Do systems have to exhaust their potential to be replaced by more advanced systems?

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

Altshuller formulated the law [1]:

The author of this article once noticed that systems do not have to exhaust their potential to be incorporated into a supersystem [2]. Moreover, incorporation is not the only option. A system can just be replaced by a more advanced system.

Still, it might appear that the latter may only happen when a system exhausts its potential, i.e. when improvement of its main characteristics stagnates (or does not keep pace with demand). Indeed the following examples seem to support this idea:

However, a closer examination of these examples reveals that jet and turboprop engines were conceived long before WWII. Reaching the vicinity of the maximum possible speed for propeller driven aircrafts just gave an impetus to allocating more money and resources to research and development of jet engines. It also gave an impetus to allocating more money and resources to developing turboprop and turbofan engines although they have the same theoretical speed limit because in practice turboprops/turbofans can approach the limit closer than aircrafts with piston engines.

Gasoline engines appeared long before improving the main characteristics of steam engines stagnated. The reason for their appearance was that steam engines were too big and heavy to be installed on airplanes, cars, and small boats, in short on all small and light enough means of transportation. The need for a light and small but a sufficiently powerful engine existed since the time when the first steam engines appeared. But technology did not allow to create them. When the necessary technologies matured in the second half of XIX century, such light, small, and powerful enough engines appeared in the form of gasoline engines. All this had nothing to do with exhausting the potential of steam engines. They never had a potential to meet the needs of samll means of transportation.

Initially gasoline engines occupied just the new niches where steam engines were unsuitable. But then they started encroaching on niches where steam engines were used. This encroachment had limited success until another type of the internal combustion engines was invented. It was diesel. Diesels succeeded in displacing steam engines in their traditional areas of application. All this happened well in the accord with the law of survival of the fittest and also had nothing to do with exhaustion of some potentials.

Thus, new systems that replace the old ones appear regardless of the exhaustion of their potential of improvement. There is no correlation between "exhaustion of the potential" and system's disappearance. Exhaustion may just stimulate the search for alternatives if they are still unknown, or stimulate research and development of the known promising alternatives. But in many cases new technologies appear and displace old technologies long before they are close to exhaustion of their potential. The whole TRIZ concept of exhaustion is just an exhaustive misconception.