Reader Feedback on TRIZ

November 13, 2007

17 Min Read
Reader Feedback on TRIZ

There’s as many opinions about applying strict methodologies to R&D as there are researchers and engineers. Few do not have at least a fairly strong opinion about the subject. Read these reader responses to DN Editor-in-Chief John Dodge's column on TRIZ (pronounced treez), and then make some of your own.

Reader Responses on TRIZ:
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Good Evening John,

It is interesting that you bring this topic up.  I am in the process of developing a paper on the cost of unsolved problems and would also appreciate you thoughts on this topic.  On to you question however, TRIZ or structured innovation as methodology has become frozen in time.. The TRIZ purist have done little to advance the methodology since the death of Altschuller..  However the concept of ideality should drive any team to a more robust innovation/design.  In addition TRIZ provides a method for resolving secondary problems that often arise in traditional brainstorming ideas. DFSS is a poor third in this comparison because it often results in data paralysis. Six Sigma in general is more often about problem definition than resolution.  As a proponent of both the Value Engineering Methodology and Structured Innovation, I have found that I achieve good results with traditional brainstorming but breakthroughs with Structured Innovation (TRIZ). Please note however that I am looking to combine know technologies to achieve breakthroughs that involve products that can be brought quickly to market.

Warm Regards
Paul  Nobels Jr

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Hi John,

The best approach is a group of experienced individuals from different disciplines tackling a general solution to a class of problems.  I my experience, the broader the work experience of the group involved, the more likely that a solution will be discovered.  You have to keep the number of people in the group down to less than a half a dozen.  And one of the group has to be a marketing dweeb.  You need the marketing guy to argue with management for the money to try the solution the group comes up with.  And the best person to beg for the money is the ex-sales /  current marketing guy.  Engineers don't usually make the best people to fight for money.  It's beneath us.  That's why you need the marketing guy to pull on the heart strings (read market share) of the budget people get the funding.

Thank you,
Dennis R. Boulais
Consulting Senior Design Engineer
Foster-Miller Inc.

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Hello Mr. Dodge:

Regarding the question you pose in your recent article, the answer lies in the realization that this is not the right question to be asking.  Structured innovation methods, of which TRIZ is an example, and Quality Management disciplines, such as DFSS, are as comparable as apples and oranges.  Yes, they are both disciplines to assist in the product delivery process, but they address very different aspects of the process.  These should not be viewed as competing methodologies; rather, they are complimentary.  A company wishing to be a market leader must have both predictable quality delivery AND repeatable innovation practice in their set of core competencies.

As to those people who claim that structure kills innovation, there are far too many proof points in the form of leading global companies that derive great success and value from the tandem deployment of quality and innovation disciplines to reach any conclusion other than that the naysayers are simply ill informed.  Companies such as Samsung, Intel, Delphi, Johnson & Johnson, and too many more to mention have proven that innovation is a discipline that can be formalized, measured, and deployed to huge benefit.

I hope you find these remarks useful.  You might also enjoy these articles:
http://www.innovatingtowin.com/innovating_to_win/2007/06/3ms_innovation_.html
http://www.innovatingtowin.com/innovating_to_win/2007/06/six_sigma_and_i.html

Best regards,
Jim Todhunter
Chief Technology Officer
Invention Machine Corporation

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Hello John,  
First I must say thank you for your insight and wisdom expressed in Design News!
Your most recent writing concerning TRIZ really touched home, and I would like to share a related concern.
I work as an engineer in the R&D department of a  medical device company in Irvine, CA. Let's call the Company "Company I" (or to be modern, we would say "iCompany"). Well, Company I developed a top notch product about 10 years ago, and is constantly making it better (as in more reliable and faster)... hence the R&D department...  
Now, Company I has been bought by Company A (if you can't beat them, buy them) and some of these wonderful engineers and scientists that are the brains of this company are leaving. Of course. They want to work on concepts. They want to test and try out new ideas. But... Company A is big. Corporate. They don't want concepts. They want profit. Quick profit. (let's sell candy bars, not medical devices. guaranteed satisfaction and instant profit).
I make the not so funny acronym CFP, concept for production (in light of DFM, design for manufacturing).
See, we have this handful of guys that have always worked in the lab, working on new ideas. Always new, always different. NOW, they are pulled into those things we call "m.e.e.t.i.n.g.s." and they are told "ok, you have 3 weeks to complete Concept A. Then we want a complete report and it will be time to start Concept B, and at that point we want Concept A to be in Production...."
So in response to your TRIZ writing, I am afraid to say: If we don't want to "think" anymore in America, then someone will "think" in another country and we will lose our brains. This is a bad thing.

