Mobile Trends

Trends of Technical Evolution is a tool that is easy to grasp, and to apply to everyday life. The idea of this tool is that all products will follow a set of steps in their evolution, which allows us to decide where the product is now and how it will develop in the future.

A UK based designer Kyle Bean has produced a wonderful example of this, with a nested doll (TRIZ Inventive Principle 7) of mobile phones. From the first  Motorola DynaTAC from 1983, to the iPhone, the models fit inside each other to create a visual history of the mobile phone. Read the article on Wired, and have a look at the Oxford Creativity website to find out more about Trends of Technical Evolution.

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The disproportionate benefits of conservation

People often ask me, or rather more accurately tell me, that “TRIZ sounds great for engineers but it wouldn’t be useful in my field of work, would it?”.

I found this interesting example, not of an initiative that actually used TRIZ, but one which contains all the conceptual elements of TRIZ ‘Ideality’ [calculated as Benefits divided by the Costs and Harms] and more importantly comes to a paradigm shattering conclusion.

Habitat conservation has previously been seen as an expensive activity where conserving sites of importance for biodiversity conservation is simply of academic interest but the benefits were poorly understood while the costs were growing exponentially.

A recent Danish funded piece of research followed a very similar route to one of our TRIZ problem solving workshops:

They identified four (ecosystem service) benefits:

  • carbon storage
  • provision of freshwater ecosystem services
  • option value
  • cultural value

for which they estimated the financial value of these ecosystem services.

Then they assessed the costs of conserving them…

To cut a long story short (you can always read the report) their findings suggest that:

Overall, the aggregated values for the network of priority sites performed significantly better for all four ecosystem services:

  • carbon storage is significantly higher
  • would deliver substantially greater freshwater services than other sites
  • culturally, they lie in areas of significantly higher linguistic diversity

and the killer conclusion, and title of the paper, that

Conserving critical sites for Biodiversity provides disproportionate benefits to people

This is a powerful first step towards taking into account a total ecosystem view. As a TRIZ practitioner, I would be failing my craft not to recommend that they do not stop half way. They should now:

  • Take each of the costs and harms and apply the appropriate Standard Solutions to reduce or remove
  •  Take each of the benefits and work through the Standard Solutions to maximise each benefit.
  • Plot these creative solutions on a nine box analysis sheet and determine what needs to  be done strategically and what tactically.

… and don’t get me started on the all storytelling methods they could use in order to engage the stakeholders in order to make the changes happen.

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The evolutionary trends of Pinterest


One of the key TRIZ components I help to teach and facilitate at Oxford Creativity is that of Evolutionary Trends. These are the typical paths that previous innovation has taken eg Increased Flexibility or Shortening of Energy Flows.

Watching recent developments at Facebook has illustrated a number of these Trends, in particular the integration of Pinterest.

Pinterest if you haven’t encountered it yet is an online pinboard that enables you to bring together images that (p)interest you with an inbuilt reference to their original source. It is a bit like selecting your own page of google images. The interesting TRIZ trend is that it has combined dissimilar elements that are already in existence into a product that is currently valued at $1.5 billion.

Essentially Pinterest combines (using dissimilar elements) the image pages of Google with the Retweeting option, 140 character comment and hashtags of Twitter, together with the like and follow buttons from Facebook. When you pin an item you can advertise the fact on Twitter or Facebook and when someone engages with your pinboards you are emailed accordingly (increasing controllability ie a system with feedback).

I read recently that Facebook now occupies a similar niche to the landlines of our old phone system and that new modules will effectively interact as did our mobile phone technology.  Pinterest, although currently independently run, is becoming much more tightly integrated into Facebook (Transition to the Super-System).

And has Pinterest got any real business benefits. Well aside from the costs and harms of playing with it for hours rather than getting proper work done it is an interesting showcase of the thoughts, values and beliefs of an individual. Take a look at my first attempt at a pinboard of ‘The TRIZiest ideas‘ which has already started to receive comments, repins and may just begin to allow individuals to self-realise (Less Human Involvement) the wonderful world of TRIZ.

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Fight Fixed Thinking

I was reading the column by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian and I realised that following the TRIZ trimming rules would do a great job on the candle and the rings problem. You would imagine that the joining or holding piece had been removed you’d look to see whether any of the missing functions could be carried out by the remaining objects. This could be by the Candles, pins, boxes, air, wall etc.

Some new solutions proposed by TRIZ to more closely match the requirement of the question to stick the candle to the wall.

  • Open the box. Pin the box to the wall so that it makes a pouch the candle can sit in against the wall.
  • Put drawing pins into the wall but sticking out a little then soften the candle so it gets lodged behind the pins.
  • Use two pins to hold a third pin so it sticks out point first.  The point sticks in the candle job done.

Another principle from TRIZ is idea concept.

Using the concept from the two rings: Break one end of the candle,  liberate the string and tie it around the pin which is stuck in the wall. Light the other end – though this probably also needs bending round to avoid the wick getting smothered in melting wax.

