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Increase Creativity to Improve Quality

Increase Creativity to Improve Quality

| On 20, Dec 1998

Ellen Domb, Ph.D. The PQR Group, 190 N. Mountain Ave., Upland, CA 91786 USA +1(909)949-0857 FAX +1(909)949-2968

There are many definitions of quality, and there are many definitions of creativity/ innovation. The two leading philosophers of quality agree that management and workers both must exercise great creativity to achieve the goals of quality improvement.

In The New Economics (ref.1) W. Edwards Deming said

  • “What is quality? A product of a service possesses quality if it helps somebody and enjoys a good and sustainable market. Trade depends on quality.”
  • “Is it sufficient to have happy customers? Loyal Customers? The customer expects only what the producer has led him to expect. He is a rapid learner.”
  • “It is good to introduce, by innovation a new product that will do the job better. But where does innovation come from?”

In A History of Managing for Quality (ref. 2) J.M.Juran said

  • “Quality Improvement: This concept is new as applied to the workforce. It began in 1962 when the Japanese invented Quality Circles as a means of enabling workers to make improvements (in quality and otherwise) within their own departments. …These circles have been stunningly successful…and have been widely copied in many other countries.”
  • “Self-directing teams have been the most impressive…significant improvements in quality and productivity…accompanied by as sharp drop in the ratio of supervisors to workers.”
  • “The concept of Strategic Quality Planning: The business plan is enlarged to include goals for quality. These goals are ‘deployed’ to lower levels to determine the resources needed, agree on the actions to be taken, ….”

In the US, the use of the Baldrige Award Criteria (ref. 3) has expanded greatly, with 37 state and regional awards, as well as the national award. More than 2 million copies of the award criteria have been distributed to businesses, government organizations, and health and education organizations. The European Quality Award has had similar popularity. The Baldrige Criteria in each area follow approximately the same pattern:

  1. This is a good thing. How does your organization do it?
  2. How do you improve what you do?
  3. Do you compare yourself to other organizations? If yes, how do you select them and what do you do with what you learn?

This is a very specific version of the general pattern of quality improvement shown in Figure 1, in general, and in Figure 2 in more detail.

Figure 1. The general process improvement cycle “Plan-Do-Check (or “Study”)- Act”

Figure 2. A more detailed process improvement cycle: “Understand-Select-Analyze-Plan-Do-Check-Act” which emphasizes that the plan must be based on the understanding of the system and the evaluation of the data on the system.

In each area of the Baldrige Award, organizations need to exercise creativity in order to tailor the concepts to their own industry and culture. See Table 1.

Section Creativity Issues
1. Leadership How do you seek future opportunities, communicate values, address social and community responsibilities, improve the leadership system
2. Strategic Planning How do you anticipate customer and market expectations, create of new opportunities. What are the product and service development methods. How are action plans are developed?
3. Customer and Market Focus What are your approaches to listening to customers and non-customers? How are customer-focused new services and products developed? How are the processes for listening to customers and markets improved?
4. Information and Analysis How data are gathered, how data are used for decision making, how are comparative data gathered and used?
5. Human Resource Focus How are work systems designed so that all employees contribute to the organization’s performance and learning objectives? How do you use training/education , how do you improve employee work environment and employee satisfaction?
6. Process Management How do customer and market requirements influence new service and product design? How do you develop new methods of production/delivery? How are processes improved? How are support processes managed and improved? How are supplier/partner processes developed and improved?
7. Business Results What organization-specific results should be measured? What actions should be taken in response to results in any area?

Table 1. The 7 areas of the Baldrige Award Criteria, and the creativity challenges in each area.

In many quality improvement training programs, the emphasis on creativity has been based on an egalitarian assumption that if the people involved in some specific area of work apply their knowledge of the work and their knowledge of their customers to the improvement of that work, they will be a success. But, as Dr. Deming has taught us, the workers (whether mangers or non-management employees) must be given training to do the work they are asked to do. For many quality improvement activities, the only training in creativity has been training in brainstorming.

Brainstorming is a method of creativity that was developed initially for liberating people from their disciplined way of thinking, to get them to look far-afield from conventional thinking, and was originally used in the advertising industry. (ref. 4) Brainstorming is a right brain activity; that is, it works best if the brainstorming team uses the skills of the right side of their brains. The right and left sides of the brain, for most people, have the characteristics shown in Table 2.

