Something that Does Not Exist

Interview with Jack Hipple, Author of The Ideal Result: What It Is and How to Achieve It, Part 2
By Vern Burkhardt
“The real challenge is not to use anything in the first place.” “…isn’t that what engineers get paid to do – design things to add to systems that will solve some kind of problem created by some aspect of the current process or system?

But then we’ve added something else that needs to be maintained and monitored. This may be a path to continuous incremental improvement, but it’s not the path to breakthrough invention and innovation. Adding something to a process, whether it is mechanical or people based, always add complexity and complication. In the short run it may be an improvement, but in the long run it’s a barrier to innovation.” The Ideal Result: What It Is and How to Achieve It, pages 33 and 34

Vern Burkhardt (VB): Would you give us a brief refresher on what is TRIZ?

Jack Hipple: TRIZ is a technique for analyzing and solving problems. It emphasizes resolving contradictions rather than making compromises. TRIZ involves defining an ideal system, tapping into resources which are not obvious to you, and taking advantage of patterns of invention which appear across various industries and technologies.

Jack Hipple

The TRIZ problem solving process can be applied in reverse to analyze failures and to predict potentially hazardous situations to be avoided.

Genrikh Altshuller and his colleagues, who discovered through an analysis of about 600,000 patents in the Soviet Union that there were 40 inventive principles reused by inventors in numerous areas of technology, developed the TRIZ tool kit.

VB: In your book you say, “Attitude, situations, and social settings can affect our problem solving capabilities, but nowhere near to the degree that many consultants would have us believe.” Why is this the case?

Jack Hipple: Many industry and technology specific consultants have a vested interest in maintaining problem complexity.

VB: What is the ‘Ideal Result’, the third of the major principles which you indicated the TRIZ method depends upon?

Jack Hipple: Something performs its function and does not exist. It’s really difficult for an experienced engineer to envision this, but no problem for a kindergartener.

VB: Do you have any tips about how to learn to clearly state the Ideal Result before thinking about how to achieve it, and why is it so important to do so?

Jack Hipple: Don’t think at all about how to accomplish the Ideal Result. If you do, you will start to compromise and think about all the reasons you can’t get there. As a result your solution will end up being a 20 percent improvement. You don’t need TRIZ for that type of solution!

VB: “Stop optimizing, trading off, and minimizing pain. Let’s get rid of the pain and stop taking pain relievers.” Why is this a necessary first step in changing one’s mindset about innovation?

Jack Hipple: Because it is so ingrained in what business schools teach.

VB: Other than with a new scientific law or principle you say, “…get rid of the idea that the problem you are trying to solve is unique and special, and that no one has ever encountered a similar problem.” Does this mean the general concept of the solution already exists somewhere?

Jack Hipple: Yes! The only exceptions to this are inventions related to pure science – chemistry, chemical synthesis, and pure biology. TRIZ does not cover these areas adequately. It does cover processing in these areas, but not basic chemistry.

No one has spent the time to try to map the vast database of science problems which have been solved, as opposed to engineering, problems. I’m not sure this could ever be done in a way that would be cost-effective.

To my knowledge nobody has fully systematized TRIZ in the areas of chemistry and biology. When Darrell Mann, a respected expert on TRIZ, was at the University of Buckingham in the UK one of his graduate students looked for commonality between the TRIZ principles and what “Mother Nature” does. This student published a wonderful, small book called, Natural Innovation: Examples of Creative Problem Solving in Biology, Ecology, and TRIZ. It’s almost impossible to get a copy because it’s out of print. It was a fascinating read and to my knowledge is the only extensive research on this topic.

VB: Hopefully the book is available in libraries.

Jack Hipple: If you or your readers find it please let me know. I had a copy and I lent it to somebody and you know what happens.

The 170 examples included in the book extend the 40 TRIZ inventive principles to ecology, biology, and other non-traditional disciplines.