Now if none of these solution meet the requirements, there’s a whole load on inventive principles to help improve the ideas, however looking at each part of a system and seeing what other functions it might fulfil is something we could/should be doing everyday in our engineering practice.  Adding a part to solve a problem….what else could it do for you today?

Have fun TRIZing

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Intuition, Creativity and TRIZ

I have always had a bit of a problem with the role of intuition or insight in creativity. When I was first taught the psychology of problem solving and creativity at Oxford Brookes University, I remember our lecturer talking about the “aha!” moment, and getting annoyed, as a lot of the descriptions she gave of moments of creative insight seemed to be reinforcing the “mythic” side of creativity. The idea that the answer will come to you in a blinding flash of insight, after a period of incubation, annoys me because it’s random, and I don’t believe that you can (or should, or need to) rely on chance to come up with clever ideas.

Creativity is difficult to define and predict and that moment when we come up with a clever idea feels magical: however just because it feels magical doesn’t mean that it is. People talk about the “eureka” moment and Archimede’s realisation of how he could measure the volume of gold in an irregularly shaped crown by submerging it in water (as he was stepping into the bath) is a brilliant story.


The image of the mathematician running through the streets, naked and wet, exclaiming “eureka” is a wonderful evocation of the emotional response to having a great idea, but what no-one talks about is the years of training to develop his mathematical genius, and the hours (days, weeks?) spent understanding and defining the problem correctly. A lot of the research into creative genius, such as the work by Weisberg, highlights the importance of expertise and experience in creativity: you can’t have a flash of insight without years of hard work first!

No-one is terribly sure how insight happens but there are some theories regarding the importance of incubating an idea and why it might be useful (and therefore lead to insight). One theory is that when we’re working hard on a problem we just get tired: having a break just gives us more mental energy, and when we return to thinking about the problem we are more likely to think of a solution.

Another theory is that we get mentally stuck in a rut of thinking – psychologists call this fixation, TRIZ people call it psychologically inertia – and when we go away and leave the problem for a while, we come back to it with a fresh perspective, having broken out of our fixation. This allows us to see new possibilities and allows a moment of insight to happen.


This is probably what is happening when we are in the shower, or on a bike ride, and suddenly think of a solution to our problem – we have brought a fresh perspective. However it doesn’t need to be random – we can logically and systematically understand our problem and consciously break our psychological inertia in order to come up with creative ideas.

This is what I use TRIZ for (although it’s only one way) and one of the ways that TRIZ can feel like magic. There are times when you’re working on a problem and you are just not sure that it’s going well. You’re facilitating a group, and have helped them uncover a contradiction, for example, and a number of inventive principles have been suggested and you look at them and your heart sinks. “Colour change!?” you think, “How is that going to be useful?!?!” and you feel sick and want to go and hide in the toilets. However you give the group the principle, you explain it, and what happens, what ALWAYS happens, is that they will take their years of expertise and domain knowledge and see a clever way of applying it, and come up with a brilliant idea. A ripple of excitement goes through the group, the magic has happened, but it wasn’t random.

This is why we always say: trust the TRIZ. It’s a bit like Obi Wan Kenobi telling Luke Skywalker at the end of the first Star Wars movie to “trust the force”. This is what problem solving with TRIZ is like…you don’t know when the magic is going to happen, but it will…

So in honour of Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you)…

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TRIZ and Cynefin Framework

I have recently been involved in a couple of sessions where we have combined TRIZ with Cognitive Edge.  These came about separately and in both cases I could see that using some of the techniques found in Cognitive Edge would add something to the TRIZ approach. I heard about cognitive edge through my colleague Ron Donaldson, who has been part of the Oxford Creativity team for a few years now. Ron teaches facilitation and conducts workshops using Cognitive Edge, and in our downtime before and between workshops we had discussed it, and I had found the idea of taking different types of approaches dependent on what kind of problem you have fascinating.

In particular, I could see that the Cynefin framework made explicit, and built on, the TRIZ approach to problems.

The Cynefin framework describes how some kind of problems are simple: like fixing a puncture on your bike. You know how to do it, and can do it yourself. Some are complicated: like building a ship. You probably can’t do it yourself, and might not have all the knowledge, but it exists out there in the world and if you put together a project you can pull together the right knowledge and be confident you will end up with a ship that floats. Some problems are complex: like predicting the outcome of a general election. It is impossible to predict with confidence what will happen before it does, but once the results are in you can look back and identify the key events that led to the result. Some are chaos: like riots. You can’t predict what happens and even looking back it’s hard to see why things happened.

Cognitive Edge Pte. Ltd

My first thought on being exposed to this was that TRIZ does is takes complicated situations and breaks them into simple parts. Sometimes problems seem scarily big and hard: with TRIZ we try to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks and solve each problem one by one. For example, when looking at contradictions, we look at pairs at a time. When we’re trimming a function analysis, we work through the trimming steps one by one, one component at a time. This makes even the complicated situations easier to deal with – we’re not trying to climb a mountain in a single leap, but just make it to the next crest.

