I just finished the book “Da Vinci and the 40 Answers” by Mark Fox which is not about Leonardo Da Vinci but is about creative thinking in the process of invention and problem solving. I found the book quite interesting and entertaining and would love to read a novel by Mark Fox. I have also found that it changed the way I think about a lot of things. Many times since reading this book I have caught myself referring to some principle that was explored in the text. It seems that some of those ideas have already embedded themselves into my subconscious and rise to the surface as I approach a decision.
The “40 Answers” refers to the 40 principles of TRIZ which is a Russian acronym that translates to “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”. Genrich Altshuller was a Russian engineer and creator of TRIZ. One of his first jobs was working in a patent office inspecting invention proposals. Here he became interested in the process of creativity. He wanted to know how inventors came up with the ideas for their inventions. In studying hundreds of thousands of patents, he discovered that there are only 1500 basic problems, or contradictions, that can be solved by applying one or more of 40 standard answers.
A simple way of looking at the TRIZ answers is to consider them as lenses. To clarify this concept, suppose you have a problem; something is too small to see. You have several lenses that you could choose from. You could use your prescription bifocal lens, your magnifying glass lens, or if necessary, your microscope lens. If you are trying to read the directions on a medicine bottle, your glasses may suffice, or maybe you need a magnifying glass. A microscope would not be an appropriate lens. However, if you were trying to see the tiny ear mites from your cats’ ear you would probably need the microscope lens.
My favorite example is from the swashbuckling days when bootleggers used to carry large blocks of salt onboard. When they sighted the authorities they would tie these blocks of salt to the barrels of alcohol and throw them overboard. The barrels would then sink due to the density of the salt. When the ship was searched no contraband would be found, but as the salt dissolved the barrels would float back to the top for retrieval. Adding the salt is using the “intermediary” lens or answer which is a temporary addition to the process whose sole purpose is to improve the final product but not necessarily become part of the final product.
A detailed explanation of each of the 40 answers can be found in the book or at http://www.triz40.com/aff_Principles.htm.
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