[This post is part of a series on creativity. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Here are some basics to TRIZ. After the basics, I’ll interpret them.
After examining all those patents, Altshuller and his team found that about 1,500 generalized solutions described all the specific solutions. Even simpler, they created 40 techniques, or “inventive principles,” that would lead to those solutions. Using these techniques would allow you to use an existing solution to your problem.
In your regular life you encounter specific problems, not general problems. Often the specifics of your problem are irrelevant to the solution and get in the way of seeing a solution. TRIZ teaches you to generalize your problem to find a general solution. It helps to know examples of the general solutions.
The heart of the technique seems to me four things:
- The principles from my post two days ago, that whatever your problem, someone has already solved another version of it and some existing solution will solve it. Better to copy and apply it than to try to come up with it from scratch.
- The mindset to seek existing solutions than to try to start from scratch. You can develop this mindset through experience.
- The practice of generalizing to access existing techniques, then applying them.
- The list of the the techniques and knowing what they all mean, which comes through experience.
I think Altshuller found people were ready to jump to the fourth point — the list — but that he felt the mindset was the most important part and therefore valued training and gaining experience over just telling people what the techniques were.
Here is a list of the 40 techniques, which I don’t claim is easy to make sense of the first time you read it. An example of a technique is Segmentation, which includes dividing your object into parts. An example of an application of segmentation is bendable buses that carry more people than non-bendable buses but can still turn corners. Taking a bus apart schematically, and putting it back together with hinges solves an apparent contradiction and allows bus companies to save money.
Jacob’s class, by the way, was based on Altshuller’s research and covered four techniques, which he called templates. One of his insights was to make them useful and teach them in business environments,. He also reviewed innovations in business environments, categorized them by if they could have been created through applying such techniques, had experts in the field evaluate them, and compared their effectiveness. He found that experts rated solutions that could have been reached through templates higher than others.
What does it mean?
A group of people most people would call innovative, creative, and successful (their teachings were influential across the Soviet Union for decades, probably still, and are making their way globally) contradict the genius myth. They suggest:
- The creative process is simple
- Anyone can implement it
- To copy existing solutions
- Not to solve problems from scratch
- People we call creative probably hit on a few techniques on their own (I don’t think anyone in TRIZ claims any of their solutions are unique or special, they just listed them together) and practice them
Needless to say, these results are the opposite of mysterious, romantic, or the foundations of how stories of Einstein or Mozart portray the creative genius. Yet it enables anyone to follow in their footsteps.
Tomorrow: links to more resources, in particular to applications so you can see how it works in practice.
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