I thought at first that TRIZ also helps make complex situations complicated, by providing us with a clear set of steps to follow. Regularly when you’re problem solving with TRIZ you stop and reassess: am I going in the right direction? by defining our ideal outcome we have a general direction and then triz provides us with a number of “problem solving maps” to help us get there. Hwoever now I’m not so sure. It is hard to define your ideal outcome when you don’t know where you want to end up: you might not have a clear idea of what’s going on around you, or how you ended up where you are. At this point, I think the Cynefin framework helps.

What we found in the two sessions we ran is that when there was quite a lot of uncertainty that it helped to separate out problems according to whether they were complex, complicated or simple. In one session the client was confused because some of their tasks were complicated and some complex, and they didn’t know what approach to take: should they plan a project or should they explore? This uncertainty made it hard for them to see a way forward, as they made the assumption that they should be choosing one approach for all their tasks: separating out which could be planned and which needed some experimentation helped them keep complexity in its place and break down their tasks into more manageable chunks.

Future backwards is a tool from cognitive edge which also has a really good fit with TRIZ. When we’re doing TRIZ problem solving sessions we usually start by asking people to describe the problem: where are we now? How did we get here? We then often start by asking them to define their ideal outcome: what would their perfect outcome look like? This sets the direction for our problem solving by quickly and accurately defining what we want.

However future backwards extends this further by asking everyone to describe their present situation, then, working backwards in time, outline the steps and decisions which brought them to this place. This is useful as we often generate stories and explanations which only include some of the relevant information. By working on this as a group more relevant information is uncovered, and we see new links between events and decisions and gain a new understanding of where we are, and how we got there. The next step is to identify a future hell: if everything that went wrong did go wrong, what would the future look like? This is usually quite funny and cathartic: next we work out what would need to happen to make this situation real.  This gives us a problem list (which we can tackle with TRIZ!). When we identify a future heaven: if everything that went right, did go right, what would the future look like? This is exactly the same as the ideal outcome, only not explicitly stated as benefits. People often suggest ideas and describe perfect solutions or functions rather than benefits, but it can be used as a starting point for the ideal outcome. We then then map out all the things that need to happen to get there: this gives us ideas of how we can plan to get to where we want to be.

The heaven/hell thing is very TRIZzy in approach: sometimes in TRIZ sessions we do an “idiot” outcome as well as an ideal, as sometimes it is easier to talk about what we don’t want, than what we do. Even the fact that it is taking two extreme approaches is very TRIzzy: a lot of the fundamental TRIZ approach is about stretching our thinking as this gives us a new perspective on our situation and can help us see things more clearly. However I like the fact that what cognitive edge adds in is an aspect of storytelling which helps people make sense of their situation, and gives them confidence to move forward. It is also useful for teamwork: Ron and I did a future backwards with two very different groups (who were usually in conflict when making decisions) and when the groups described their future heaven and hell to each other you could see the surprise on their faces: “these guys want the same thing as me! They worry about the same things as me!” Both groups had the same starting point and very similar heavens and hells: and the fact this was written down explicitly before the feedback really cemented the teamwork

I’ve talked enough and I think I am only just starting to think about the synergies between cognitive edge and TRIZ, so I welcome thoughts and comments on this. Of course, I would expect there to be overlaps, as one of the things TRIZ teaches us is that there is nothing new, on a conceptual level. TRIZ also tells me that it is easy to get psychological inertia without realising it, and I certainly have a bias towards treating problems as complicated rather than complex. I wonder if many engineers do the same, and perhaps we just need to be aware of this in order to solve problems in the most inventive way.

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This blog is written by Oxford Creativity. We are a consultancy which teaches and uses TRIZ: the theory of inventive problem solving. If you’re wondering what TRIZ is, read this.

We teach TRIZ to people (about half our time) and the other half we spend facilitating other people in the use of TRIZ to help them understand and solve problems. We don’t solve problems for people: we help them use their experience and creativity even better, so they can solve the problems themselves.

Oxford Creativity’s greatest strength is its team of consultants who all have different skills, interests and experience. My personal interest is in the psychology of innovation at work. You will hopefully spot my bias and guess that of my colleagues in the ensuing posts: one of the things TRIZ teaches us is that different people like different things, so we have always tried to have diverse consultants who will connect with people in different ways, and bring their own perspective.

You will be hearing from the whole team and I hope you find our different takes on TRIZ, it’s uses and applications, interesting. We are all TRIZ enthusiasts, as well as doing it for a living, and I hope that comes across.  I often find myself in situations such as this: Andrew, Andrea and I were on a plane coming home from a workshop. Andrew pointed out a rather funky and innovative piece of fashion wear in the in-flight magazine (imagine something that looks like a suit of armour designed for the 22nd century, made of rubber) and we all had a happy and hilarious time working through how it demonstrated each of the 40 Principles.

We hope to include some of our wonderful cartoons (drawn by the extremely talented Clive Goddard) – these illustrate the TRIZ tools in a simple and effective way that everyone can understand.

If there is anything you would like us to TRIZ,  leave us a comment below.

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