Inventive Problem Solving

Interview with Jack Hipple, Author of The Ideal Result: What It Is and How to Achieve It, Part 1
By Vern Burkhardt
Your attitude, when you start a personal innovation journey or try to implement one inside an organization, is critical. You must ask about your attitude toward newness, your attitude toward threats to your business, and your attitude toward thinking about things...

Vern Burkhart (VB): What is TRIZ?

Jack Hipple: TRIZ, which is also known as TIPS, is a Russian acronym for the phrase, when translated into English, means ‘the theory of inventive problem-solving’. It is a problem solving methodology for inventing. TIPS is the English acronym for ‘Theory of Inventive Problem Solving’. The TRIZ methodology can be applied to nearly any problem for which an inventive solution is desired. It removes reliance on chance or happenstance.

Jack Hipple

TRIZ offers a systematic approach to analyzing the type of challenging problems where inventiveness is needed, and it provides a range of strategies and tools for finding inventive solutions. The first step in the TRIZ problem solving algorithm is to define the Ideal Result. The ideal would eliminate the deficiencies and preserve the advantages of the original system, and not make the system more complicated or introduce new disadvantages. The focus needs to be on what something in the system is doing, and it must be described in technology-independent words. The ‘something’ may be a procedure, process, piece of machinery, person, or computer software – anything which performs a function in the system.

Identification of resources is the second step in the TRIZ thinking process and algorithm. The aim is to identify the available resources in the system that can overcome the obstacle to achieving the Ideal Result. This is much more desirable than adding new resources to a process or any other system because new resources adds complications and complexity, which will likely cause other problems. In TRIZ, the definition of “resources” is a much broader concept than normally thought of. It includes not only material resources but such things as fields, field conversions, voids, gravity, and time before and after a process.

The theory is based on the fact that virtually all problems, which require inventive solutions, reflect a need to overcome a dilemma or trade-off between two contradictory elements. The central purpose of TRIZ-based analysis is to systematically apply strategies and tools to find superior solutions that overcome the need for a compromise or trade-off between the two contradictory elements.

A technical contradiction arises from mutually exclusive demands that may be placed on the same system, and where improvement of one parameter leads to deterioration of another. Often, resolving a contradiction depends on finding the physical problems that are the hidden roots of the technical trouble. For example, a large wing on an airplane enables ease of takeoff but it creates high drag at supersonic speeds. Rather than accepting a compromise solution that imperfectly accommodates both contradictory elements, the TRIZ method would lead us to define the problem something like ‘the wings must be large during takeoff but small during high-speed flight’. Retractable wings might be one solution to this contradiction.

There are also TRIZ analytical tools that can assist with new product and business development. There are at least eight ‘lines of evolution’ that enable you to predict how products, systems, and processes will evolve. They will grow, decline, and be replaced.

VB: How long has TRIZ been in use?

Jack Hipple: Genrikh Altshuller and some of his colleagues started developing TRIZ in 1946 when he was working in the inventions inspection department of the Soviet navy’s Caspian Sea flotilla. While helping to prepare applications to the Soviet patent office he discovered, upon examination of over 400,000 inventions across many different technical fields, that there were patterns in the nature of inventive solutions.

One of the first analytical tools his team developed was the use of 40 inventive principles, which could account for virtually all patents containing truly inventive solutions. They concluded that this limited number of inventive principles were found in the solutions to difficult problems in many areas of industrial science and technology. The tool involves finding the solution by using a contradiction table to define the ‘contradiction’ that needs to be resolved, and then systematically considering which of the 40 principles may be applied to provide a specific solution that will overcome the ‘contradiction’ in the problem.

The contradiction table combines the 39 parameters that engineers most often try when improving a system with the 40 inventive principles. You identify the feature you are wanting to improve and parameter that will degrade with this feature. The table will identify which of the inventive principles are most likely to solve your problems. The result should be a solution closer to the ‘ultimate ideal result’. The process is designed to help the inventor be purposeful and focused, and to accelerate the pace of invention by eliminating re-invention of the wheel. The key point is breakthrough solutions come from the resolution of contradictions as compared to the engineers’ tend to add components and complexity.

VB: In addition to the resolution of contradictions you said another major TRIZ analytical tool is the evolution of systems.

Jack Hipple: Altshuller and his colleague, Boris Zlotin, found that the characteristics of a technological system change in a predictable manner as it evolves and matures over time. Knowing the seven steps in the evolution enables an inventor to more readily avoid the mistake of trying to correct the wrong subsystem and to beat competitors to patentable inventions.

