Tip #789: Follow TRIZ to Innovation

“It’s about creating a process that systematically understands the current situation- the constraints (time, money, capabilities, and capacity) and attributes that already exist today- and applies that knowledge in new ways to create new solutions.”  Brian S. Lassiter

In his article “Thinking Outside the Box: How Organizational Innovation Really Works,”  Brian S. Lassiter writes that brainstorming has been an ineffective method for companies to achieve real innovation. He cites Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg (in an article for the Wall Street Journal), who say that the problem is that the traditional view of innovation- of having an unstructured approach to brainstorming solutions to various problems- does little to actually find relevant solutions for products and services. They feel that “thinking outside the box” wastes time and resources to come up with ideas that often are not applicable to the problem you’re trying to solve.

Boyd and Goldenberg suggest that a more effective way to innovate is to think “inside the box.” “By defining and then closing the boundaries of a particular creative challenge, most of us can be more consistently creative.”

They introduce TRIZ as a way for companies to innovate inside of the box.

According to Mindtools.com, TRIZ is the Russian acronym for the “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,” an international system of creativity developed in the U.S.S.R. between 1946 and 1985, by engineer and scientist Genrich S. Altshuller and his colleagues.

There are five TRIZ methods.

Method 1: Subtraction involves removing seemingly essential elements to simplify them. For example, subtract an eyeglass frame and you have the contact lens. Subtract water from hot chocolate and you have powdered hot chocolate.

Method 2: Task Unification involves bringing together unrelated tasks or functions. Bring together a pull cart and a suitcase and you have the roller bag. Bring together a cellphone, iPod, and camera and you have the iPhone.

Method 3: Multiplication involves copying a component and then altering it. The razor had one blade for hundreds of years, then Gillette introduced a two-blade shaving system. Other examples include bifocal glasses and double-sided tape.

Method 4: Division involves sub-dividing a produce, service or process into its various parts so that when they are reconfigured, they add new value. Fast food drive thru windows now separate payment from food collection to make service faster. Airline check-in at home or on a mobile device enables a traveler to check-in, pay for baggage and print your boarding pass.

Method 5: Attribute Dependency involves making the features of a product change in response to changes in another feature or in the surrounding environment. Examples include transition lenses that change from light to dark depending on the amount of sunlight, baby diapers that change color when they are wet, or iced coffee to encourage coffee consumption in hot summer months when hot coffee consumption usually goes down.

Boyd and Goldenberg claim that “the key to being consistently innovative is to create a new form for something familiar and then to find a function it can perform.”  Which is why, they contend, that most new product ideas are met with a response like “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?”

I love the different TRIZ methods. Boyd and Goldenberg’s examples really help to make the methods tangible.

Do you use these methods in your organization?

May your learning be sweet.


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