Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

“Aiding but not replacing brain”: TRIZ methods in business

Invention is a task that can’t be solved using known means that lie on the surface, hence the need to invent something new. Inventive problem solving is a classical method for developing technical creativity. In the majority of cases, this method is based on trying multiple options, which essentially makes it the trial and error method we all know. As a disadvantage, finding a solution depends on numerous accidental factors while prior experience remains unused. Consequently, effectiveness is low and time may be wasted.

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The history of engineering shows that inventions prove to be effective if they change the original system in ways already predicted by the objective laws of technical evolution. Another approach different from the traditional trial and error method is TRIZ, a theory of inventive problem solving, that helps discover patterns in technical evolution and solve tasks by exposing and eliminating technical inconsistencies. TRIZ provides opportunities to narrow down the search, increase the effectiveness and speed of solving inventive problems.

The theory was first developed by Soviet engineer and inventor Genrich Altshuller in 1946. In his first publication, he described over 40,000 patents in search of a pattern in solving engineering tasks and discovering new ideas. Altshuller essentially created methods and approaches to inventive problems.

TRIZ for business

TRIZ methods have been used for over 20 years all over the world to deal with a variety of business tasks, including technical, organizational, managerial, social, and in various industries such as IT, automotive industry, telecommunications, retail, insurance, food industry and others. TRIZ methods allow for dealing with such business tasks as increasing the efficiency of sales, resolving conflicts in logistics chains and improving the efficiency of educational process. TRIZ helps open new service markets and create a variety of new products and services.

TRIZ is currently used by such industrial giants as Xerox, Boeing, Ford and Toyota. They use the TRIZ education system and separate instruments and methods when dealing with inventive tasks, for instance, when creating innovative products.

Depending on the business task, TRIZ tools of various levels are used. For instance, if you need to promptly find the main contradictions that require urgent resolution, you can try the tools of the first level to deal with particular problems. These include such methods as the search for and elimination of contradictions, search for an ideal result, assessment of received ideas, multicriterial matrix of solutions, identifying the main problem and creating a portfolio of ideas to solve it.

If you need to find factors that are overall hindering the development of your company, second-level tools are used. They help, in particular, to find innovations in the process systems and lower the cost of the product. These methods include, for instance, the function-ideal modeling, object-oriented modeling, and function-oriented search.

If you need to deal with more complex objectives, for instance, to hold an in-depth analysis of the system of forecast its growth, as well as the growth of investment development of the business idea, you can use third-level instruments, such as the multi-screen analysis, the Value-Conflict analysis, laws of the development of business systems in general and templates for the development of business systems. These tools allow for diversifying business models, finding new markets and outlining a roadmap of future innovations at your company.

Business case examples

Companies use TRIZ methods when creating household and everyday objects. Here are the three most interesting examples.

When launching a new line of LCD screens, Samsung used TRIZ to solve the problem of the contradicting requirements for distance between electrodes that generate light in an LCD screen. On the one hand, the gap must be wide to improve the efficiency of lighting and brightness of the image. On the other hand, it should also be small to decrease voltage and improve energy efficiency of the item. The solution was found in the construction of a car plug. Samsung team used the TRIZ method that is called dividing conflicting requirements in time and space. They made both wide and narrow gaps between electrodes, which did not work simultaneously. Some igniter electrodes were placed closer to each other than those that generate light. As a result, the luminous efficacy increased by 40% with the same ignition voltage. This line of LCD screens became quite popular among users and brought the company good profits.

Another example of using TRIZ methods when dealing with business tasks was the development of a French door refrigerator by LG, a Korean home appliance giant. The problem was that when designing a new fridge, it was necessary to, on the one hand, increase energy efficiency (to which end it was necessary to ensure the best possible seal of the door), and on the other hand, the magnet in the seal must be weak enough for the door to open easily. The solution was found using Breaking Symmetry tool: the magnet was attached to a small part of the gasket surface instead of its entire length, and the force required to open the door was substantially reduced.

Another interesting example of the use of TRIZ was an Intel case named “champagne and microchips.” The company specialists encountered a problem: silicon microchip wafers had to be coated with a layer of liquid protective compound before etching; however, air bubbles that formed in the protective layer produced irreparable defects, and a reliable way had to be found to remove them. By using TRIZ methods, Intel specialists replicated the wine rotation technology used by champagne producers, which makes air bubbles accumulate in the middle so that they could be removed. The use of this technology allowed the company to save tens of millions of dollars a year.

TRIZ can be efficiently utilized in business – yet, it is not a universal method to replace other technologies. For instance, if your company is involved in mass production and you experience minor problems, the introduction and application of TRIZ will turn out unreasonably expensive; you may find the lean manufacturing method more appropriate.

TRIZ strength lies in its tools to identify a wide scope of issues and tasks; its problem solving patterns and methods allow for better ways to generate ideas. If your company is involved in launching an innovative product while looking for new markets or seeking to reduce the costs, you could certainly benefit from implementing TRIZ, which will eventually bring profit.

And I should note once again that TRIZ can be integrated with other methods such as QFD (Quality Function Deployment), FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis), or design thinking. As Genrich Altshuller said, TRIZ is an approach for aiding the brain, not for replacing it.

Issues of TRIZ implementation in business

TRIZ takes a while to be learnt: mastering all three levels of its scope of tools may take a year or two, or even more. This requires training with a coach who has knowledge of the methodology and can check whether it is properly absorbed. Regrettably, there are very few of those in this field. Also, large enterprises’ compelling cases that could be used for training are often protected by trade secrets, with very little made public.

Another problem is that introduction of TRIZ is often met with resistance within companies. On the one hand, business leaders say they should strive for innovation; on the other hand, they are confused by the associated risks, which are quite substantial. TRIZ could become a common language of communication for setting innovative objectives – yet this is not always supported by top or mid-tier executives.

Also, many HR staff members at Russian companies are simply unaware of TRIZ and thus fail to purposefully seek employees proficient in this methodology. Meanwhile, large international companies consider the knowledge of TRIZ as an advantage for recruitment.

Learning more about TRIZ

You can find numerous books on the theory of inventive problem solving. Books by Genrich Altshuller are a good starting point as well as TRIZ Basics by Vladimir Petrov or a study guide for TRIZ essentials by Alexei Khlynovsky. To gain more knowledge on the practical approach, I would recommend works by the team of authors led by Nikolai Shpakovsky.

There are also quite a large number of TRIZ schools and academies, such as the Modern TRIZ Academy International, European TRIZ Association, TRIZ Association of Asia, and Altshuller Institute. They organize annual conferences, normally in the fall, to share experience and the best practices. These schools and academies provide training for those interested in mastering TRIZ methods.

By Andrei Slavyansky, Adviser to Deputy General Director for Space and Aircraft Systems at Berg Central Research Radio Engineering Institute; Visiting Lecturer at Synergy University’s Faculty of Technology Entrepreneurship

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