Monday, December 04, 2006


Innovation Evaluation--TRIZ and Journalism

The end of the year always brings special issues of magazines featuring the year’s best inventions (Time Magazine, Nov. 13), the innovators of the year (35 innovators under age 35, Technology Review, October 2006), etc. Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Computer Shopper, and other have special December issues that will be out in a few days. Sometimes the criteria are explicit, but more often they are not, and the readers are left to figure out for themselves why the specific list was chosen.

One question to explore in this column is why are we interested in someone else’s judgment of the innovators or the innovations of the year.

Readers are invited to contribute their thoughts—why are these lists so popular?

TRIZ has 2 ways of ranking inventions:
1. Ideality. The higher the score, the higher the level of innovation.
Ideality = Σ Benefits/( Σ Cost + Σ Harm)
2. The 5 levels of innovation, which gives the highest score to the innovation that is technologically most distant from the original method of doing the desired function.

Evaluation of ideality is usually done when there are multiple possible methods of improving a system. If the goal is maximum innovation, then the system with the highest level of ideality will be selected. But, if there are other goals (low cost, producible with current methods, etc.) those criteria are used, and the ideality ranking is used to develop a future improvement plan.

Evaluation of the 5 levels of innovation is usually done as part of technology forecasting evaluation, either using conventional TRIZ patterns of evolution, or the evolutionary potential method. In either case, the next improvement in a system is determined by comparing the levels of innovation of the key elements of the present system, to see what the opportunities are.

Do you have a favorite list? What makes it good? If you can answer that question, you’ll know what the judging criteria were. I like the Time list because it combines commercial success with technological advancement as a criterion. YouTube was rated #1, since it went from new to $1.65 Billion in less than 2 years, and created a new communication system that was far beyond what the inventors had in mind—it is a great example of the users finding new ways to use the product, and involving their networks of friends and colleagues in the system. But many of the next 20 were TRIZ-like technology improvements, with reduction of harm as well as addition of benefits, even though many of them are at the demonstration stage, not the commercialization stage. I use these as test items for teaching TRIZ, so it helps that they are entertaining as well as useful.

Tutorials on these topics :

Ideality: and

Patterns of Evolution:

Evolutionary Potential:

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