If somebody thought that innovating was a piece of cake he was wrong. A lot of discussion has been focused on advice for organizations gearing up for change. An overwhelming number of discussions and newspaper articles force us to think how much time, effort and energy is being put into the issue of Innovation. A number of theories have been developed to explain the process and perspectives of Innovation. People with diametrically opposite perspectives advocate and explain applications of innovation in different industries. Most interestingly each manager, blogger, author, academician, professional writer or businessman has a different take on Innovation. In this context, it is important to learn about the pioneers of TRIZ and understand what their stand was on problem solving.
Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, known as TRIZ, was the brainchild of a Russian researcher, Generich Altshuller. Some of the interpretations of TRIZ, as explained by Altshuller and numerous researchers after him is surmised in the following discussion. Firstly, during extensive research, Altshuller learnt that it was easy to utilize the knowledge gained with respect to other problems to solve new and related problems. In other words, he realized that valuing prior research and looking at alternate applications of that research was beneficial for problem solving. Secondly, he advocated that the key to innovation lies in ‘thinking out of the box’. Scientists, researchers, engineers and project specialists become so involved with the problem of ‘reference’ on which they are working that they sometimes overlook evidence of similar research in parallel fields. In a way, they develop a ‘tunneled vision’ and ignore the patterns of similar research across different fields, technologies and interests. It is not only important to identify the problem in a broader perspective, but also to develop problem-solving skills by studying parallel innovative practices, not directly related to the field in question. Thirdly, his theory was based on the belief that innovation need not be random and always a ‘NEW’ idea! He proposed that the modern era researchers need not always come up with bright, unusual ideas as solutions. In a way, he supported systematic approach to problem solving and innovation rather than spontaneous, sporadic and random innovation. Fourthly, with specific reference to science and technology, Altshuller proposed that the evolution of technological breakthroughs and new product designs is governed by the laws of repetition; it can reduce the uncertainty of trial and error and have a more structured approach to problem solving.
The dynamics of industry demands new innovations every day to solve consumer needs. Think about any company: Dell, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Cisco, Starbucks, OSH Home & Garden or Mc Donalds and there is one common observable string: how to deliver the best value to the consumer and how to innovate to keep ahead of competitors? How to keep the costs low and still be able to implement the best product designing techniques? How to reduce product design life cycles and change the business practice from ‘business-as-usual’ to ‘business-by-innovation’? The answer is that the conventional method of innovating (trial and error) has to evolve into systematic problem solving and innovation. In this context, TRIZ helps by concentrating on identifying repeatable patterns in technical designs, so that solutions to a problem can be reached by learning from unrelated/parallel streams of knowledge, without going into the trouble to start from scratch. And definitely, technology can help in this endeavor by managing knowledge and making vast databases easily accessible to one and all. Such efforts will help managers, engineers, product designers to innovate economically and realistically!