Be Well and keep up the great work,
-Kevin

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Dear John Dodge, Editor-in-Chief, Design News,

Regarding your Dodge Report in Design News 10-22-07: I agree with the workability of organized forms of problem-solving and inventing, including TRIZ and many other systems, although I have never seen such systems used in practice (only at promotional meetings, conferences, and inventor’s clubs). Perhaps they are used in larger companies than the ones for which I’ve worked, but anything that helps the thought-process is good. In my opinion, most inventions come along as improvements to the project one is doing, but the greatest inventions of mankind arise from the inspiration and doggedness of lone inventors and theorists who see something more far-reaching. These bright sparks always challenge conventional practice and wisdom and tend to disrupt the otherwise smoother progress of science and technology. Tesla’s AC generators, motors, and power lines; Einstein’s Theories of Relativity; and Ford’s automobile models with interchangeable parts, come readily to mind.

In this age, software is much a part of engineering; if not in the product, then as a tool for its creation. Which engineer would not strive to better that sorry discipline, with its ongoing 50% production-efficiency rating? There have been many products and systems aimed toward improving source code creation and management. These items fattened and complicated the field without producing any marked improvement. After 60 years of experience, what software is guaranteed to be without potential for catastrophic failure? Perhaps neither TRIZ, nor will any other system for invention or development solve the problems of software.

What is needed is not better software or a much better way of software production, but the answers to the questions: Is there a better means of system control and automation than software? (Yes.) Is there anything else besides the Turing machine cum von Neumann architecture (the combination that initially forced and then continued the emergence of software)? (Yes.) Is software really necessary? (No!)

Turing’s and von Neumann’s ideas were appropriate (and still are) for tackling tedious static transformation and translation problems like calculation, code-breaking, evaluating fixed logic, finding primes, or extending the decimal fractions of Pi. The continuation of that paradigm to dynamic control, to those problems with changing parameters, turned out to be less than adequate. The same old horse that is great for static problems can’t be beaten into doing the dynamic jobs properly, hence the notorious failures of the software industry.

Rather than merely making improvements atop the existing sparse logic foundation, I have revised that foundation, extended it, and thereby invented a means of replacing and/or doing away with most software. My view, after decades on this vein, is control software, for the most part, is unnecessary. This message flies in the face of the systems and controls industry (via microprocessor hardware and software) that is seen as a successful and sustained trillion-dollar per year endeavor.

I am a semi-retired senior engineer who has fulfilled the functions of an electronic engineer, a mechanical engineer, and an electromechanical systems engineer. I enjoyed a credible career, worked on some truly interesting projects, contributed to a number of papers, and accumulated 10 patents and a 1995 R&D 100 Award. I have been interested in process control and automation for most of my 45 years of electromechanical experience, and still greatly enjoy my avocation, inventing and working with the new logic system.

It is time find a home for, and assemble a team behind, this logical wave of the future.

Do you have any interest?
Best regards,

Charles R. Moeller, Senior Engineer (semi-retired)

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I am familiar with and have used TRIZ and DFSS and, yes, I do have an MBA. My experience is that these are useful problem solving tools that can quickly attack a problem, but they have their limits. Sometimes they yield good results in that they solve or mostly solve a problem, but some problems simply don't yield well enough to satisfy the requirements. That's when brainstorming comes into play. Some of the resulting ideas may be out there, but check with the research department first before you throw them away. Someone may have been working on something, even as a sideline from their principal assignment, that may be the very thing that enables the technology for a wacky idea.
Along that train of thought, I see companies force focusing their research along traditional business lines. That's great when you're trying to solve a particular problem, but stifles the creativity that brings breakthroughs and new product lines. Something that seems totally divergent from the current technological direction may be the next big technological leap that puts that company light years ahead of the competition. I'll be very interested in your article on 3M Corp. as they seem to make their research work for both evolution and revolution.