Right Side of Brain Left Side of Brain
Pattern recognition Linear thinking
Pictorial thinking Logical thinking
Playful thinking Numerical thinking
Uninhibited thinking Judgmental thinking

Table 2. Different patterns of thinking for the right and left sides of the brain.

This is why the “rules of brainstorming” (ref. 5) advise participants to draw pictures, to post all ideas on a wall, to generate ideas continuously, not to criticize or praise another person’s ideas (since praise and criticism are both judgments, and will surpress the right brain activity in favor of left brain activity.) and to encourage continuous flow of ideas. At the end of the brainstorming session ideas are sorted, duplicates are removed, and criteria for the kind of ideas that can improve the process under consideration (nominal group technique, prioritization matrix, prototype studies) are applied. If there are many ideas, the affinity diagram is frequently used to look for patterns in the ideas and to consolidate the categories of ideas so action can be planned. If there are relationships between the ideas that have not been articulated, the interrelationship digraph can be used to bring out the patterns (ref. 5)

Extensions of brainstorming include brainwriting, imaginary brainstorming, mind mapping, and word/picture analogy development (ref.4). All of these techniques enhance the quality improvement effort by involving all the members of a team in creating the ideas for improving their work, and all these methods apply at many levels throughout the organization, from strategic planning by the executive team to process improvement in a quality circle, to health and safety improvement for all employees.

The introduction of TRIZ in the last decade has given us a left-brain creativity tool to use for creative problem solving when the right brain tools are not adequate, or not appropriate(ref 6.) “TIPS” is the acronym for “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,” and “TRIZ” is the acronym for the same phrase in Russian. TRIZ was developed by Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues (Ref. 6-10) in the former USSR starting in 1946, and is now being developed and practiced throughout the world. (Ref.11).

TRIZ research began with the hypothesis that there are universal principles of invention that are the basis for creative innovations that advance technology, and that if these principles could be identified and codified, they could be taught to people to make the process of invention more predictable. The research has proceeded in several stages over the last 50 years. Over 2 million patents have been examined, classified by level of inventiveness, and analyzed to look for principles of innovation. The three primary findings of this research are as follows:

  1. Problems and solutions were repeated across industries and sciences
  2. Patterns of technical evolution were repeated across industries and sciences
  3. Innovations used scientific effects outside the field where they were developed

All three of these findings are applied throughout the quality improvement process, to improve products, services, and the quality of management. These findings have been embodied in a variety of TRIZ tools, which are used in many different ways . The best-known tool is the 40 Principles of Problem Solving, and the accompanying contradiction matrix. The following example shows how the TRIZ method can help all members of an organization contribute to improvement of products, process, and services:

Example: The Automobile Airbag:

Technical contradictions are the classical engineering “trade-offs.” The desired state can’t be reached because something else in the system prevents it. In other words, when something gets better, something else gets worse. Air bag examples of technical contradictions are found in the technology and in the social problems that surround the entire passenger protection situation. Examples:

  • If the threshold for deployment is set low, protecting belted occupants, more unbelted small people in the passenger seat are injured.
  • If the threshold for deployment is set high, unbelted passengers are protected from air bag-caused injury, but belted passengers suffer more injury from the collision.
  • High power (“aggressive”) deployment saves lives of average-sized drivers, but increases injuries to unbelted or small passengers.
  • Adding more sensors (and data processing) to customize the deployment to the circumstances, and thereby save lives of small and unbelted people, increases the complexity of the system.
  • Adding more sensors (and data processing) to customize the deployment to the circumstances, and thereby save lives of small and unbelted people, decreases the reliability of the system.

Resolving Technical Contradictions:

The TRIZ patent research classified 39 features for technical contradictions. Once a contradiction is expressed in the technical contradiction form (the trade-off) the next step is locate the features in the Contradiction Matrix. See the July, 1977 TRIZ Journal for the complete matrix, and see Figure 3, below, for an extract.

Find the row that most closely matches the feature or parameter you are improving in your “trade-off” and the column that most closely matches the feature or parameter that degrades. The cell at the intersection of that row and column will have several numbers. These are the identifying numbers for the Principles of Invention that are most likely, based on the TRIZ research, to solve the problem: that is, to lead to a breakthrough solution instead of a trade-off.

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Figure 3. Selected rows and columns from the Contradiction Matrix. The numbers in the cell refer to the principles that have the highest probability of resolving the contradiction The circled cell is discussed in the example in the text.

