Tonight I'm going to a PDMA event about the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ), which is a Soviet method of systematic innovation. And last night, I went salsa dancing. Believe it or not, those two very different events are connected through one of my favorite creative problem solving tactics!
First of all, what in the world is TRIZ?
In college, I was lucky enough to briefly study TRIZ in St Petersburg under a handful of the Russian masters. It was January, the room was barely heated, I was wearing 5 layers of clothes to stay warm and we had class for 8 hours a day - and it was one of the coolest (and coldest) experiences of my life!
The whole premise of TRIZ is that by breaking a specific problem down into its underlying generic problem, you will be able to uncover solutions that would never have otherwise occurred to you.
TRIZ was developed in the Soviet Union over 2 decades by a man named Genrich Altshuller who studied 40,000+ patents in order to reveal how invention runs in patterns. And it really works.
Unfortunately, as TRIZ is geared for technical invention, many examples are hard to follow for non-engineers (like myself). So it doesn't get a ton of buzz.
But I'm a huge fan, because it really pushes people to look at problems in different ways.
So, let me give an example of how I just used TRIZ in my everyday life. This is about as non-engineering as you can get! (And how I'm going to tie this post into salsa dancing.)
The Situation: Yesterday, a group of friends and I decided to go salsa dancing. As you can imagine, salsa dancing requires a lot of twists and turns so I knew I'd need to have secure shoes that move with me.
The Problem: Egads - in reviewing my salsa-dancing wardrobe choices, I ran into a huge problem! My sneakers simply wouldn't cut it with my sparkly-gold/black skirt. And my cute heels wouldn't stay on if I move too fast.
Whatever is a gal to do in this terrible, terrible situation? Compromise on fashion for the ability to enjoy myself spinning in circles? Or grit my teeth and wear something that didn't make me feel like dancing?
Oh no! Not me! Instead I decided to use TRIZ - the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving to reveal a solution. (Isn't that what every innovator does in a crisis?)
Think those are the same thing? Not at all.
When your mind gets stuck thinking about holding on high heels, your brain automatically searches for things that are related to high heels only.
But when you expand the parameters to securing footware, that opens up many new possibilities.
Some initial solutions I came up with:
- Glue (ouch)...
- Duct tape (ugly and inflexible)...
- Elastic bands around the arch of my foot (hard to create)...
- Shoe laces (don't work with the heels)...
Then, as I thought of ways to secure footwear, I realized I had recently seen a solution for this exact same generic problem in another part of my life!
As a hobby, I play underwater hockey, which has a lot of quick changes in direction as the puck moves back and forth. So, even though my flippers fit well, I constantly lost them if I turned too fast.
The solution I learned about from my teammates: little rubber straps called "Fin Keepers" that hold your flippers more securely to your feet.
The y-configuration holds the bottom and heels of the shoe securely to the top of my feet, and makes them basically impossible to lose or have slip out of place.
Doesn't that sounds exactly like the result I was looking for with my heels? Hmmm....
So off I run to grab the fin keepers from my gym bag so I could figure out how to mimic their success with my heels. As an experiment, I slipped them onto my heels - and (what do you know!) they held my footware securely to my feet! Problem-solved!
To make it even better - the black rubber almost exactly matched the black of my shoes! In fact, from more than 2 feet away, you couldn't even tell that the fin keepers weren't actually part of the shoe! So, instead of trying to recreate the same functionality with other materials, I just wore my Fin Keepers salsa dancing.
The Result: The Fin Keepers worked perfectly! My shoes didn't slip an inch all night, no matter how fast I spun! (And the only reason my friends noticed I was wearing snorkeling equipment on my feet was because I insisted on showing them.)
All because I went beyond thinking about how to keep my heels on when I danced to thinking more generically about the problem...!
Now, I can't wait for the PDMA event tonight to refresh what I do know about TRIZ, and to open my eyes to how I can use it more ways in creativity. I'll be looking for more things to share for sure.