the versatility of TRIZ tools and could also be adapted by educational institutions for developing their own coursework.

F. Academic style journal for TRIZ:

This is again not “lip-service” as Pentti comments but an important need. This could be a quarterly journal to present and archive articles which represent important contributions to various aspects of TRIZ. It needs to have specific criteria for selection, and a specified list of topics in which articles will be accepted. This way the contribution can be directed towards building priority areas in this field.

G. “To use some method is the means of a desperate man.”

I do not know if it is originally in Finnish, but the saying appears profound in a way.

Methods are examples of applied thinking which mankind is constantly developing, evolving and using.

Desperation, in the context of innovation, is actually a much desired input. I have experienced the best insights and innovative ideas under stress when the situation appeared desperate. Many researchers have reported upon this phenomenon.

Therefore, the above saying needs rephrasing.