Initially a system’s subsystems develop spasmodically, resulting in contradictions with the result that the ones with the slowest-moving life cycles hold back the evolution of the total system. As the system matures, it becomes more dynamic and controllable, and the flow of energy and information in the system is optimized. At first the system increases in complexity but then integration of its elements makes it simpler. Assemblies change from uncoordinated parts to integrated designs, and then to parts which can be changed dynamically. Continuing with the evolution of the system, a transition is made from concentration on macroscopic to microscopic objects, usually producing better control or performance. The next stage is that human involvement decreases with increasing automation. And then the system becomes a subsystem of a more general system that is closer to the ideal system.

VB: What is ARIZ and how does it relate to TRIZ?

Jack Hipple: ARIZ, the detailed TRIZ problem-solving algorithm, is considered an advanced technique of TRIZ. Altshuller described it as a program for solving technical problems as well as promoting creativity. More than 50 percent of the ARIZ multi-step process involves problem reformulation. It takes preconceived solutions out of the problem with the goal of ensuring you see the problem with fresh eyes. For example, one step is focused on eliminating technical terminology or other jargon as they often focus the scientist, engineer, or inventor towards a specific solution in a specific direction.

VB: You mentioned the Soviet patent office.

Jack Hipple: Most Westerners don’t realize that, even though it was communist, the Soviet Union had a patent system which in essence worked like ours does. Somebody would file a patent and the examiner would say, “You’ve got to be kidding”, and the dialogue would begin.

The major difference between their and our systems related to the rights of the inventor. Their situation changed over the years from the Decree of June 30, 1919 where any patent found to be useful to the State could, by decision of the Supreme Council of National Economy, be declared as being state property. Throughout their system encouraged innovation but most of the benefits from inventions accrued to the state. For example, there were incentives for an inventor to apply for an ‘inventor’s certificate’ rather than a patent. Under a certificate state industries could exploit the invention and the inventor would be given financial, housing, job, and special status benefits from the state. There were other incentives to going the inventor’s certificate route. Patent holders could only use their inventions for their own cottage industry; otherwise they could only be licensed to state industries. Further, patents could be appropriated without the patent holder’s consent if it was considered of state interest, and it was virtually impossible to license patent rights outside of the Soviet Union.

VB: It raises the question of why anyone would bother to apply for a patent rather than an inventor’s certificate.

Jack Hipple: I don’t know but there’s always ego and recognition involved.

VB: Genrikh Altshuller made a remarkable contribution when he developed TRIZ.

Jack Hipple: By the time Altshuller was aged 21 he had many patents for some very unique naval breathing equipment. His work was interrupted in 1950 when he was imprisoned in a Siberian Gulag by the Stalinist regime because of criticisms he sent to the government and newspapers about some decisions of the regime. In 1953 after Stalin’s death he was released and later, in 1971, was instrumental in the establishment in Baku [along the Caspian Sea] of the first TRIZ teaching facility called the Azerbaijan Public Institute for Inventive Creation and the first TRIZ research lab called The Public Lab for Inventive Creation. He became the head of the lab.

While working for the Soviet navy Altshuller, for reasons unknown to me, became fascinated by what he observed when he would read disclosures coming across his desk related to mining, machinery, and chemical processing. He began to observe that the way somebody solved a problem in industry A was exactly the same way they did it in industry B, C and D. Altshuller observed that solutions known to one technical field may be reinvented in another field. He began to collect and collate the way people solved problems. In his lifetime he could only find 40 inventive principles which people kept re-using over and over again.

It may amaze you that when I exclude composition of matter patents, I have yet to find anybody who can show me a patent that I can’t classify under one of those 40 principles. What Genrikh Altshuller did was genius. I think one of these years he will get the recognition that Edison has in this country.

There are some fascinating black and white video tapes on YouTube of Altshuller teaching the basics of TRIZ to Russian engineering students. It shows him encouraging them to stop guessing at answers to problems and, instead, use a problem-solving algorithm. Seeing him teaching his students is great.

VB: He was ahead of his time.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely, and I’m not sure he will ever get the recognition that he deserves for what he figured out because there’s still a lot of people who cannot get their heads around the fact that their problem is not special and unique.

VB: Which inventive principles do you find especially helpful or intriguing?

Jack Hipple: I’ll answer your question in a different manner.

People have spent a lot of time analyzing the patent literature to determine how often each of the 40 principles was used. On page 100 of my book I list the 40 inventive principles in rank order of frequency of use and in a separate table show changes in the frequency of use over the past 50 years.

