Modeling Innovation with TRIZ

Genrich Altshuller, a Russian inventor, studied over 40,000 patents for the key principles involved in innovation. In his original book, And Suddenly an Inventor Appeared, Altshuller identified 27 principles and named them TRIZ--the Theory for Inventive Problem Solving. Later analysis expanded the 27 principles to 40.

From an NLP standpoint, this is a masterful job of modeling: figuring out how people do things well. Most people think of innovation as inventing something new. Notice, however, that Altshuller calls it "Inventive Problem Solving." The meta-process is solving problems. How they are solved is in an inventive way.

Word Traps

Altshuller says: Psychological inertia can be carried by words, especially by technical terms. These terms exist in order to reflect very precisely what is known already. But the Inventor has to get out of the known limits and break away from the existing images created by those terms. Therefore, every problem should be restated by using 'simple words'.

Altshuller likes to quote Sherlock Holmes, a master problem solver: "a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now, the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of those he has a large assortment and all in the most perfect order.

Altshuller found that people find it difficult to innovate because they get stuck in "word traps"; their mental model of the problem prohibits them from seeing alternatives. As we often say in NLP: Don't think of a purple elephant." Once you have the words "purple elephant" in your mind, it's difficult to not think of a purple elephant. This is true of problem solving; your mental concept of the problem limits your thinking.

One of Altshuller's methods is to replace all special terms with simple words (Method #7). Removing the jargon will often clarify a situation.

The Evolution of Technical Systems

Altshuller says that technical systems evolve in a predictable pattern:

  1. The selection of parts for the system (What's an airplane consist of?).
  2. Improvement of the parts (wing shape, materials, engines, etc.).
  3. Movement of the parts (flaps, retractable landing gear).
  4. Self-development (the system learns and adapts on its own).

One of the initial steps in innovation is to figure out what phase of development your system is in. This gives insight into what to do next.

Begin with the Ideal Final Result in Mind

Stephen Covey says: "Begin with the End in Mind." Altshuller calls this the Ideal Final Result (IFR). Regardless, one of the first steps to innovation is to fully imagine the end result. In NLP we call this a well-formed outcome.

If you want to create a new Google, airplane, job, relationship or whatever, the first step is to determine the (IFR). The IFR, if it's different enough, will raise some conflicts that need to be resolved.

Innovation is Resolving Conflicts

The gap between the current situation and the IFR causes the mind to start searching for ways to resolve the conflict. It doesn't matter if it's Boeing trying to design a bigger, more efficient airplane or a smoker that decides to stop smoking, there's always a conflict to resolve.

Boeing did it by switching from aluminum and titanium to composite materials that are lighter and stronger. A smoker might decide on many paths: patches, gums, weaning, cold turkey or, more simply, hypnosis. Hypnosis and NLP are innovations in how to resolve conflicts in mental systems.

Innovation Meta Principles

Opposites Reveal Innovations: One overall principle of innovation is to ask yourself: "What is the opposite?" If something is straight, could it be curved? Hard, could it be soft? Rigid, could it be flexible. If we use sound to measure something, could we use light or magnetism or some other "field"?

When I grew up, most cars had rear-wheel drive. Now most have front-wheel drive. The switch from "push" to "pull" happened gradually and required many innovations, but the principle at work was an opposite.

What is the opposite of smoking? Not smoking. What if a person could just "forget" that they smoked? That's the innovative power of hypnosis. What if a person could just resolve a childhood trauma so that it never bothered them again? That's the innovative power of NLP.

Time Reveals Innovations: Could we do it earlier? Later? Faster? Slower? Not at all?

Size Reveals Innovations: Could we make it bigger? Smaller? Instead of one big machine, could we use several smaller ones?

Cost Reveals Innovations: What if we could do it so inexpensively that it displaces the earlier version? When I was a kid, my doctor sterilized syringes and needles between uses. Now they are disposable.

Copies and Models Reveal Innovations: Software development shifted from "big" to "agile" methods that produce usable code every couple of weeks. This mode of development makes it easy to create and test various alternatives. Google and Amazon are masters of this kind of innovation, constantly trying various alternatives and measuring the result.

Here's My Point

People like to think that innovation occurs in some magical "aha" moment, but as TRIZ suggests, innovation has specific mental strategies that can simplify, streamline and accelerate innovation. While Altshuller's books are more focused on manufacturing than the mind, his books helped me discover several new ways to evaluate problems and their solutions.

Haven't you waited long enough to learn better ways to innovate?

And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared
, Genrich Altshuller, Technical Innovation Center, Worchester, MA, 1996.

40 Principles, Genrich Altshuller, Technical Innovation Center, Worchester, MA, 2005.

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