Harry Burch, Engineering Specialist 
Media Handling Competency Center
Xerox Corporation

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John:
You did yourself and the former Bell Laboratories a disservice by writing about the Holmdel Labs as if it were THE Bell Labs. In fact, it was a component in an extensive organization of laboratories that extended across the country at one time. Murray Hill, Whippany, Crawford Hill, Allentown and Reading PA, Indianapolis, Denver to name several of the others. I was fortunate enough to spend 43 years of my career with Bell Labs, primarily in Murray Hill and Whippany during what I considered to be the "Golden Age" of Bell Labs from 1950  through 1976. While my career extended to 1996 when Bell Labs became a component of "Lucent", the end was quite dissimilar from the beginning. During this employment, I was fortunate enough to devise numerous patents and  consequently became a student of the innovative process. I was exposed to "brainstorming"  and various other attempts at accelerated ingenuity and came away from these exercises with the conclusion that what worked best, at least for me, was having a broad technical background in several disciplines. This background, coupled with good understanding of the problem often led to applicable novel solutions. I was able to apply this approach to mechanics, magnetics, fiber optics, electrical circuits and device packaging. Later in my career, I became a  Bell Labs Technical Manager and assembled an organization of talented multi-disciplined members to tackle problems in underwater listening devices and equipment silencing for the US Navy. During this period, we solved many  problems with innovations that derived from these technical disciplines. After retiring, I attended a course called "Invention Machine" which was a systematic way of applying innovation to perceived problems. This process was an offshoot of the Russian methodology and was being promulgated by the Invention Machine Corporation. My take on the innovative process after all these years is that the most important component is the people; the process can be formalized, scatterbrained or what you choose. These people should have backgrounds in multiple disciplines and the ability to think "outside the box". I met and interviewed many highly intelligent, very well educated people who, while good at problem solving, were not capable of being innovative. In my opinion, innovative capability can only be nurtured; seldom, if ever, created.  

Sincerely,
Paul Michaelis, Engineering Physicist, Technical Manager
AT&T Bell Laboratories, retired

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John,
Until the last 10 years or so, I've always been interested in the "hard" side of technology (i.e. how things work, new theories, training, technical papers, world class technologies, etc...).  Since then, I've been swayed more to the soft side (creating a culture of innovation, enhancing innovation in the workplace, developing and expanding teams, education vice training, etc...).  I'm especially interested in creating a culture of innovation.  Can you help me in this endeavor?  What can be done to make a culture more innovative?  I greatly appreciate any comments or suggestions you might have.  Thanks a million for your help.
John Buettner
Donaldson Company Inc.
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John, in regards to the TRIZ article I have to things to comment:

1) I disagree in your term "close cousin to DFSS"
2) Real TRIZ approach on design effort.

First of all let me introduce my self, my name is Mario Marin and I am in charge of the design of process applications for the manufacturing of audio systems at Delphi. My group has the goal to communize manufacturing tools and machines to specific manufacturing applications for audio systems that consist in screw driving applications, sheet metal assemblies, cables assemblies, etc. The challenge is to keep common the application across the manufacturing sites and across the different programs.

Trying to find the common application with the tools provided by de company (Six Sigma Methodologies & Lean tools) we figure out the ideas were exhausted already, and in order to get to a next level of "innovation" we found TRIZ...

1. "Close cousin to DFSS"

Now referencing Douglas Montgomery (My Six Sigma teacher), Six Sigma tools like DMAIC is used to reduce variation at specific mean location and DFSS is used to move the location of the mean of the process to desire location, making the process robust, but probably expensive. 

TRIZ according to Gerrich Altzhuller is the generic rules he found based in Human Inventive Creativity that no necessary is used to create robust designs but generate common or known solutions based in "The inventive Principles". That is why I am kind of disagree in the relationship between TRIZ and DFSS since I am agree they look for answers for engineering challenges but no necessarily to the same kind .... TRIZ approach is wide general to the entire innovation phenomenon. DFSS is apply when the variation reduction is not longer effective to produce robust applications, then mean target most move using the same Six Sigma methodology providing the robust solution, at some point TRIZ may be used when ideas are not longer producing results, then "Inventive Principles" or ARIZ may be applicable but never will substitute the tool.

