The toolbox known as TRIZ

TRIZ — the Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving — is a toolbox of techniques for solving problems and generating ideas. It was created in the 1950s by a Soviet naval patent clerk named Genrich Altschuller.

Altschuller believed that it was possible for people to learn to become inventors. He studied hundreds of thousands of patents and found that there are only about 1,500 basic problems to be solved. In addition, all of these problems can be solved by applying one or more of 40 universal principles.

Although TRIZ was originally developed in order to help engineers to solve technical problems and create new products, it can be applied to many different areas, such as education, the law, public policy, your small business, and so on. You can use TRIZ in order to solve problems as varied as the following:

  • How can I increase my income?
  • How can I get more blog subscribers?
  • How can I sell more eBooks?
  • How can I improve this product?
  • How can I provide better service for my clients in order to encourage more word of mouth?
  • How can I generate ideas for blog posts, NaNoWriMo, a photography contest, a college art class, and so on?

When most people have a problem that they need to solve, they use a random approach in order to generate a solution. That is, they sit down and they try to think hard. Although eventually they’ll come up with a solution by using this method, it usually takes a long time. In addition, the solution they come up with is often not particularly creative. A much better approach is to systematically apply the TRIZ principles and begin generating ideas right away. Once you’ve generated several ideas by using TRIZ, you can evaluate them and choose the best one.

This article explains and gives examples of the first three TRIZ principles, which are the following:

  • Segmentation
  • Taking Out
  • Local Quality

You can find out more about each of these TRIZ principles below.

First TRIZ Principle – Segmentation

Segmentation is looking at your problem and fragmenting it. It’s about solving a problem by transitioning it to the micro level, or by dividing it into its smallest pieces. The three techniques that you can use in segmentation are the following:

  • Divide an object, or break it down, into independent parts.
  • Make an object easy to disassemble.
  • Increase the degree of fragmentation or segmentation.

Here are some examples:

  • Break down furniture into modular components so that it can be configured based on the customer’s needs. More pieces can be added when the customer can afford them, or when their needs change and they need more storage.
  • Quick disconnect joints in plumbing.
  • Break a large project down into smaller tasks.

In addition, segmentation is often used in marketing. As an example, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” is a book published in the 1990s which contains inspirational stories and motivational essays. It became a huge success and sold millions of copies. The authors – Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen – asked themselves how they could sell even more books.

They proceeded to launch an entire “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. Each book in the series applies the same concept as the original book, but each one is directed at different segments of the population and different life circumstances. They’ve already published over 200 titles under the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” umbrella.

As another example, suppose that you want to start a blog and you’re trying to decide on a niche. You know that the topics that people are most interested in are the following:

  1. Health
  2. Money and Status
  3. Relationships

Look at each of these topics and ask yourself how it can be segmented. A segment of “Relationships” could be “how to have a strong marriage”. A segment of “how to have a strong marriage” could be “have a strong marriage if you have a blended family”. Continue segmenting until you find a topic that interests you, that has a large enough audience to make it worthwhile, and that isn’t already saturated.

Second TRIZ Principle – Taking Out

The second TRIZ principle is “taking out” or “extraction”. The basic question that you ask yourself with this principle is the following: Is there something that I can take out of this product, service, or situation, in order to increase the good and minimize the bad? There are two basic ideas behind this principle:

  1. Take out or separate an interfering part of a product or service.
  2. Single out the only necessary part (or property) of a product or service.

Here are four basic examples of this TRIZ principle:

  • Identify how you’re spending your time in your business, pinpoint those activities which are not at the core of your business and which are using up a lot of your time, and consider outsourcing those activities. That is, take those activities out of your business.
  • Air conditioning companies took the noisy compressor out of the air conditioning system so that it could be placed outside of the building, thereby reducing the noise level inside the building.
  • Take out the sound of a barking dog and implement it into a burglar alarm.
  • Franchises are popular because they take out most of the risk and guess work from starting a business. If you open up a McDonald’s you already know that it’s a business model that works, you’re given a marketing plan, you’re given a training manual for your employees, and so on.

There are a lot of business opportunities for those who can extract the key ideas from complicated concepts and make them easier for others to understand and to apply.

Third TRIZ Principle – Local Quality

The principle of local quality is about changing an object’s structure or external environment from a uniform to a non-uniform state. It’s about modifying or enhancing your product so that it matches the environment in which it’s going to be used. For example, fast food establishments will often adapt their menus to meet the needs and wants of customers in different countries.

A second example is cell phone skins. With these skins, each person can adapt the look of their cell phone to match their own personal taste. This makes the product more appealing.

Another example of local quality is related to purifying water in developing nations. The cost of sewage treatment and water treatment plants is out of reach for these countries. Therefore, the solution was not to create an expensive water treatment plant, but to create a small water filter —- called the Life Straw — to be used by each person to filter the water they’re about to drink. A large problem was solved by making it local: it was solved at the level of each individual.

As a fourth illustration, suppose that you’re a blogger and you write what you consider to be high quality blog posts. You’re convinced that if a high profile blog would link to one of your blog posts it would go viral and you would get your name on the map. Instead of randomly sending out emails to the largest blogs that you can find, think local. That is, identify which blog is most likely to be interested in the topic that you write about. Then, find out which editor from that blog would be most likely to resonate with your writing style and viewpoint. Lastly, target that particular person.

This last example of local quality is for job hunters. Instead of sending out generic resumes, tailor each resume to each particular company and job description.  In addition, prepare for job interviews by researching the company that you’re interviewing with, so that you can make sure that your answers during the interview are relevant to that company. It’s even better if you can find out who will be interviewing you, and you can find some information about them; for example, where they went to school, if they have any hobbies, articles they’ve published, and so on.

Conclusion

The three TRIZ principles explained in this article can help you start generating ideas right away. In addition, there are thirty-seven more TRIZ principles, so there’s a very high likelihood that one of them can help you regardless of what your problem might be. Had you heard of TRIZ before? If so, please share your experience with TRIZ in the comments section below.

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