The Psychology of Quality and More
TRIZ Part 1
In 1946, a Russian Naval Patent officer, Genrich Altshuller, noticed similarities in invented solutions from different fields. He had the temerity to suggest to Stalin that he could improve inventing and was sent to a Siberian Gulag for thinking too much. After Stalin’s death and his subsequent release, he continued his research with the collaboration of others, in which 1500 person-years of work, including analysis of over 200,000 patents, led to the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, the Russian acronym for which is TRIZ (pronounced ‘trees’). What Altshuller discovered is that most patented ideas use a relatively small number of objective principles and are based on a finite number of physical, chemical and geometric effects. TRIZ is the condensation of this knowledge.
All parts of a device perform functions. Whenever something happens, a function has been performed. There are primary functions, which perform the main desired effects, and secondary functions, which support the primary functions. In TRIZ, functions are identified early on as they are the primary focus for invention and improvement.
Harm and trimming
Functions are either useful and hence desirable, or they are ‘harmful’, meaning that net value is adversely affected and that the harm should be eliminated as far as is possible. All financial costs are considered as harmful, as are things which cost in different ways, such as taking up time or causing people anxiety of any form.
‘Trimming’ is a principle of removing things that are harmful, including those that provide no useful function. It is surprising what can be trimmed from machines and inventions without affecting performance.
A basic principle in TRIZ is to consider the perfect solution, even if it is impossible. The ideal solution does zero harm and provides maximum desirable functionality. It is more effective to work back from an ideal solution than forward from the current problematic situation, which binds you to the present.
A critical effect of considering an ideal is that it focuses thinking on functions, both useful and harmful, and how these might be enhanced or eliminated.
The heart of invention with TRIZ is the identification and resolution of contradictions. Indeed, Altshuller said that all inventive problems contain at least one contradiction. In fact the creating of useful functions often also results in harm being created as a by-product, for example a bigger engine makes a car go faster, but it also makes it heavier, adversely affecting performance.
Much of inventing now becomes finding and resolving contradictions, which is a far more structured approach than the random ‘dreaming up of ideas.’
Another form of contradiction occur where the two opposing states are required, for example where a blacksmith wants the horseshoe to be hot enough so the metal is workable, but he would also like it to be cool enough to hold (the ‘harmful’ solution is to use tongs, which are not as easy to use as fingers).
To address a contradiction, we can change the functions that cause harm or we can add functions that prevent or reduce the harm. Questions to resolve contradictions take the form of ‘How else can I…?’ or ‘How can I reduce or eliminate…?’
Altschuller found that many contradictions are between the 39 factors in the following table:
Contradictions can be resolved with a set of 40 principles, one or more of which Altschuller found to be used in the majority of the patents he studied. These will be given over the next three articles.
Next time: TRIZ Part 2
This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance
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