VB: It makes sense because the laws of nature are predictable and consistent.

Jack Hipple: Yes, it wasn’t a surprise. I am somewhat surprised that no one else appears to have picked up the torch and run with it, especially with the increasing importance of biotech research. If such research is going on today I’m not aware of it.

VB: “In TRIZ problem solving, it is always worthwhile to make a separate list of the negative things about a system and force ourselves to think about how to use these things in a positive way.” How does this work?

Jack Hipple: Make a list of all the negative aspects of a product or system, and then force yourself to think about how you would use this “thing or property” in a positive way. The Prius uses previously wasted and possibly harmful dissipated brake energy to recharge its batteries.

VB: Would you talk about your negative function spreadsheet?

Jack Hipple: We go through the exercise of the Ideal Result and then ask ourselves, what resources do we have available to us to enable us to get from here to there? There is a standard list of six possible resources which are used in TRIZ problem solving. They are substances and materials, time, space, fields and field conversions, and information. I have added people and their skills as a sixth resource. Substances are the materials within a system, the materials used to make something, or the byproducts and wastes produced. What’s interesting about time is we have components beyond the process or task or service being provided. For example, we have time before and after a process starts running and in some circumstances this can be considered a resource for innovation.

Fields and field conversions may be a bit more difficult to get your head around. The commonly known fields include mechanical, thermal, and chemical. If you have an electrical field then you will automatically have a thermal field and a magnetic field whether or not you want them. Those are field conversions that most people know about, but there are many others not known because they’re in science areas that they didn’t study.

One of the possible approaches to problem solving is using negative resources, such as pressure and heat from chemical reactions, as positives. The first impulse when something is going wrong or there is a negative thing about a product or a system is to say, ‘How can I solve this problem or how can I get rid of the heat or pressure’? How can I add something to contradict or resolve this negative? One of the aspects of TRIZ is to make a list of the negative things about your system and ask, ‘How could I use it in a positive way?’

I have developed a negative function worksheet for use in workshops to force participants to make a list of all the things that are giving them an Excedrin headache, and to then ask themselves, ‘How can I use each in a positive way?’ For example, people in the service business use complaints to learn what their problems are and to fix them.

VB: “[I]…will tell you with a great deal of confidence that someday you will be surprised that someone else, in an area unknown to you, will have solved your problem and you will pay a licensing fee to use the technology.” Does this observation suggest that more often than at present companies should be searching for external sources of technology to reduce their costs of R&D?

Jack Hipple: Absolutely. This is different than the ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy in vogue today where companies look for markets outside traditional areas that are potentially non-competitive with their current competitors.

In TRIZ we ask what other parallel universes are out there which you’ve never thought about, and what use could you put to their problem solving principles and solutions?

VB: Why do you think Blue Ocean Strategy and other such approaches have become so popular in innovation practice and in the literature?

Jack Hipple: I’ve not been involved in a Blue Ocean strategy session. I’ve read the book, understand it, and think it’s a great concept. Who can use my invention or technology in an area that I haven’t thought about before or my competitor hasn’t yet thought about?

Using it backwards is basically the essence of TRIZ. Who else has a problem like I do that is not in an area that’s obvious to me? Asking this question takes the discipline of describing your problem in a very generic way, which is hard for people to do. It amazes me how hard it is to get people to change the language they use to describe their problems. Jargon is so ingrained in our education and training and in workplaces.

VB: Have you found that the more you describe problems in a generic way the easier it is to describe them in a more basic, understandable way?

Jack Hipple: Oh, I can do it in 5 seconds. Getting someone else to do it is something I have to force.

VB: Is this because it’s a skill your brain has developed?

Jack Hipple: I have worked extensively in defining problems generically, and I recognize the value of it.

It also comes naturally to me to consider whether someone else has already solved the problem being worked on. In order to consider this question, the problem needs to be described in generic, non-jargon, words.