The principle most frequently used in 1955 and also in 2005 is Parameter Change, which is Inventive Principle number 35. Can you imagine this – that the most frequently used inventive principle has not changed in 50 years? Think about this inventive principle. When things melt and boil there’s a huge amount of energy released. When something changes phase in the chemical, material, or even mental worlds there’s a lot of energy released or captured however you want to look at it. This is one of the reasons why this principle is the most frequently used in inventions. You can even think about this in a non-technical context. When people who have major life changing events or significant job changes it can have a great impact on the people around them.

Table 9.3 in my book highlights the principles that had changed the most, either upward or downward. It shows that use of Local Quality has gone up dramatically. We used to design things uniformly. Now we’re a lot smarter about the fact that everything doesn’t have to have the same property everywhere all the time. The use of Asymmetry, another example of non-uniformity, has also increased significantly.

Inventive principle number 17, Nested Doll, using space within something else that is not being used, has also increased a great deal as has Self Service, Intermediary, Merging, and Equipotentiality. Speaking of Nested Doll, if you read an old version of the TRIZ inventive principles table that came out of Russia or Eastern Europe, it’s called ‘matryoshka’. If you’re not of Eastern European heritage you may not have seen a matryoshka doll at Christmas. It’s a number of dolls nested within each other in ever-smaller sizes. It’s a use of resources in a clever way.

VB: Is the change in the frequency of use of the 40 principles related to the advancement in technology?

Jack Hipple: I think so, in part. We now know how to design things in a non-uniform way and how to merge things. Merging is principle number 12, and its use has increased the most of all. You used to have a pair of sunglasses and separate vision glasses, then you had clip-on sunshades, and now you have photo chromic lenses in your eyeglasses. You used to have a copier, a scanner, and a fax machine. How many machines do you have today? One. We have learned to merge functionality, and this is why the Merging principle has gone up dramatically. Another example is the cell phone becoming a smart phone.

Did you notice what has gone down dramatically? Cheap, short-living objects, which is inventive principle number 27. We have become environmentally conscious and don’t like to throw things away, and technology has enabled the manufacture of products that last longer. Discarding and Recovery, inventive principle number 34, has also declined in use quite significantly over the past 50 years.

VB: The table showing changes in frequency of use of the 40 inventive principles in your book reflects changes in societal values and technology.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely, but I emphasize that over this timeframe we didn’t find any more principles. It astounds me.

In my book I refer to an engine in the heavier, more expensive Honda and General Motors cars which changes the number of cylinders being used to generate horsepower. You only generate the power you need when you need it, thereby reducing fuel consumption. Intel has a patent for a chip that only uses the power you need when you need it. Why do they have separate patents? It’s the same thing, and it’s not a new inventive principle either.

VB: If you were a patent examiner, how would you approach patent applications, given the 40 principles?

Jack Hipple: Your question is similar to one which I was asked when a member of a panel discussion for the World Future Society meeting many years ago. I was asked, what would happen if the US Patent Office ever discovered TRIZ? The answer is there would be a lot fewer patents granted.

The other point I would make is that the US patent office is continually dissecting itself into ever more specialty areas. A patent examiner in field ‘A’ doesn’t talk to other examiners in fields ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, ‘F’, ‘and G’. They work in isolation.

At least in my lifetime, TRIZ will not infect the US Patent Office. If it were ever to do so it would have some unbelievably monumental societal and economic impacts.

VB: It raises the question of whether the TRIZ inventive principles should affect decisions of the patent examiners given the possible outcomes.

Jack Hipple: In my view it should. But there are lots of things that should happen but don’t.

VB: Why should it?

Jack Hipple: I have a basic problem with re-inventing wheels and not giving recognition to what someone’s already done. It’s a personal, emotional thing with me.

Part of the reason this in my DNA so strongly, and why TRIZ resonated so strongly with me when I first stumbled upon it, is because of one of my first experiences in my working life. When I started my first professional job with Dow Chemical as a chemical engineer my assignment was to try to improve the efficiency of a bromine recovery process. The objective was to increase the recovery of material from a raw material stream, and therefore make more money. My natural instinct, and I’m not sure where it came from, was to go to the library to see if somebody had already solved this problem.

I did a search – this was in the days of card catalogues before computerization of the files – and I found an article in Zhurnal Prikladnoi Khimii, the Russian Journal of Applied Chemistry. The article was entitled “Theory and Calculations Relating to the Recovery of Bromide from Natural Brines.“ On seeing it I thought it sounded like my problem. I spent about $20 - $30 for somebody to manually translate the article. When I read the article it became clear to me why this process works the way it does, and what we needed to do to change it. We made the change and it worked.

This experience and what it showed has always been with me. I can’t stand to see money and resources being dedicated to solving a problem where the solution is already known. It drives me nuts.

