Getting TRIZ accepted in a very busy world

Jack Hipple
Senior Consultant


TRIZ and its many embodiments in various consulting and software programs is a powerful addition to problem solving tools available to engineers, human resources managers, organizational development personnel, and strategic planners. However, as many suppliers of software, training, and consulting services have found, it is not necessarily easy to gain acceptance of a new tool no matter how good we in the TRIZ community think it is. This presentation will review the barriers to acceptance and ways to overcome them.


As everyone who uses the TRIZ methodology, its software embodiments, and its various enhancements such as Ideation TRIZ knows, it is a powerful tool for problem analysis and solution. All of us have seen TRIZ techniques solve problems unsolvable by other methods and by teams of people working for many months and sometimes years. If this is all true, why has TRIZ not taken off in the same way as other widely accepted industrial problem solving processes and tools? Are we simply impatient and its adoption is on its normal course?

I believe the experiences in the market place would suggest that a combination of these two issues is at work, and that if we do not take the time to understand and analyze them, we will continue to be frustrated in our attempts to commercialize a problem solving process which we collectively know is an extremely valuable tool. Though my comments are generic in nature and I believe apply to any form of the TRIZ methodology, my experiences have come primarily from running 3-day problem solving sessions with Ideation TRIZ and the use of the Innovation Workbench™ software.

These are the factors that must be considered in the process of getting TRIZ accepted by its potential customers:

1. TRIZ must be considered as a new technology. In the sense that any new technology presents a new way of solving problems, it is no less difficult to get people to accept TRIZ than it was the copier machine, desktop computers, cell phones, or other problem solving techniques such as QFD, Taguchi methods, Six Hats™ and Lateral Thinking™, or Creative Problem Solving. If we assume that there is something magical or different about TRIZ that makes it easier to accept and adopt, we are fooling ourselves.

2. Any new technology has competition. To assume that any competition is going to instantly get out of the way and disappear is naive. In the case of new thinking and problem solving methodologies, the resistance is not in the normal form of price cutting, hiring away key people, or the numerous other activities that are sometimes seen in product competition. However, the investment already made by organizations in other tools can be a significant barrier.

3. Everyone's plate is very full and nearly everyone is over committed in time and resources. Learning anything new, whether it is TRIZ or any other new tool, takes time. To ignore this simple fact and not have the patience to deal with it will lead to frustration and commercial failure.

4. New technology adoption varies with organizations and within organizations. There have always been early adopters and late adopters in any industry and in any technology area. It is important to figure out who these people are and work with them to accelerate the adoption process. The factors mentioned above are still issues, but potentially less so. Technology adoption within organizations also varies greatly. Much less frequently than 20 years ago, a senior leader in an organization has a clear vision and decrees that a certain process and tool will be used. This doesn't guarantee ultimate success, but it does get things started. A far more likely scenario that is encountered is the general interest from a senior leader and then the search to find a volunteer who will try the new process and tool. Then the experience is shared and slowly pollenates within the organization.

5. Learning and problem solving processes vary a great deal by individuals and by organizations. It is important to know these different styles and how they can affect the style in which TRIZ training and problem solving should be done.

Let's take each of these issues and barriers one at a time and discuss them.

TRIZ as a New Technology

People have been solving problems for thousands of years with many different kinds of tools, processes, and techniques. It is hard for many of us to believe that problems were solved without computers, but they were as little as 40 years ago. All of you have heard the story of the first market projections for computer printers by HP as being no more than 500 per year and carbon paper would live forever (has anyone even seen a sample of carbon paper lately?). However, these transitions did not occur instantaneously and without pain, despite the fact that in hindsight they were tremendous inventions that we now find indispensable.

In this particular case, what is it about TRIZ that is different? That might make it difficult to accept? Let's look at the fundamentals of the methodology. First there is the concept of Ideality or Idea Final Result. Only children can think this way easily. By the time engineers have graduated and faced many jaw boning contradictions that they could not resolve, the concept that there is value in dreaming and imagining a contradiction free situation is very difficult, and to many, impractical and useless. The use of compromise as a design philosophy is very strong! What can help here is examples and illustration of where compromise has been overcome with TRIZ. Many corporate clients obviously require confidentiality and these examples are hard to come by, but not impossible. One role for the Altshuller Institute might be as a "storagehouse" for examples which clients have allowed to be shared. Most design engineers are, by nature and by training, analogous thinkers, and anything that provides examples helps tremendously. Case studies are keys to education and understanding, especially case studies from the real world in which our customers live.

The second step in this process of acceptance is to get people to understand that the need for compromise is driven by the existence of contradictions. Most western engineers have lived with contradictions for years and IT IS THEIR JOB SECURITY! The fact that resolving a contradiction might eliminate a complicated design in which an engineer has invested hundreds of hours of efforts can actually seem to be job threatening rather than being a productivity enhancement. How would you feel, as an individual, if a TRIZ problem solving session generated a breakthrough solution to a problem for which you had generated a less than satisfactory solution and spent thousands of dollars and months of time? All of you have seen TRIZ professionals salivate and run toward contradictions because they know that's where the opportunity is. We must recognize that most of our customers, when they see a contradiction see bottles of extra strength pain relief. An effective technique here is to borrow from other creative process techniques and get people to close their eyes and IMAGINE the ideal world without compromise. This kind of group thinking process is used regularly in other creative techniques such as brainstorming. After this exercise, get the engineers to IMAGINE what their life would be like without unresolved contradictions and design conflicts. Getting people to DRAW pictures of ideality is also an effective technique because it can start the journey. Another incentive is to get the engineers to think about what they could be doing instead of what they are doing. Would you rather be working on the next generation of a product or system or fixing all the problems in the current design? Would you rather be scaling up a new product or process or be called out on the midnight shift to fix something that never quite works right? Incentives work far better than fear in motivating people to try new things whether it is TRIZ or anything else.

