Does it matter?
In many of my posts I reveal my efforts to determine which Principle is at play in a given innovation. You may think that quibbling over what Principle is at play is unnecessary. To a large extent I agree. If you arrive at a good idea using any of the 40 Principles then that’s a good outcome. But…
Yes, it matters
The reason I try to wrestle with definitions is that a common language facilitates group brainstorming. If we are working on a problem and first attempt to apply Universality to finding a solution, but your definition is closer to Merging, then we might find ourselves at cross purposes.
Another reason is the Contradictions Matrix. Quoth Wikipedia:
“One of the tools which evolved as an extension of the 40 principles was a contradiction matrix in which the contradictory elements of a problem were categorized according to a list of 39 factors which could impact on each other. The combination of each pairing of these 39 elements is set out in a matrix (for example, the weight of a stationary object, the use of energy by a moving object, the ease of repair etc.) Each of the 39 elements is represented down the rows and across the columns (as the negatively affected element) and based upon the research and analysis of patents: wherever precedent solutions have been found that resolve a conflict between two of the elements, the relevant cells in the matrix typically contain a sub-set of three or four principles that have been applied most frequently in inventive solutions which resolve contradictions between those two elements.
Obviously if we narrow down our problem solving to three or four Principles with the expectation that prior patents suggest these are the likeliest to yield the best result, then it is all the more important to have a clear definition of what each Principle is. But…
No, it doesn’t matter
The more I explore this topic and come across examples that people provide for the various Principles (which were invaluable in developing my own understanding), the more contradictions I see.
For example, the Swiss Army knife is described variously as an example of Universality, Merging, Nested Doll and Segmentation. And I can see why – there are ways of looking at it that encompass all these Principles.
For me, the more rigor I demand from the 40 Principles’ definition the more disquieted I become. This is not a science, even though many TRIZ adherents claim it is. It is a set of observations and an effort to categorize the innovations found in thousands of patents. There’s bound to be some innovations that encompass two or more of the Principles. The light bulb alone encompasses five that I could count.
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
The genesis of this web site was my interest in creativity. As I studied creativity I found that the 40 Principles (and other TRIZ concepts) were the most concrete and approachable ways to ensure that I as an individual and team member could never again be stuck for an idea.
Once I engaged in the subject, it was as if a veil had been lifted and I could begin to see patterns to the innovations of companies and innovators I admire. I could see that these same patterns could be applied to my own work. This is exciting, thrilling even.
For now, I have 40 reasons to be excited
My understanding of the 40 Principles will continue to evolve and I may contradict what I say here in the future, but for now I am happy to have 40 Principles in my toolbox, however fuzzy and debatable the borders between them may be.