VB: The real challenge, as you say in your book, is not to use anything in the first place. Adding something to a process, whether it’s mechanical or people-based, always adds complexity and complication. In the short run it may be an improvement but in the long run it’s a barrier to innovation. Could you talk a bit about this?

Jack Hipple: Most engineers get paid to design something new. In our Western culture we tend to have a lot of ‘stuff’, and we don’t lack for resources. The idea of doing something with less hardly ever occurs to anybody so we make something more complex to solve a problem. It works but it costs more money, and it takes resources to maintain it.

The idea is to take a system – in TRIZ, we use the word “trimming” – and arbitrarily remove a component or part, which presumably was doing something useful. We then ask, how can we get the function back with what’s left? How can we transfer the function to some other part of the system, or how can we use a resource that we previously didn’t recognize existed and was available?

The Ideal ResultOne of the training examples I have been using for 10 years is to imagine that somebody introduces a robot to replace humans who have been brushing away dust in a machine handling system. However, the dust then accumulates and clogs the robot in the system and it keeps shutting down. The question I ask the group is how could you prevent the dust particles from clogging the machine? The engineers’ immediate response is, ‘Put in a blower.’ ‘Put in a fan.’ ‘Put some kind of a canopy over it.’ They always want to add something.

I use this as an opening problem, and I write their answers up on a flip chart for later reference. Then we talk about the first two basic TRIZ concepts. The Ideal Result is something performs it’s function and doesn’t exist – in other words, you want the function of the dust removing operator but you don’t want to pay for it. You don’t want it to exist. I also want to use the resources I already have in the system – I don’t want to pay for additional processes or components.

The answer to the dust problem using the concept of trimming in TRIZ may be that you turn the machine upside down and let gravity take care of the problem. Gravity is all around us and it’s free. You would be surprised at how many times gravity is an answer to a problem. It astounds me.

VB: Gravity being an answer to many problems, but such a simple solution is seldom thought of.

Jack Hipple: It’s not. I wouldn’t say never thought of. Perhaps 10% of the time one person in the training group will suggest turning the robot upside down, but it’s rare that somebody suggests this.

VB: Would you talk about ‘adding useful complexity’ and ‘trimming‘ as two approaches to achieving the Ideal Result?

Jack Hipple: The air traffic control display is something which bureaucrats in Washington think is needed. Depending on your perspective you might think it is an example of useful complexity. It’s a bit different than consumer products.

The example I like to think about in this context is cell phones. We used to only be able to call and talk to other people. Incredible complexity has been added to this device and, at least up until now, people have been willing to pay for, using TRIZ jargon, what we call ‘useful complexity’.

There’s a continuum between useful complexity and trimming. Under the concept of trimming you would ask how could I redesign the existing cell phone to make it simpler to provide all of its existing fancy functions, or remove some functions that some customers do not need or value? There are cell phones on the market that have eliminated many of the fancy, expensive features. If you’re an elderly person in a nursing home all you may want is a cell phone with large numbers that you can use to call your friends and relatives. In this same vein, there’s a cell phone in Israel which can only receive calls. It’s designed for kids in school so parents can call them, but they can’t call any of their friends.

There is no hard and fast rule about which side of the useful complexity to trimming continuum you and the market are on. But it is important to think about both approaches.

VB: Many parents may like the type of cell phone which only receives calls.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely. It’s probably not going to have a huge market, but it’s an example of what I’m talking about. Another is some of the designs of software where so much complexity has been added that people don’t know how to use them effectively.

Another example is remote controls on TV’s. I don’t know how many controls you have for your TV and PVR, but I don’t know how to do anything with them except change channels and the volume. I know they can do 100 more things which I couldn’t care less about, and I am sure I’m not in the minority. The same applies to smart phones, which we touched on earlier. Most people either don’t know how to use or don’t use their full functionality.