For example, consider the proposal to change the speed of inflation of the air bag, to reduce injuries to small occupants. The trade-off is that injuries in high speed accidents increase. Translating this into the TRIZ matrix terms, the parameter that improves is “Duration of action of a moving object” (Row 15) and the parameter that worsens is “Object-generated harmful effects” (Column 31). The cell at the intersection has the notation “21,39,16,22” which are the identifiers for four of the Principles of Invention. The first 2 are listed below, with airbag interpretations marked “è

Principle 21. Skipping

A. Conduct a process , or certain stages (e.g. destructible, harmful or hazardous operations) at high speed.

    • Use a high speed dentist’s drill to avoid heating tissue.
    • Cut plastic faster than heat can propagate in the material, to avoid deforming the shape.

è Inflate the air bag faster than current practice, so that it is fully inflated when the small person impacts it.

Principle 39. Inert atmosphere

A. Replace a normal environment with an inert one.

    • Prevent degradation of a hot metal filament by using an argon atmosphere.

B. Add neutral parts, or inert additives to an object.

    • Increase the volume of powdered detergent by adding inert ingredients. This makes it easier to measure with conventional tools.

è What does the damage is the encounter between the person and the air bag, before it is fully inflated. The bag acts “hard” because of its motion. So something that would “soften” the surface would be the equivalent of an “inert” material—it does not prevent the original purpose (inflate the bag and protect the person from hitting solid objects) but it cushions the blow from the bag itself. How can this be implemented? Change the structure of the bag—make it corrugated, or make it of filaments, or use multiple crushable layers. Change the “hardness” without changing the structure (this is the 2-stage inflation that has already been proposed.)

Likewise, the other tools of TRIZ can be used in a straightforward way to improve products, services, systems, and to predict the improvements needed. One powerful technique for understanding customer needs and carrying them into production is Quality Function Deployment, QFD. The relationship between the tools of TRIZ and the tools of QFD are as shown in Fig. 4 (derived from ref. 6)

image92.jpg (71301 bytes)

Figure 4.“X” indicates common use of TRIZ techniques to solve problems that occur during the indicated stage of QFD.

QFD is used in the Strategic Planning, Product Development, and Process Improvement phases of quality improvement, and is frequently use in the Information and Analysis phase, when internal information users are considered as customers. TRIZ can be used with QFD or by itself, to improve an organization’s problem-solving and technology forecasting capability in all areas of quality improvement.

A similar table can be constructed for all the areas of the Baldrige Criteria, as follows:

image93.jpg (73082 bytes)

Figure 5. The TRIZ techniques, and how they apply to the Baldrige Award Criteria areas. Key: X = techniques now in use. N = techniques where the application of TRIZ is new.


Creativity improvement enhances quality improvement. Quality analysis tells us what our customers want, what our processes need, and what our employees need, but creativity is needed to find ways to make these new products, services, systems, and processes happen.

All employees can learn both right-brain and left-brain creativity methods, and can learn to apply them to the appropriate situations.


  1. W. Edwards Deming. The New Economics. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA 1993.
  2. J. M. Juran. A History of Managing for Quality. ASQC Quality Press, Milwaukee, WI, USA 1995
  3. The 1998 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Criteria. Reprinted by the California Council for Quality and Service, Chula Vista, CA, USA
  4. Bob King and Helmut Schlicksupp. The Idea Edge. GOAL/QPC, Methuen, MA, USA 1998.
  5. The Memory Jogger II. GOAL/QPC, Methuen, MA, USA 1994.
  6. Ellen Domb. “QFD and TRIZ/TIPS” Third International Symposium on Quality Function Deployment, 1997, Linkoping, Sweden. Reprinted in The TRIZ Journal,
  7. E. Domb, K. Tate, R. King. TRIZ: An Approach to Systematic Innovation. Methuen, MA, USA. GOAL/QPC, 1997.
  8. J. Terninko, A.Zusman, B.Zlotin. Step-by-Step TRIZ: Creative Solutions to Innovative Problems. Nottingham, NH USA Responsible Management,.
  9. Victor Fey and Eugene Rivin: The Science of Innovation: A Managerial Overview of the TRIZ Methodology. Southfield, MI. USA. The TRIZ Group
  10. G. Altshuller. Creativity as an Exact Science. Translated by Anthony Williams. NY. Gordon & Breach Science Publishers, 1988.
  11. .The TRIZ Journal 1996-1998.