Some of you may well know what this headline means. Translated from Russian, it's the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving or TRIZ for short. TRIZ provides a methodology for innovating and is a close cousin to Design for Six Sigma. Wikipedia says TRIZ is an alternative to random idea generation or brainstorming.
TRIZ and DFSS are controversial. Strict methodologies do little more than stifle innovation, says the brainstormers. Random idea generation is undisciplined, often unproductive and a big money pit, counter the backers of TRIZ, who are often MBA and accounting types. I want to know what you think so please drop me an e-mail.
Fifteen years ago, I visited AT&T Bell Labs. in Holmdel, N.J., a temple of basic research. Two of us — then editors at IT newsweekly PC Week — got in the R&D frame of mind by interviewing Nobel laureate Arno Penzias over breakfast for his co-discovery of cosmic radiation.
Then, we interviewed seven or eight researchers working on computer technologies. One studied computer input devices like computer mice so I asked him what he thought of the IBM Trackpoint, then the de facto standard for pointing mechanisms in notebook computers. HE HAD NEVER HEARD OF IT! Talk about an ivory tower divorced from the marketplace!!
The researchers I spoke with were pretty much allowed to do what they wanted with little structure or pressure to come up with commercial products. Some were professors at nearby universities and often they were the best and brightest in their respective fields. At its peak, 6,000 toiled away at the 2-million sq ft facility in Holmdel, N.J., which today is owned by a developer who considered razing the property last year. Preservationists are still trying to save it.
For nearly a half century, Bell Labs. was run by the phone company, a monopoly which could afford basic research. Consider what came out of Holmdel: the laser, Unix, fiber optics, satellite communications, cell phones, LSI circuits, wireless LANs, modems, electron lithography and microwaves. Bell Labs. like the Bell System is gone, but companies like Microsoft and other new companies have stepped in somewhat to fill the basic research void.
Back to TRIZ. As engineers and designers, do you believe in structure, brainstorming or a combination of the two? Obviously, both have merit, but what is the best way to consistently come up with innovation that matters technologically and commercially? Do you brainstorm or create strict rules for inventing? One company we will focus on in future issues is 3M Corp., which has a great track record of bringing myriad products to market through both structured research and lots of brainstorming. Check out its Seven Pillars of Innovation.
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