VB: You indicate that Genrikh Altshuller, who was with the Russian navy, and others who followed him found that almost all breakthrough patents of the world had one fundamental trait – they resolved a difficult contradiction. How does one go about focusing on contradictions within the design or operation of a product, service, or system in order to achieve a breakthrough?

Jack Hipple: Since contradiction resolution is shown to be the key to breakthrough inventions in the patent literature this is where we need to focus. We need to focus not only on the immediate contradiction, but also on the next and the next. Think about the evolution of the bicycle.

The bicycle has gotten ever more – I’m going to say – usefully complex. Its development is an example of systems evolving by resolving contradictions where each new design or function created a problem that needed to be solved. The first bicycle in 1791 consisted of two wooden wheels and a plank for the riders, and it was propelled by the riders pushing with their feet. Of course, they didn’t have pedals or transmissions. Every 10, 20, or 30 years you see examples where someone changed the properties of the bike in terms of pedals, gears, transmissions, and other features which made the bike better every time, but each invention added contradictions to be overcome. Solid rubber tires replaced iron velocipede tires in 1869, and in 1889 pneumatic rubber tires were invented. In 1934 gear changers appeared, in 1964 Paul Dudley White, a physician, publicized the health benefits of cycling, in 1968 10-speed racing bikes were introduced to the market, mass produced mountain bikes were introduced in 1982, and in 1991 hybrid mikes began to be marketed.

This is the whole basis of TRIZ. Resolving contradictions is the key to breakthrough inventions. All of the parts of a system do not always evolve at the same rate. The evolution of engine power for automobiles increased their speed of travel, which created the need to add other subsystems such as braking, steering, shock absorbers, and windshield wipers. Each of these also became limiting under certain conditions – high speed causing brakes to fail leading to the use of resources for anti-lock brakes.

VB: Is the ability to recognize and describe contradictions an important skill or attribute for somebody who is good at invention and innovation?

Jack Hipple: It’s a characteristic of a good TRIZ person. I haven’t interviewed enough inventors to know whether or not their brains work this way all the time. But when I give a workshop to a group which includes some senior scientists, I often have a couple of them come up to me afterwards and say something like, ‘You’ve just described how my brain intuitively works, but I couldn’t explain it to anybody. Now you’ve given me an algorithm that explains it.’

Probably Steve Jobs is an example of someone who thought this way all the time and he did it intuitively. It was in his DNA.

VB: As you indicated, there are 40 inventive principles which explain virtually all inventions. Is it difficult to learn to use the TRIZ contradiction table which provides a guide for their use in resolving contradictions within a product, service or system?

Jack Hipple: The problem or challenge with the table is in three areas.

It is deceptively simple in appearance, causing people to use it without giving serious thought to the exact nature of the problem. They pick two parameters with minimal thought, go to the table, look at a few principles, can’t come up with an instant miracle, and then decide the “process” is not worthwhile. This table is the 4th step in the process and too often it is treated as the first because it looks so easy to get an “answer”. TRIZ software and modeling have replaced it in many situations that involve complex problems, but it is still very useful if used properly.

Second, the ‘jargon’ in the table is very general, as it was designed to be, but sometimes people who are working on a problem have difficulty in translating their technology specific terms into a more generic context.

Third, there are many instances where a problem has multiple contradictions. Up to a point the table can still be used, but often the more advanced tools of TRIZ problem modeling have to be used.

VB: “This line of evolution says that products and services evolve away from matching to mismatching and then to dynamic mismatching.” Would you talk about this?

Jack Hipple: Think about electric saws that now prevent kickback, noise canceling headphones, and the evolution of airline ticket prices.

VB: You advise that TRIZ can make the problem-solving aspect of other tools such as QFD and Six Sigma much more efficient and productive. How so?

Jack Hipple: Those other tools do an outstanding job of identifying what the problem is, such as what are the barriers to go from four sigma to six sigma? However, none of these have problem-solving tools within them.