VB: A lot of money was being spent to develop what was already known.

Jack Hipple: Yes. Six months had passed, and the R&D people still hadn’t gotten the answer to the problem.

This experience at Dow was a lesson for me. I still haven’t told you the rest of the story.

When I discovered the article and started to work with a solution plan I found out quite by accident that Dow had a mathematical computer-modeling lab. Unknown to me, somebody at the lab had obtained some Dow corporate research money with the express purpose of mathematically modeling a solution to the same problem I was working on. When I discovered this I walked over to researcher, a Ph.D mathematical modeling chemical engineer, and said to him, “Have you seen this article?” Of course he hadn’t. He had never gone to the library. It made a huge impression on me about not reinventing what is already known but I was not aware of TRIZ.

At Dow I had been exposed to a lot of psychological tools like brainstorming and Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats™. I left Dow in 1993 and I went to work for an organization called the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences. This led me to attend a quality conference in Detroit in 1994. I had had no training in QFD or any of those types of tools, but had decided to learn something about quality control and other quality concepts. It was 3:30 on a Friday afternoon – I still remember this to this day. I considered leaving the conference early to drive home to Ann Aarbor and beat the traffic on I-94, but when I looked at the program I noticed there was going to be a presentation by two Russians who had long names that I couldn’t pronounce and still don’t remember. The title of the talk was, “The Use of TRIZ to Improve the Design of Pizza Boxes.” I had no idea what TRIZ was, but became curious so I stayed for their talk. We wouldn’t be having our conversation today if I had gone home early.

These two men, in stilted English and in the early days of TRIZ in the US, talked about a fundamental consumer contradiction. You want a take-out pizza to be hot, but when it’s hot it emits a lot of steam vapor. The steam rises within the cardboard box and softens the lid. When you lift the lid when you get home half the pizza topping is stuck to it and is pulled off the pizza. In this country every pizza take-out today has a little plastic tri-pod in the middle of the pizza that keeps the lid from sagging downward and touching the pizza. It was invented with TRIZ.

VB: It resolved a contradiction.

Jack Hipple: Indeed, it resolved the contradiction that you want the pizza to be hot for reason ‘A’ and you want it to be cold for Reason ‘B’. I literally fell off my chair that afternoon. I listened to these men and I thought, ‘This is how we need to solve problems’. I became excited and started to learn about TRIZ.

VB: We talk about game changers. This was a life changer.

Jack Hipple: It was a life changer, absolutely.

VB: I can tell you’re passionate about TRIZ.

Jack Hipple: Yes. I have a rectangular plaque in my office that was given to me at my semi-retirement dinner when I left Dow in ’93. It says, ‘A wheel that needs reinventing’. I look at it every day.

VB: In your book you say, “In my experience with clients in TRIZ problem-solving sessions, solutions generated by TRIZ always look so simple in hindsight that a group is amazed and frequently embarrassed.” What does this tell us about problem-solving sessions using other approaches?

Jack Hipple: I can’t talk about confidential projects I’ve worked on with clients, but I can tell you there is almost always a tendency to assume that the solution to a problem requires additional complexity, parts, pieces, or processes. TRIZ suggests otherwise.

When I’m teaching TRIZ early in the session I often begin by arbitrarily dividing the group in half, giving each group a different problem, sending them off to work on them for 10 to15 minutes, and then having them report whether and how they solved their problem. I use the two problems that Altshuller used when teaching TRIZ:

1. Boy Scouts problem: ‘To send 300 scouts to summer camp, several buses were reserved; however, two buses did not show up at the required time. Therefore, each bus took five scouts more than planned. How many buses were sent?’

2. Physics problem: ‘Let’s assume that 300 electrons, in several groups, must jump from one energetic level to another. However, a quantum transfer has already taken place by two groups less than were originally calculated; consequently, each group now has five more electrons. How many electron groups were there in total? This complex problem has not yet been solved.’

When the one group examines the Boy Scouts bus problem, it’s readily apparent to them that it involves two equations and two unknowns. It’s an algebra problem so the solution is simple and obvious.

What’s interesting is to watch the other group which has the physics problem. Most often they have no idea how to solve their problem by the end of the time limit. When we first discuss the solution to the Boy Scouts problem they recognize that the physics problem is exactly the same as the Boy Scout problem. A huge psychological barrier is created because the problem is described with fancy, technical jargon and the statement at the end says, ‘This problem has never been solved.’

VB: It threw me as well. I first read the physics problem.

Jack Hipple: And it really scared you, right?