Consider the Competition

We have all seen many pictures of "S" curves as representations of systems' evolution, growth, and eventual decline. Any mature industry or technology that is not actively trying to reinvent itself fights back with a vengeance. In the case of problem solving techniques, the resistance doesn't always come in the form of outright negativity, but from the simple fact that thousands of dollars may have been spent training and institutionalizing a process. And it helps to remember that these processes HAVE solved problems and have a positive reputation. These existing problem-solving processes have, in large corporations, utilized sometimes tens or hundreds of trainers and thousands of dollars in training materials. Personal credibilities are frequently on the line as well, especially when a senior executive has committed to a program.

In the case of few or no existing problem solving tools (a rare case), the challenge is far easier, but the demonstration of the uniqueness of the tool is still required. The amount of inertia to overcome is also directly proportional to the amount of money the client is expected to invest to try the new tool.

One of the fatal mistakes that can be made is to attack these existing tools as inferior or useless. It is far better to take the time to understand how the existing tool is being used and then figure out how to complement and improve it. Offering to run an inexpensive experiment for a client can also help to overcome resistance. Collaboration rather than confrontation should be the rule. Can everyone here clearly state how TRIZ could improve and complement QFD, creative problem solving, Six Hats™, Lateral Thinking™, Taguchi methods, Six Sigma, and others. There is no organization that is not using some or all of these tools. They will not adopt TRIZ or any of its software embodiments without understanding how it will complement or cost effectively replace them.

The Plate is Full

Many times someone telling us that their commitments are overwhelming and that they have no time to evaluate TRIZ turns us off. Sometimes we hear about the new product launches that are underway. And other times we hear about the massive investment being made in another problem solving tool (Six Sigma is the latest), which brings up the competitive issue discussed previously.

In this case, we have two approaches. We can put clients in the tickler file and follow up when appropriate and this is frequently the right approach, depending upon the situation. The second is to try to figure out how TRIZ can help make the plate less full. This requires more patience than most of us normally have. This requires spending enough time with the customer to understand what is overwhelming them and how you can help them. Frequently, getting the potential TRIZ user to express their frustration in terms of contradictions is a good place to start. Then the basic concept of TRIZ problem solving can be brought up for discussion.

One of the other commentaries that is heard is that "we don't need any more ideas, we need to implement the ones we have". TRIZ practitioners know that the basic problem solving principles we use can be used in either situation, but we too often narrow the application of the principles. One of the most gratifying things that I have seen in the past couple of years is the application of the TRIZ principles to organizational and management issues. The use of the Ideation TRIZ Problem Formulator™ has been especially useful in this regard.

All of you who have run problem-solving sessions know that the discipline that we use in TRIZ to properly define the problem is the most useful part of our technology. We constantly see eyes spring wide open after the right kinds of problem definition questions have been asked. The truly cost-impacting aspect of TRIZ can be in this phase. The amount of time and money that organizations spend on solving the wrong or poorly defined problem is incredible. This is the aspect of TRIZ that is most saleable to groups with full plates, because every poorly defined problem is chewing up valuable resources that can be better used elsewhere.

Technology Adoption

An organization adopting TRIZ is no different than an organization adopting bar coding or laser video inspection. It is something different that changes the status quo. There are entire companies and organizations that thrive on being the first to adopt new technologies and leading their peers. Others prefer to see others take the risk and invest later. They are taking the chance that the expensive learning is more of a risk than waiting. We must recognize that the use of TRIZ is a paradigm shift in how problems are both analyzed and solved and that everyone is not prepared to be a paradigm shifter.

It is usually easy to tell the difference in conversations with representatives of organizations, or by reading the literature, patent filings, talking to other consultants, etc. Pairing up with rapid technology adopters is highly preferred.

If one looks at the adoption of certain types of quality and manufacturing processes, we see that the top of the food chain drives them. If you are a supplier to the Ford Motor Co. and you do not choose to follow their supplier requirements, you will not be their supplier for long. Using TRIZ in joint problem solving and product design sessions with supplier and customers in the room together could be very powerful. This obviously requires a co-operative, trusting relationship between the parties. The joint use of TRIZ could greatly accelerate the adoption of TRIZ in a particular industry, especially if the results were published.

Recognition of Different Learning Styles

In addition to differences in organizational adoption, there are distinct differences in how individuals learn new things. We have begun to use Michael Kirton's KAI® assessment tool as part of some of our Ideation TRIZ sessions. This is the most globally validated psychological assessment tool and measures the style in which people solve problems. Note that we are talking about HOW people solve problems, not WHETHER they can solve problems. We have found that this provides a framework for discussing the analogic thinking process which is such an integral part of TRIZ, as well as providing a framework for group discussions about different ways of thinking about problems.

It has been very interesting to see the differences in Innovation Workbench™ Problem Formulator™ diagrams done by Adaptors vs. Innovators in Kirton's approach. Adapters align the boxes in perfect 90 degree alignment while innovators have lines and boxes all over the place and don't seem to mind the apparent disorganization of the diagram.

In post consulting assessments, feedback from groups is not uniform about the best learning approach. Some groups want the methodology explained to understand the fundamentals. Others want to play with the software and explore, and then have someone explain what they were doing. This latter approach would be terribly frustrating to most professional trainers, and would have to be done carefully.

The important point here is to recognize that people learn differently and ignoring this important fact can make training and adoption of a new tool like TRIZ a less than efficient process.

In summary, we must consider a large number of external factors and issues when deciding how to approach different kinds of customers with out TRIZ tools. Tailoring our approach and how we use our various tools can be the key to successful implementation of TRIZ software and consulting.