If you read Six Sigma books you will encounter material which suggests, after the core problem or barrier has been identified, you should get a group of experts together and ‘brainstorm’ for the solution.

Motorola was the first major company in the US to use TRIZ in conjunction with its Six Sigma program.

VB: What are some of the lessons we can obtain from the concept of the TRIZ cube?

Jack Hipple: Products and systems evolve “upward” and become integrated but at the same time there are parallel approaches to solving the same problem. If you are not paying attention to the other ways of achieving the function you are trying to accomplish with your offering in the marketplace, a new or existing competitor in an area you don’t know about may surprise you. Think about getting from place A to place B by car, train, plane, or the alternative of using videoconference.

[Vern’s Note: Think of a Rubik’s Cube. The first slice of the cube will have a matrix of nine boxes. In the center box you describe your product, in the box to the left you describe your product as it was perhaps 10 years ago, and to the right what it might be about 10 years from now. Then in each of the columns of three boxes you describe how your system is integrated – in the bottom boxes below your product (10 years ago, presently, and 10 years from now) identify the resources you use to produce your product and in the top three boxes the system in which your product is used. In additional slices of 9 boxes in the Rubik’s Cube you similarly identify other approaches that could achieve the same function as your product achieves.]

VB: “TRIZ is an invaluable aid for strategic planning.” How so?

Jack Hipple: To answer this I need to go back in history. Genrikh Altshuller, the Russian, figured all this out in the 40’s using pencil and paper. He had no computers to do all the required compilation. He toiled to do the analysis of so many patents, developed the 40 inventive principles, and got thrown in prison. But the study of the patent literature didn’t stop. His associates, colleagues, and students kept working on this task.

In the next step they developed an advancement beyond the TRIZ Contradiction Table. They worked on ways to assist in the definition of complex problems by graphically modeling problems, as compared to focusing on contradictions of only two parameters as is done with the inventive principles. The first is known as Su-Field, which is substance field modeling. In essence, it is possible to graphically describe problems which have multiple contradictions and relationships. There are 76 problem models that have been developed, and for each there is a ‘standard’ solution. This approach to problem modeling is the basis for many of the commercial TRIZ software products which are available.

Step three was that you could take this algorithm, turn it upside down, and use TRIZ to analyze failures. Instead of looking for the Ideal Result you could say, ‘I want to make sure something fails all the time, every time’. This is a niche application of TRIZ which we use to help groups identify sources or causes of failure that they haven’t been able to identify with the checklist. People become deliberate saboteurs.

The fourth step was that not only did the patent literature show repeated use of the same principles, but also there are consistent – what is called in TRIZ jargon, ‘lines of evolution’ – which systems go through. Two of them are repeats of the basic assumption that systems get more ideal over time. One of the lessons is if you think you’ve got the most ideal system, you’re going to be put out of business. Somewhere somebody is going to keep thinking in terms of doing something without it’s existence, and the invention will put you out of business.

Another aspect is to use resources. Some approaches are duplicates of what we’ve already talked about, but one of them I will mention is evolution along the field spectrum. Things start out with a mechanical field, and then go to a thermal field, to a chemical field, and to an electronic field – an electro-magnetic field and optical field. Examples of this can be seen in the patent literature. Think about how people have communicated. We used to bang on drums. Then we sent up smoke signals. Later we wrote and sent letters. Then we had wire phones. Now we have wireless.

VB: Does this mean things become ever more complex.

Jack Hipple: Not necessarily. You could look at it that way but they go through the fields and therefore go through lines of evolution. If you think that an optical field is more complex than a mechanical field then you’re right. It’s the fields in the line of evolution that we pay attention to.

Another line is that systems get more dynamic and controllable over time. Look at airline pricing and seat assignments. They change by the microsecond as a function of who you are, frequent flyer plans, when you buy your ticket, and who knows what else. It’s a great TRIZ exercise to see how many examples people can find of an evolutionary line.