You can imagine if you’re in the physics problem and then you hear the description of the Boy Scouts problem. The light bulb goes off in your head that often it’s the language and the technical words that we use which makes us think a problem is difficult to solve. And we think no one else could possibly have solved it before.

VB: Why do you think breakthrough inventions often look simple in hindsight?

Jack Hipple: It takes effort to break down your ego barrier, but when this is accomplished the simple elegant inventions appear.

VB: There’s an implied assumption that problems described in a sophisticated way must require a sophisticated solution.

Jack Hipple: If you work in the University world or a large R&D department you think your problem is special. There’s an ego aspect to this.

I did a project for the Bank of Montreal in Toronto, Canada. When I’m working with a client I send them a questionnaire in advance and ask them to describe the problem with some TRIZ-type questions. The first thing that came back from my contact was, “We want to eliminate defalcation in the bank.” I wasn’t sure that was a clean word when I first read the response. My wife is an English major so I waited until she came home from work and asked, “Dear, what am I going to work on?” and she replied, “I have no idea.” For some reason I didn’t have access or think of looking it up in a dictionary or the web so I called my client the next morning and said, “I’m feeling kind of stupid. What am I going to work on?” And his reply was, “Bank fraud.” I didn’t say it but thought, ‘Well why didn’t you just say so?’

I use this example in my workshops. If you go to a banking convention, they will throw the word ‘defalcation’ around in coffee breaks like we might say ‘telephone’. It’s a word they use to indicate fraud. If you type ‘defalcation’ into a web browser you may get a half a million hits, but if you type in ‘fraud’ you’ll get an order of magnitude of more hits. And if you type in “substitute something”, you’ll get another order of magnitude. Where would you rather look for an answer?

VB: What are the implications of lessons from TRIZ that suggest there are virtually no special problems’?

Jack Hipple: There are many examples of inventions in one industry that are replicas, in basic terms, of inventions from decades before.

The Ideal ResultI refer to the creation of diamond dust and de-stemming of peppers when I’m instructing about TRIZ. I show the group a pepper and ask whether or not they like to eat the stems with peppers. When the response is ‘Of course not’ I ask, ‘Well how do you remove the stem?‘ The reply is you use a knife to cut it out, and most wonder why I’m asking such a silly question. I continue with the problem by asking them to imagine you’re a California pepper farmer supplying ingredients to a grocery chain which sells pre-packaged salad greens. You’ve got to de-stem a few thousand peppers per hour. How in the world do you do it? Virtually always nobody has a clue how you do this. I then show a picture of a 1945 patent which prescribes that you take a large number of peppers, put them into a pressure chamber, and increase the pressure in the vessel to 100 pounds per square inch – about 7 atm. When you do this, it causes a stress crack at the top where the stem goes into the pepper and allows air into the pepper, thereby creating the potential for a tiny portable bomb. Then you drop the pressure suddenly and the stem blows out. It’s a clever agricultural processing patent.

There are hundreds of patents that use this same inventive principle, which is “store pressure and suddenly release it”. Precision machine grinding tools came along in the early 1970’s. Diamond dust was needed to do the grinding. Diamonds don’t come out of the ground as dust; they come out as chunks. So how do you turn diamond chunks into diamond dust? You take a 9.9-carat diamond and grind it against a 9.7-carat diamond, and sooner or later you’ll get diamond dust after having spent a lot of time, money and energy.

In 1972 a patent was granted to a South African diamond mining company whereby you put the diamond chunk under 10,000 PSI and, even though that diamond appears to be solid, it has pores in it like everything else. The air goes inside the pores, and when you drop the pressure the diamond chunk blows apart into diamond dust. This patent was registered 27 years after the pepper patent.

If you worked for a South African diamond mining company and said, ‘I’d like to go to an agricultural equipment show for some ideas’, would the boss think it a wise use of money to travel to such a show or to look in the agricultural processing literature for an idea? No. The question is what if somebody had figured out how to efficiently make diamond dust 25 years earlier, where might we be in precision machine tooling?

In my book I list ten patents – separated by decades – which use stored energy. These include, of course, the diamond dust and de-steming of peppers examples. The same process was patented to make puffed rice, de-husk sunflower seeds, and slowly release fertilizer. It is also the concept behind an electrical capacitor, a battery, and even how a dam works to store power.

VB: It always comes back to the same basic point.

Jack Hipple: Yes, you’re not alone. You only think you are.

VB: “Using special words supports our belief that our problem is special and unique.” What are some tips for avoiding this pitfall?

Jack Hipple: My technique is to suggest using the language you would use to describe your problem to a ten year old, or to think about what you would say to your own small child when asked, “Mommy or Daddy, what do you do? What are you working on?”

