TRIZ - Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
The TRIZ method (TRIZ is the Russian abbreviation for "Theory of Inventive Problem Solving") was developed in the late 1940s by Soviet engineers Genrich Altschuller and Rafael Shapiro. The basic idea is that inventions, innovations and problem solving can be systematised so that they become learnable and applicable to everyone. Creativity techniques such as brainstorming, method 635 or the morphological box are about finding many alternatives in order to select the best possible solution. This is not the case with the TRIZ method, which is based on a very precise description of the problem and therefore on concrete specifications for the best possible solution.
How does TRIZ work and what is it used for?
The two founders of TRIZ were of the opinion that you can learn to invent just as you can learn to speak a language or play a musical instrument, which means that everyone can learn to be creative. They found that innovation can be traced back to a relatively small number of principles. These principles can be systematically applied using the TRIZ method.
Step 1: Describe the problem
The specific problem to be solved or for which a suitable idea is to be developed is defined as precisely as possible and described in colloquial terms. This is the preparation for translating the problem into 39 technical parameters (see the matrix of contradictions, later in the text).
Step 2: Abstract the problem
Altschuller and Shapiro recognized that even a seemingly unsolvable problem actually contains many small questions that can be answered. Accordingly, the problem must be generalised and reduced to the individual aspects it contains. The problem is formulated in the form of a matrix of contradictions.
Step 3: Search for solutions
Using TRIZ tools - or other creativity techniques - a solution to an abstract problem is sought and possible solutions are taken from the matrix of contradictions.
Step 4: Adapt problem solutions
In the final step, the solutions found are adapted to the specific situation, made more concrete and the contradiction is resolved.
The matrix of contradictions
The desired result or goal, in the sense of an ideal image for the new product or system, plays an important role in the TRIZ method. Therefore, the problem solver must first define the goal and name the ideal. Then the matrix of contradictions comes into play as a central element of the TRIZ method. With its help, technical contradictions and conflicting goals can be resolved, for example, because it shows where the improvement of one parameter leads to the deterioration of another.
In abstract terms, 39 technical parameters are listed in the rows as "parameters to be improved" and in the columns as "deteriorating parameters". The intersecting cells between the 'improving' and 'worsening' parameters refer to 40 innovative principles for resolving the conflicts between the parameters.
We encounter contradictions at every turn, e.g. we want quick access to distant holiday destinations, but we don't want an airport on our doorstep; we want farm animals to be well treated, but we don't want to give up cheap meat.
An example from the world of technology
When designing a component for a car, you want to increase the strength but not the weight of the component, so strength and mass are in conflict. The solution that the matrix of contradictions could provide would be a thermoset foam or hybrid structure that contains a thin layer of aluminium, while glass fibre reinforced plastic provides the required mechanical properties.
This gives the problem solver the opportunity to think in the right direction and look for solutions in a targeted way.
Over the past few decades, breakthrough innovations have transformed our lives. We love progress, we are constantly generating new knowledge and we want to use this knowledge to find sustainable solutions to our challenges. Although the way to a solution with the TRIZ method is already very efficient, in the end it is the quality of the solution that is decisive, and this is also very high with the TRIZ method, because it fits perfectly. The TRIZ method can help us to tap into existing knowledge and make it usable.
Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Keywords: Project management, problem solving