Another one of the lines is an oscillation between simplicity and complexity. We talked about the mobile phone. Product systems add what we believe to be useful complexity, and they become more and more ideal. At some point they get so complex nobody knows how to use them. Then we start to trim and make things simpler and easier to use. It’s like a sign wave that goes up and down.

There are eight of those lines which can be used for strategic planning. Think about the people who were in the wire phone business. Or the camera business – Kodak is out of business today. We used to etch things on walls, then we painted things thermally, then we used a chemical field in traditional cameras, and we now have electronic optical fields. Those lines are discontinuous between each other.

While Kodak was trying to find all the brilliant chemists of the world, they didn’t think to hire an optical engineer. They had never been there before. So they kept trying to improve wet chemical film, which they did successfully, but at some point they were put out of business because their field was being displaced.

VB: I understand Kodak was among the first, if not the first, to develop digital photography.

Jack Hipple: You are correct. I’ve heard a Kodak fellow talk about the frustrations many had within the company. When digital photographic technology first came along the megapixels were rather poor and the resulting photographs were pretty bad. Their conclusion was that the new technology would never replace photography, so they stopped working to resolve the problems and the contradictions with digital imaging. Even more surprising is they continued to work to resolve problems and contradictions with traditional chemically based photography.

Recognizing that there’s a discontinuity and addressing it is a strategic thing.

VB: If Kodak had used the TRIZ approach for strategic planning, then it would likely have recognized that digital imaging would be the next best thing. Instead they tried to protect their revenue source, which was film processing.

Jack Hipple: Yes, and how often have you seen this happen? Companies go out of business trying to protect what has made them rich for decades.

VB: In your experience should every organization be using TRIZ tools?

Jack Hipple: Yes, but not everywhere and not in the same way. I can’t think of an organization that shouldn’t be using what I’m going to call ‘Step Zero’. This involves identifying what parallel universe has the same problem as you have, and then searching the web and other sources to find out if somebody else has already solved this problem. We talked about the heart problem and removing stems from peppers, but there are hundreds of examples.

Even getting people to do Step Zero by asking whether someone else solved this problem is a difficult challenge, because they honestly believe that no one else could possibly have the same problem. It’s because they’ve disguised it in jargon and fancy words. But everybody ought to be doing this at a minimum.

For the next two steps, Ideal Result and Resources, I would also be hard pressed to think of any group that shouldn’t be thinking about how they could make their products or services more ideal, and could they make better use of the resources they already have?

Experienced adults have a lot of difficulty with the concept of Ideal Result in a TRIZ context – something which performs its function but doesn’t exist. They can’t imagine this and because they can’t, they can’t think about it. So they’ll compromise the rigor of their thinking and come up with ideas for a 20% improvement. It’s tough for people to separate the steps of the Ideal Result and Resources. The Ideal Result should be a statement of the performance and function of something without it existing. This needs to be separated from the question of how can I achieve this Ideal Result?

I have trouble envisioning anybody who shouldn’t be using those three steps: search for others who have already solved your problem, identify the Ideal Result, and consider how to make better use of existing resources. Frequently this is all you need.

One of the problems is that some authors become mesmerized, not by this mental algorithm of the three steps, but rather by the contradiction table. This applies to some articles about TRIZ and also to books about innovation that include a chapter about TRIZ. It is apparent that these authors don’t fully understand TRIZ. They think of the contradiction table as being the magical answer to everything. They will start there and try to use the contradiction table without doing the first three steps.

It makes me livid. I can’t stop people from writing what they want in a book, but when I’m asked my opinion I say, “This is the worst way you can describe TRIZ.” You need to do the first three steps before jumping to the contradiction table. Otherwise, you will not use it effectively to come up with the best innovation.

VB: One of the reasons people jump to the contradiction table may be because they don’t want to take the time and mental discipline to learn TRIZ in order to use it effectively.

