Friday, September 30, 2011

Problem-solving in action.

Some time ago I mentioned that to produce a high quality solution, inventor has to break laws of conventional thinking. For example, despite the fact that the so-called first principle of economics states that "everything is a trade-off," breakthrough inventions destroy rather than enforce trade-offs.

Today, I've found another instance of "inventing by breaking the law." This time it relates to formal logic. Here's what Bertrand Russell writes about one of Kant's laws of thinking:

Let us take as an illustration the law of contradiction. This is commonly stated in the form 'Nothing can both be and not be', which is intended to express the fact that nothing can at once have and not have a given quality. Thus, for example, if a tree is a beech it cannot also be not a beech; if my table is rectangular it cannot also be not rectangular, and so on.

In contrast, classical TRIZ requires the problem-solver to break this law by formulating the problem as a dilemma: element X has property A, and element X has property anti-A. At the same time we  focus on useful and harmful functions provided by the element, which allows us to escape from the constraints imposed by the existing implementations.

Just the other day, when I was working with a client on a problem considered to be almost insolvable, we did find a solution by systematically applying the dilemma-busting rule. Psychologically, it was very difficult. But once we managed to overcome the inertia of taking the existing implementations for granted, the solution became almost obvious.

Though I can't disclosure the client's solution, I can show a case study from my Principles of Invention class. Here's an example of a real-life technology dilemma I solved to get US Patent 7,529,806.

tags: trade-off, dilemma, problem, solution, philosophy, logic, invention

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