What is TRIZ?

Somewhere along the line I heard the word TRIZ. Always interested in new words I looked it up i.e. Googled it. (I don't think TRIZ appears in my print copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, but I'll check next time I'm near to it. To explain – my print copy of the OED is in a different location from where I currently am but Google is at my fingertips).

Once I'd looked up what it was I remembered that I'd been talking to someone about innovation and he had mentioned TRIZ, as it's a problem solving/creativity tool. Briefly, it works on the principle that someone, somewhere has solved a problem in an innovative way that is similar to the one you are trying to solve. I found a good beginner's article on the topic that explains this in much more detail but here's the headline explanation from that article.

"TRIZ is a problem solving method based on logic and data, not intuition, which accelerates the project team's ability to solve these problems creatively. TRIZ also provides repeatability, predictability, and reliability due to its structure and algorithmic approach".

Just as a sidetrack I also found out other definitions of TRIZ that were rather fun: like "Triz is a freeware Tetris clone for the Symbian OS", this one led me to wonder a) what a Tetris clone is and b) what the Symbian OS is (though I do know that OS=operating system). It's also the name of a village in Hungary.

Another explanation of what TRIZ is comes from the Bridgefield Group

TRIZ- The Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, a technique that attempts to define a specific problem as a system and identify elements in the system that need correction to reach the desired solution.

As with all the things I start to investigate I am reminded that I know absolutely nothing about absolutely everything. Whatever topic I look at I find that there are worlds behind it that I never come in contact with. There is a TRIZ journal which points readers to the 40 principles that underpin the approach. And another interesting tool: The Contradiction Matrix. "The matrix tells you which of the 40 principles have been used most frequently to solve a problem that involves a particular contradiction." There's also an article called How to Help TRIZ beginners succeed which takes a bit of reading but I got the general idea.

(The idea of a contradiction matrix amused me for a moment as I thought of its application in domestic tiffs over things like the best way to load a dishwasher. I'm guessing that someone has already applied it in similar circumstances).

In the February 2010 TRIZ newsletter there's a lovely snippet on creativity and risk-taking competences for innovation that struck a chord as I'd just been reading a Harvard Business Review article 'The Innovator's DNA'. Which asks you to:

Imagine that you have an identical twin, endowed with the same brains and natural talents that you have. You're both given one week to come up with a creative new business-venture idea. During that week, you come up with ideas alone in your room. In contrast, your twin (1) talks with 10 people – including an engineer, a musician, a stay-at- home dad, and a designer – about the venture, (2) visits three innovative start-ups to observe what they do, (3) samples fi ve "new to the market" products, (4) shows a prototype he's built to fi ve people, and (5) asks the questions "What if I tried this?" and "Why do you do that?" at least 10 times each day during these networking, observing, and experimenting activities. Who do you bet will come up with the more innovative (and doable) idea?

The writers argue that the five skills of associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking, are key innovation skills

These are similar, but different, from the competences that are discussed in Dr. Jacqueline Byrd's book (she is a co-author) The Innovation Equation but there does seem to be agreement that innovation skills can be learned, and combining these skills with systematic approaches like TRIZ could give good outcomes.

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