TRIZ is trending well in India. However, somehow it is getting marginalised to the technical sector – manufacturing, R&D, pharma etc. It is not heard of enough in the non-tech sectors e.g. the ad world, retail, fashion, banking etc. That’s a real shame.
TRIZ did start from the tech sector and did evolve in that sector alone for several decades. Its most potent tool, Contradiction Matrix (CM), was indeed created by collating and documenting how inventors solved wicked problems in the technical world.
But, do remember that the essence of TRIZ is not the Contradiction Matrix (CM). That tool is just what it is – a tool. It operationalises the TRIZ philosophy very well but still, is not the philosophy itself. So, why not move a notch higher and tap into the core philosophy itself and find more applications of it?
Moving a notch higher, we get to what exactly a CM is and what is the big help it provides. Well, a contradiction matrix is a spread-sheet type of document that will help anyone to find out how someone in the past solved a problem like your present problem. Once you know the solution, you can copy it, or at least, its essence. Now, Altshuller, father of TRIZ, created his matrix using the solutions of the tech world and that is how TRIZ got stuck with the techies.
Let us move a notch yet higher.
What were the type of problems for which you need help of Altshuller’s CM even today? For most needs, you have domain technical experts and, further, you have experts in efficiency systems like Six Sigma and Lean. So, why do you need to try mysterious and indirect ways like the CM?
That’s the real magic of TRIZ and CM. It helps you solve those problems that are beyond domain and efficiency experts. These are known as ‘wicked problems’. In the language of CM, these have inherent ‘contradictions’ i.e. I need it and simultaneously, I don’t need it. A good example is the roof under which I am sitting, writing this blog. I need the roof because it protects me from the rain. However, I ‘don’t need it’ too, because it is unnecessarily blocking my sunlight. Similarly, the motor of the fan I’m sitting under is useful because it causes the blades to move. But equally it is ‘not useful’ because it creates unnecessary sound. Most things we deal with have has plusses and minuses bundled together. You have no option but to take the bundle it or leave it. The second option is to use it only up to the point when you get the most possible benefits, while the bundled disadvantages are still only to an acceptable degree. That’s called optimization or trade-off.
TRIZ offers you a way out of optimization. It says, ‘You can have your cake and eat it too’. If you know how to unbundle the plusses and minuses, you can pick all the plusses, rather than just what was available in the ‘optimization’ model.
A CM shows you how others have unbundled a package and separated the plusses and minuses.
If the CM system works well for technical problems, why shouldn’t it also for non-technical ones? That is because the original one by Altshuller was made after his study of million of patents (he was a patent- reviewer in the Russian navy, wasn’t he?) and the patents were all from the technical field.
So, what if someone studies millions of ways people in the non-technical world solve the ‘I need it and I don’t need it, both at the same time’ contradictions and place the breakthrough strategies in a matrix similar to that of Altshuller? Well, that has been done and that is what makes the science of TRIZ now available outside the technical fields.
An organization called the ‘Systematic Innovation research team’ started research in the late 90s. First, they studied million of new patents in the technical field that came in after Altshuller stopped studying them. That updated the original CM of Altshuller. Then it struck them to explore how this this system would work in not tech world, that of entrepreneurs and business managers. Studying millions of breakthrough solution these entrepreneurs and managers had created, the team realized that the strategies they had been using were quite different from those used by the tech inventors. It made sense because in the business world, the basic block was a human being, whereas that in the tech field was a life-less, unintelligent machine. And it needs no emphasis that a human being and a machine work under different pressures.
The Systematic Innovation people ( http://www.systematic-innovation.com/) are headed by Darrell Mann, from whom I learnt my TRIZ in 2002 at the IITB. They work like Altshuller did i.e. study how entrepreneurs and other businessmen have created breakthrough solution and then drill down to what exact problem they solved and what strategies did they use to solve them. The difference between the Altshuller tean and the SI team is that the latter is working about about 70 years after Altshuller and hence have access to a much wider and deeper knowledgebase of how to search and document cases and draw the right come to the right conclusions.
The result? Business Matrix 3.0.
Know it that there exist knowledge and techniques, based on the TRIZ system but evolved from millions of real cases of the non-tech world, that can help you too to solve the contradictions in your business world. That is where no domain expert of efficiency/optimization expert can help you.
Innovation starts where optimization ends.