2. Real TRIZ approach on design effort.

At the end Six Sigma, Lean tools and Kaizen are the pillar of enterprise continuous improvement and innovation, but we forget one thing... where is the innovation tool? The answer is: totally missing.... Because the tools described before has limited innovation fuel, general boundaries is the sensei creativity. Here is when TRIZ become important as an Innovative or Inventive tool, as well as lateral thinking (Edward De Bono) as start point... And why not brainstorming... All this tools as the first attempt to initiate an innovative path, that can be learn for those whom did not get Edison genes.

3. Final thoughts

John when you take TRIZ classes you will figure out all the guys in the class are looking for the same thing... Innovative ideas, Innovative tools to start a new loop in the design process...

Finally I just wonder what tool Deam Kamen is using to come up with his inventions... I asked him about TRIZ ...but he has not answered yet... I will keep trying... He is a busy men.

Best Regards.

Mario Marin
Process EGM
E&C Business Unit
Delphi E&S

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Like so many new approaches, TRIZ is misapplied and has expectations that are too high.
As Wikipedia notes, TRIZ is a methodology for problem solving.  I claims to have encapsulated creativity and offers a direct jump to THE SOLUTION.
Ridiculous.
The idea of encapsulating creativity is an oxymoron.
Anyone who promises a method that can go directly to a near optimal solution without trials and failures is selling snake oil.
Fact, no formal method is able to “think out of the box”.  This is in fact a corollary of the definition of “Formal Method”.
TRIZ may, in fact, be a very good problem solving method, but there has to be an element of unconstrained thought to be able to get a radical new idea.
Perhaps you don’t need that radical new idea, but the point is that you can’t get it without unconstrained thought.
Brainstorming, by definition, is a session in which a group of intelligent people get together and think in an unconstrained way in hopes that the ideas will feed off of each other.
This is the only method that I have ever heard of that uses unconstrained thinking.  Every other case of unconstrained thinking has been individuals just doing it.
Nobody has successfully used the results of brainstorming, that I know of, WITHOUT FILTERING THE RESULTS BEFORE PROCEEDING.
Because of this Filtering stage, any method that uses group unconstrained thinking could be considered a brainstorming method.
The difference would be the filter used, not the brainstorming.

Bruce Koerner
Controls Engineer/Regulatory Compliance
Automated Equipment LLC

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Hi John,

I happened to see an article written by you in Design News. Thanks for creating that eagerness to write to you with my views on this.

I have been part of the industry for last 10 years, in the IT side. I have got opportunities to be part of innovation in several areas, have seen several brainstorming or idea generation process. I got to know TRIZ about 4 years back, and that was it. I have seen the power of TRIZ personally and now in a full time job in this area.

I believe TRIZ is not a methodology replacing any conventional way of ideation. Altshuller, the inventor of TRIZ always mentioned as “creative thinking technique”. The one analogy I like to tell others explaining the difference b/w TRIZ and other techniques, is about the stair and an escalator. If you happened to go around in a big shopping mall, there are two ways you prefer to go to different floors, using stairs, and an escalator. Using stairs, you put some effort in concentrating each steps you are taking, of course will get some muscles working. Every time you look yours and other foot step, you miss the view outside. If you take an escalator, you just need some concentration while getting on and getting out. Rest, the elevator will take you, probably faster compared to stairs. If you put little effort while on escalator (Climbing up), you get there even faster. By standing there, you can look around and see a “big picture” of the shopping mall.

Here TRIZ  is the escalator and stairs as other normal brainstorming process. I consider TRIZ is like a tool box. There are several tools and techniques inside the TRIZ methodology. Many for proper problem definition and many for solution generation. It is all about systematic innovation according to me.

You can visit my blog to see my personal views on this. http://trizit.blogspot.com

Please feel free to contact me with your views, or any question. I would be happy to be in touch with you.

Thanks

Prakash
Sr. Manager - KM,Systematic Innovation Facilitator
MindTree Consulting Ltd.

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