It has always astounded me when, on a warm summer’s day, I see people choosing to run on a machine in a gym rather than enjoying a run in a park or a beach, a free and readily available source! This choice is often based on a contradiction of old methods like running in a park versus the seemingly innovative and ‘high tech’ method like running on a machine.
TRIZ is a Russian innovation and product design process, which can be effectively used in transformative change process and change management. It helps remove the constraints that hinder innovation and get completely original solutions. As a process it treats the problems and contradictions as part of the system and operates accordingly. TRIZ as a transformation tool first identifies where the contradiction exists in the system. Then in trying to meet both elements of the contradiction it searches for freely available resources that can resolve the paradox. Considering these resources, it becomes much easier to find an innovative solution to the problem.
A very good example for TRIZ can be Twitter as a service innovation. As internet became more and more popular, the “wow” factor surpassed the volume of information. Thus reading that much information became almost impossible for people, especially on their smartphones with a smaller screen than a desktop. Thus here comes the contradiction: Lots of information VS. Little information
Seeing this contradiction, Twitter offered a solution, using the freely available resource: the internet. Thus it started providing highly connected information between interested parties (lots of information), while being restricted to 140 characters (little information). Without making a compromise between the amount of information and the “wow” factor, Twitter became a solution for many people.
Then how to apply TRIZ to transformation processes? Below are some contradictions that are common in business life:
Contemplation of Conflict
Financially proven benefit vs Substantial yet intangible benefit
Conflict in doing something that seems innately right versus time spent in creating a business case/ cost-saving reasoning which is hard to grasp and measure.
Powerful Leader vs Powerful Team
An all-powerful charismatic leader versus teams that create future leaders and where leadership intuitively changes based on circumstances.
Error-free solution vs Error-tolerant solution
Where there are high interactions in system dynamics, errors are bound to occur. In this case, build error-tolerant solutions; remove repetitive and predictable errors.
Now that we have identified the contradictions in the system, what to do with them? Step one is to change the contradictory “or” statement, to an “and” statement. For example, instead of thinking we can have a powerful leader or a powerful team, we should start asking “How can we have both a powerful leader and a powerful team?”.
Another good example comes from Crayola, the crayon company. They have identified a contradiction that kids want to draw anywhere and parents don’t want them to draw on the walls. Therefore they created special crayon designs that only allows children to write on a certain type of paper. Therefore they cannot write on the walls.
In transformation processes, readily available and inexpensive resources are often invisible, simply because either they have always been there or they have never been ungrounded. A good example for this can come from Human Resources. Many employees have diverse skills, but are never given a chance to shine. Oftentimes, when someone gets into an organisation, they are labeled with a narrow set of repetitive skills. So when a certain set of skills is necessary the resources might not be fully known. One solution for this can be to encourage employees to volunteer for fixed-period projects. This way, motivated employees from different departments can come together to work on an innovative project. For example a many people will know, Google has a process called “20% time” in which employees work on projects that are outside of their standard job descriptions for the 20% of their time in the office.
TRIZ recognises that many resources are in plentiful supply. It is just a matter of tapping into them. “Looking in” can often be the solution needed, rather than “looking out” for expensive and potentially not as beneficial solutions.
TRIZ can also identify whether a problem must be solved at a subsystem level or at a higher system level. For example, a major car rental company in the UK had an issue with the turnaround of cars during peak hours. Each car needs cleaning and washing, in between customers. While there are solutions such as Lean Thinking to quicken the cleaning cycle, at a higher system level of analysing they have realised that cars turned during the same day, particularly in winter did not need the same level of cleaning as others. Thus they were able to identify specific parts that need cleaning and increase the turnaround speed.
In short, TRIZ can identify conflicts, make use of available resources and investigates whether to solve at a higher system or micro-system level.
More information about TRIZ in the context of transformational change can be found in The Art of Transformational Change by Ketan Varia.
Ketan Varia, with editorial support from Burcu Atay
PS TRIZ is also of course useful in product innovation. For instance, Michelin tried to find a tire that never punctures but can absorb shock like any other tire. Bringing together the two contradictions, they were able to create a tire without air. Here’s the video.
 James Womack and Daniel Jones, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, (London: Simon and Schuster, 2003).