Jack Hipple: Exactly right. It looks so simple. They think their answer can be simply found in the contradiction table. My experience is that people, who don’t learn the process and are merely looking for something magic, won’t use the table properly. They won’t give enough thought to what the problem is that they’re trying to solve so they pick one parameter to explore. When they don’t get an instant answer they say, “TRIZ must not be very good”, and they then dismiss it as an algorithm for inventing. They don’t do the process justice.

I’ve solved a lot of problems with the contradiction table but not the one I’m going to tell you about. Unless you have only been flying in old Boeing 737s, you may have noticed that the newer series of this aircraft do not have engines with round cowlings. They are asymmetric, flat at the bottom and circular at the other three sides. Their shape is a non-uniform geometry, and it was introduced with the Boeing 737-400 model.

The reason for this asymmetric shape is that Boeing stretched the design of the 300 model by an incremental notch for the 400 model to accommodate more passengers. The contradiction was that it would use more fuel, have more seats, and contain more baggage. So now the engine had to be bigger. There’s an FAA requirement for the minimum distance between the bottom of the cowling and the ground, because an airplane might not land exactly straight due to unfavorable winds. What you don’t want to do is scrape the engine cowling on the ground. So Boeing encountered a requirement which they couldn’t figure out how to solve.

Boeing called in a TRIZ consultant in Seattle after their engineers had tried for six months to solve this problem. He used the 60-year-old contradiction table. The ‘y’ axis forces you to think generically and describe what feature you are trying to improve? In the case of the airplane it was the ‘area of a moving object’. On the ‘x’ axis you describe the worsening feature – what gets worse when you achieve what you want to improve. In the case of the Boeing 737-400 model what gets worse is the ‘length/angle of the moving object’. So you look at the intersection of the desirable feature, the row called area of a moving object which is row 5, and the column called ‘length/angle of a moving object’ which is column 3. The box at the intersection of these two features in the contradiction table identifies eight possible inventive principles which are likely to point to the solution to the problem. One of the inventive principles in this box is number 4, ‘asymmetry’. This is how that cowling was invented – in a 20 minute TRIZ session with that 60-year-old Conversion Table. It’s a true story.

VB: The genius of TRIZ.

Jack Hipple: Yes, the genius of Genrikh Altshuller to have figured this out. I wish I had had the chance to meet him. He died of Parkinson’s disease sometime in the late 1990’s.

The TRIZ method enables the inventor to ‘genericize’ a problem and ‘genericize’ the answers.

VB: Do you find TRIZ is an easy sell with executives of corporations?

Jack Hipple: No.

VB: Why do you think this is the case?

Jack Hipple: Two things. Ego, which we already talked about, is one. ‘What do you mean my problem has already been solved?’ ‘I have all these brilliant engineers who are world-class experts in this area.’ ‘What do you mean there’s something they don't know?’ Think about the Abbott employee saying to his boss, “I want to go to a garbage bag convention.” Ego is coupled with an unwillingness to learn and get to understand the TRIZ jargon.

There’s also management – or leadership – by looking backwards. They draw a straight line and want to extrapolate it forward forever instead of recognizing the existence of the S-curve. There will be a discontinuity, and TRIZ can predict this.

Executives don’t always see the ever-increasing need for new technology or they may not be willing to invest it in. They can’t get out of the box. I’m not sure how else to say it.

VB: It must be an even more difficult sell with R&D people, whose very livelihood depends on the assumption that what they’re working on is unique.

Jack Hipple: Absolutely. That’s why it’s difficult to get any universities in this country to be seriously interested in TRIZ. I don’t keep close track of this but there may be a dozen schools in the country where there is one professor in the organizational development or management areas who has been exposed to TRIZ and who teaches a semester course. Students may be exposed to one course but nothing of any intensity. It is quite the opposite in Japan and Europe.

VB: Have you developed up a 30-second elevator speech to sell TRIZ to senior executives?