VB: You say that the transition from a special description to a generic description of a problem is the most difficult in TRIZ. Would you explain?

Jack Hipple: When you are trained and skilled in an area you speak and think in a certain way. I’m a chemical engineer and I will go around and say, “Reynolds number” to people. Another chemical or mechanical engineer would know exactly what I’m talking about, but if I slowed down a bit I might say, maybe, “How turbulent is the flow?” If I’m talking to a child I might say, “How well does the stuff mix across the diameter of the pipe?”

It’s hard. You have to think about it. It’s not easy. I’m not trying to make fun of people who can’t do it. Trying to teach people to describe a problem as if they were talking to a ten year old is very difficult.

Back to the pepper example where we talked about storing energy and suddenly releasing it. That’s what we do in a capacitor, isn’t it? It’s just a different form of energy. I ask people, “Well, have you ever held your temper?” It’s all the same thing. Getting people to ‘generalize’ their problem is mentally difficult and ego-challenging.

VB: It’s also mentally challenging to simplify and get to the essence of the problem.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely. People have egos. When they have a problem to solve they think it’s special and unique. And when they solve their problem they receive a lot of reinforcement that it was. If you take this approach and later find out that somebody solved your problem 25 years earlier but you didn’t recognize it, I’m not sure it will have the same ego reinforcement effect.

VB: All industries and business tend to develop their own jargon and technical words.

Jack Hipple: Exactly right. I see this over and over again.

Another example is in the air traffic control industry. I was hired by Lockheed Martin to conduct a TRIZ session on air traffic control displays. In the US, the F.A.A. is requiring ever more information to be located on the air traffic controller’s display screen, and yet the air traffic controller is expected to look at and instantaneously react to what is on the screen. This is a contradiction between the two variables of data visualization and decision-making time.

During the TRIZ session I was surprised to learn, and I’m still astounded to this day, that no one in the human factors graphical interface group had ever looked at video games or heart monitoring displays in hospitals. They were totally unaware of other people and industries that have exactly the same kind of problem – instantaneous decisions based on graphical display information.

VB: I guess it never occurred to them to look elsewhere.

Jack Hipple: Engineers, technicians, and other disciplines think their problem is special and unique. Like I said earlier, I haven’t seen one of those unique problems yet. There may be one out there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. We like to feel that our technical problem is special. We all do.

VB: You sent me the article, “Starting from Scratch”, which was recently in the Wall Street Journal. It dealt with the desirability of developing technology or computer software so it can be used across departments rather than everyone wanting to invent it themselves. It and this conversation have reminded me of the value of acquiring technology rather than developing your own. It’s the benefits of acquiring technology from inventors or other companies by paying a license or acquisition fee rather than trying to develop it yourself. Some people call this ‘technology scouting’. Do you have any thoughts about this tactic?

Jack Hipple: You need to look at this as a viable alternative to developing technology with your own R&D resources. It could simply be a dollar cost decision. Is it cheaper to buy the solution – the technology – rather than developing it yourself?

From a TRIZ perspective it’s sort of the opposite of the Blue Ocean Strategy that became popular some years back. Who else has a problem like you do in some parallel universe and have they solved it? Once you find them you may discover that they are willing to license or sell it to you at a far lower cost than the alternative of internal development. They will likely be willing to license or sell it to you especially if you are not one of their direct competitors.

VB: From a TRIZ perspective it would make sense to always consider whether there may already be a solution to your problem.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely. I’ll give you another example that you might find amusing. You will remember the volcano that erupted in Iceland in 2010. British Air and other airlines had to re-route a large number of airplanes and whole routes were grounded for days. It caused all kinds of consternation. There were articles in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere about airplane engine technology not being able to deal with the ash and dust from volcano eruptions. A while later we saw an article in the Wall Street Journal describing how Alaskan Airlines has been dealing with this problem for decades, because of volcanoes erupting in Alaska. Nobody bothered to talk to them about their solution to the problem.

I could go on and on with examples.

VB: Is implementing TRIZ in an organization a difficult process?

Jack Hipple: I’ve heard from companies who have started this TRIZ journey and found that it looks a lot easier than it is. It takes a lot of forced discipline for people to start using TRIZ methodologies and to understand all the jargon and terminology. It’s difficult to force people ask, ‘What’s the ideal result?’ ‘Have we looked at all the resources and ensured we are using them to the maximum?’ ‘What are the contradictions?’ It requires a disciplined mental process just like Six Sigma, and it takes a lot of drive, effort, and reinforcement for it to take hold.

VB: Do you agree that it would be almost impossible for one person alone to use TRIZ in an organization even if all others aren’t? It must become part of the corporate culture.