Jack Hipple: I have tried. I’m not very good at it.

Try to imagine the 30-second speech. ‘Your problem has already been solved. You just don’t know it.’ The usual response is something like, ‘Right. Who are you, you know it all?

VB: It’s my floor. Goodbye!

Jack Hipple: Trying to describe TRIZ in 30 seconds is difficult. It really is.

Once in a while someone will call me after they’ve hit upon our web site. They’ll call me out of the blue and say, ‘Can you fly over here and give us a lunchtime talk about TRIZ so we can begin to use it?’ My response is, ‘I will be glad to take your money. You can pay me consulting fees and my travel, but I want to tell you that you are wasting your time and money if you’re not willing to invest a couple of days and do some reading and study. This is not psychology. This is science. If you’re not willing to mentally stretch yourself, you’ll be wasting your time and money.’

This is like algebra. I ask people, “How long did it take you to learn algebra? Did you do that in a couple of hours?”

VB: TRIZ is rather complicated.

Jack Hipple: One of the examples I use in a workshop early on prior to the machine and dust problem we discussed is to put a quadratic equation up on a board and say, “Ok, we don’t know algebra. It’s 180 AD. What’s ‘x’?” I give people five seconds and say, “Quick! Time’s up.” And of course nobody knows what the answer is.

I then show them the fact that we can take the same quadratic equation and generalize it to ax2 + bx + c, this is an equation we all learn in high school algebra. The equation will give us the exact answer to the problem every time. We don’t have to guess.

My message is TRIZ is to problem-solving what algebra is to math. The challenge is to generalize the problem and look for places where it’s already been solved. People have trouble doing this.

VB: If our readers would like to learn more about TRIZ after they have read your book what other books should they read?

Jack Hipple: I recommend a number of resources.

And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: TRIZ, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving by Genrikh Altshuller. It was written under a secret pen name while he was imprisoned by the Stalin regime.

Hands On: Systematic Innovation by Darrell Mann

Simplified TRIZ: New Problem Solving Applications for Engineers and Manufacturing Professionals by Kalevi Rantanen and Ellen Domb

TRIZ: The Right Solution at the Right Time: A Guide to Innovative Problem Solving by Yuri Salamatov

Da Vinci and the 40 Answers: A Playbook for Creativity and Fresh Ideas by Mark Fox

Matrix 2003: Updating the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix by Darrell Mann, Simon Dewulf, Boris Zlotin, and Alla Zusman

Engineering of Creativity: Introduction to TRIZ Methodology of Inventive Problem Solving by Semyon Savransky

VB: Can one learn to adequately use TRIZ from reading the literature or is it necessary to take courses?

Jack Hipple: I know some people who have taught themselves by reading many books, but usually going to at least one course taught by a TRIZ professional is the best way to get started.

VB: Do you have any final advice about TRIZ for our readers?

Jack Hipple: Try it!

Author Jack Hipple observes that often there are simple concepts applied in unique ways rather than breakthrough new technology in significant inventions. He also advises that the resolution of contradictions is the key to breakthrough inventions.

His message is every organization should be using TRIZ tools, even if they don’t progress to using the more sophisticated elements of TRIZ.

“I can’t think of an organization that shouldn’t be using what I’m going to call ‘Step Zero’. This involves identifying what parallel universe has the same problem as you have, and then searching the web and other sources to find out if somebody else has already solved this problem.”

“For the next two steps, Ideal Result and Resources, I would also be hard pressed to think of any group that shouldn’t be thinking about how they could make their products or services more ideal, and could they make better use of the resources they already have?” “I have trouble envisioning anybody who shouldn’t be using those three steps: search for others who have already solved your problem, identify the Ideal Result, and consider how to make better use of existing resources. Frequently this is all you need.”

Hipple advises that only after going through these three steps should you consider using the TRIZ Contradiction Table.

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.

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