Jack Hipple: There are situations where one person has used TRIZ. When they do use TRIZ for inventive problem solving some cool stuff emerges, and then somebody will likely ask how they came up with the solution to the problem. The result could be a slow infection of TRIZ into the organization. In the majority of cases it is an engineering manager who becomes committed to TRIZ and says, “We’re going to learn this. We’re going to try it out on some problems and see how it works.”

I would estimate that 30-50% of companies that first get interested in TRIZ stick with it. There are many reasons, among them is the ego factor that we’ve already discussed. But another is the fact that TRIZ is a scientific algorithm, which requires a disciplined approach to problem definition. Many organizations simply will not take the time to do this and instead would rather spend a lot of time and money trying things, even if that means reinventing wheels. Organizations have cultures and it’s sometimes difficult for a left brained process like TRIZ to fit it. It’s also difficult to make TRIZ as much “fun” – though I try! – as some of the psychologically based tools.

As an illustration, I can describe a conversation a Vice-President of R&D at a major consumer products company, after 6 months of working with TRIZ saying, “Jack, this isn’t going to work here. It’s not you. It’s not the method, and it’s not the TRIZ problem modeling software. We love to spend time re-inventing wheels. Anybody in this company who spends time thinking about a problem and whether solutions have already been found by someone else before they actively begin working on it will likely be fired. This is because they look like they’re lazy when they’re only thinking. It won’t work here.” This was a depressing conversation, and believe me sometimes this does happen.

VB: When TRIZ does take root does the company often have a leg up?

Jack Hipple: Yes, there is no doubt.

Motorola and Procter & Gamble were the first two major companies to use TRIZ in the US. They brought over Russians and implanted them in the organization. When I tell people this fact the first question they ask is, ‘Why haven’t these companies given a presentation about their TRIZ journey in a public meeting or conference?’ My reply is, ‘If you had a methodology which allowed you to invent better, faster, and more effectively than anyone else would you run around telling everybody about it?’

Siemens is a huge user of TRIZ as is Unilever and Shell Oil in Europe. Dow and Siemens are also examples of big time users, and of course there are many others as well.

VB: When implemented properly, TRIZ becomes an integral way of doing business, a key support for innovation to develop and enhance your product lines.

Jack Hipple: Yes, and if you’re not willing to make an investment in its implementation in your organization it will be comparable to Six Sigma which won’t work if you don’t institutionalize it.

VB: I’ve interviewed and talked with Praveen Gupta several times about Six Sigma. I understand from your book and from what you’ve said, TRIZ and Six Sigma can complement each other.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely, because with Six Sigma you collect and use data to identify the problem you need to solve to get to Five Sigma or Six Sigma. No Six Sigma book I’ve ever read tells you how to solve your problem. It says you should get some of your smartest people together and figure out how to do it.

VB: That’s where TRIZ can help.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely. Motorola was the first company to have recognized this so they integrated TRIZ into their Six Sigma program.

VB: Six Sigma will give you the statistical evidence you need, but it doesn’t necessarily help you get to the Six Sigma level.

Jack Hipple: It gives you the problem definition but not the problem solution.

VB: Providing you can describe that problem in generic terms.

Jack Hipple: I guess I should backtrack a little. I’m sure there are situations where, after someone has collected this kind of data, the solution is obvious to them. But when the solution is not obvious, then pulling TRIZ into the equation really helps.

VB: The Pumps and Pipes Symposium to which you refer in your book is an interesting approach to crossing boundaries and collaboratively making breakthrough inventions.

Jack Hipple: While on an airline flight from Houston, Texas to the annual Mexican TRIZ Association meeting, I saw an advertisement for the symposium on the back cover of the Continental Airline’s flight magazine. I was fascinated. Houston is the center of the US oil and gas industry, and also has a huge cardiac medical center a few blocks away. Even though they were next door to each other for over 50 years, it seems they only discovered each other three years ago and are now running annual symposia appropriately called Pumps and Pipes. A similar symposium also occurs in Europe.

If you have fluid going through an oil and gas pipe, or fluid going through an artery, it’s the same thing. I’m a chemical engineer so I can quickly resonate with this fact. Things like the friction factor, Reynolds number, and Bernoulli effect are not changed by scale; they still apply.

A question I ask my students is, “What would have happened had these two groups started talking 50 years ago? Where might we be in heart surgery? Where might we be in oil and gas recovery?”

VB: Is it unfair to ask you to speculate about this same question?

Jack Hipple: I have to assume we would be smarter than we are today. Probably more likely we would have gotten to where we are faster.

Who knows, lives may have been saved. More efficient and environmentally friendly pipelines may have been developed. It is impressive that somebody started this communication, and it has expanded overseas.

VB: One could think of other combinations where disparate groups could benefit from getting together.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely, there are many combinations. I’ll give you another example.

You’ve probably been following Abbott’s development of dissolvable heart stents. When you have a heart stent made of metal stuck in your artery, many times there’ll be a biological film growth over the metal stent that will eventually re-clog the artery. Then you’ve got to go through the surgery all over again. Abbott’s new stent is basically a biodegradable plastic that slowly dissolves in a way that keeps the artery open. The plastic they are using is exactly the same plastic that has been used in the disposable garbage bag industry for about 10 years.

When I show this example to a training group the question I ask is, let’s suppose you were a scientist for Abbott and you went to your boss and said, ‘I’d like to go to a garbage bag convention to get some ideas for heart surgery’. Would you still have a job after you asked that question?

VB: You may have a job but it would probably be with a different company.

Jack Hipple: Yes, with the garbage bag company! It’s made of polylactic acid, by the way.

VB: In the dedication of your book to your wife, Cindy, you refer to the ambiguity of learning new things. What do you mean by this?

Jack Hipple: Over a 20-year period, from when I was first given responsibility for innovation at Dow – with no special background – to the present day, creativity and innovation are a constantly changing and learning process. Answers are not always obvious.

VB: Would you tell us about Engineering Training Services, LLC?

Jack Hipple: My company is a sole proprietorship, but has some relationships with other consulting groups when additional expertise is required. I do all of the public TRIZ training for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

My associate, Mark Reeves, is a registered patent agent who can apply TRIZ to patent filings and patent circumvention strategies.

VB: Earlier you mentioned that you had attended the annual Mexican TRIZ Association. Is TRIZ being used worldwide?

Jack Hipple: The first area where TRIZ took off outside of Russia was Japan, which is understandable since TRIZ problem solving is based on analogical thinking. The Japanese culture is extremely analogical. Interestingly, a number of TRIZ books that have been translated from Russian into Japanese still have not been translated into English.

It has taken hold in other countries as well. There is a European TRIZ Association which recently held its 13th annual conference and, as I previously mentioned, it is being used by a number of companies in the US. China has begun to catch onto TRIZ. Some other countries that come immediately to mind are Brazil, Argentina, and Korea.

It is not surprising that use of TRIZ continues to increase given global competition.

Forget brainstorming. Innovation with TRIZ is a left brain exercise – logic, sequential thinking, and rationality.

The 40 inventive principles. Technical contradictions. Defining problems in generic terms. Your problem has already been solved, but perhaps in another field, industry, geographic location. Cross pollination of completely dissimilar industries. An algorithm for solving problems. Repeatable patterns of invention. No need to guess at solutions to problems and product design.

Who wouldn’t want to explore and implement TRIZ in their organization!

Part 2 of my interview with author Jack Hipple, Something that Does Not Exist, has also been published.

Jack Hipple’s Bio:
Author Jack Hipple, a renowned expert on TRIZ, received his Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1967 from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Immediately after graduation he joined Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan where his primary focus for ten years was process development, and process and production troubleshooting of bromine and brine based chemicals. He subsequently established process-engineering support for Dow’s newly formed Eastern Division, focusing on latex and fabricated plastic products. Hipple’s appointment as Discovery Research Director for this division afforded him his first formal exposure to innovation and creativity. This training was in processes and with tools that were primarily psychologically based. He was appointed Director of Dow’s Eastern Research Lab in Wayland, Massachusetts before returning to Midland where he became Director of Corporate Chemical Engineering R&D and assumed the role of Discovery Research Director for the Michigan Division. In 1993 Hipple left Dow when it stopped its entire pioneering R&D and returned to a focus on basic chemicals.

After Dow Jack Hipple worked as a Project Manager for the National Center for Manufacturing Science, co-coordinating partially government funded collaborative R&D work among member companies. In 1994 he attended a quality conference and was exposed to TRIZ, and ‘the rest is history’.

Jack Hipple began to teach TRIZ for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 2001. He also assumed responsibility for teaching a basic introductory Chemical Engineering course – “Essentials of Chemical Engineering for Non-Engineers”. In 2009 he developed AIChE’s first on line course in this area.

He is the sole proprietor of Engineering Training Services, LLC.

Jack Hipple is the author of The Idea Result: What It Is and How to Achieve It (2012). He has also written articles about TRIZ as well as corporate innovation for AIChE’s flagship publication, Chemical Engineering Progress.

Share on      
Next Interview »