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Re-Thinking Physical Contradictions #2: Business Problems

Re-Thinking Physical Contradictions #2:  Business Problems

| On 08, Jul 2018

Darrell Mann

It feels like a long time ago, because – embarrassingly – it was a long time ago. April 2017 to be precise, and Issue 181 of this ezine, was the place where we started our re-think of the Physical Contradictions part of the TRIZ/SI story. That first article focused on defining a new structure for thinking about Physical Contradictions in a technical context. The promise at the end of that article was that ‘part 2 in the series’ would shift the focus to business problems. We thought the transition would be easy, but it turns out – 10 months later – to have required some much deeper and broad-ranging thinking. Now, finally, we think we have the story understood and tested sufficiently to be able to present it to a wider audience.

First up a small recap. Figure 1 summarises the eventual taxonomy for looking at the full scope of ways of separating Physical Contradictions. The taxonomy splits the story into Space, Time and Interface categories. This was one of the blinding flashes of the obvious that happened about a year ago: Space-Time-Interface is one of the pillars of Systematic Innovation so maybe it gives us what we need to comprehensively map the spectrum of separation strategies. Maybe, too, it does the job in such a manner that we can eliminate the ‘miscellaneous left-over’ parts of the classical TRIZ version of Physical Contradictions. Sure enough, adding the Interface category of separation strategies did exactly that. ‘Interface’ is all about the ‘betweens’, the relationships between the things in and around a system that enable means of triggering a conditional change between one side of a Contradiction and the other. The concept worked well, but the real magic didn’t happen until we connected the ‘between’ story to the S-Field tool and the need for there to be a ‘field’ present for any system to be able to call itself a system. Given this insight, it was possible to build an Interface taxonomy around the list of possible fields.

Figure 1: Physical Contradiction Separation Strategy Taxonomy For Technical Problems

So far so good. But then came the job of testing the hypothesis that the same Space-Time-Interface ontology was universal enough to translate into the world of business and management. The good news was that it does. The bad news was that the world of ‘fields’ did not translate well out of the technical context. Thermal or electrical fields might be good ways of separating and solving a Physical Contradiction in the technical world, but neither sounded particularly relevant (or legal!) in a business context. So what does ‘field’ mean in the business world?

Answer: emotions. We’re not the first people to make this connection (see Reference 1 for example). What was still missing, however, was any degree of comprehensiveness about the range of different emotions.

Fortunately – in true, ‘someone, somewhere already solved your problem’ fashion – we aren’t the only people to have asked this question. Reference 2 even goes so far as making a review of all the different researchers that have attempted to answer the spectrum of emotions question. Figure 2 reproduces a summary of Ortony and Turner’s findings:

Figure 2: Ortony & Turner Table Of Research On Identification Of Basic Human Emotions

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are many discrepancies between the different researcher findings. Looking a little deeper, everyone appears to be finding the same things, but then segments them in different ways (aah, the troubles caused by dumb copyright law!).

We could, it seems, have selected almost any of the models for our purposes, but two models seemed to stand out to us. The first was a ‘deeper-dive’ analysis by Shaver et al (Reference 3). We particularly liked their summary table as reproduced here in Figure 3:

Figure 3: Ortony & Turner Table Of Research On Identification Of Basic Human Emotions

What this model provides is an elegant hierarchical structure. This, in theory, would allow Physical Contradiction solving users to start at a high level and progressively dig down to acquire more detail as and when they needed it.

We then found a similar hierarchical structure in the Atlas Of Emotions (Reference 4). It also makes an elegant attempt to ‘rank’ the various different emotions, adding an additional level of granularity for anyone seeking it. Figure 4 illustrates the overall Atlas taxonomy:

Figure 4: Atlas Of Emotions Taxonomy

What we also liked about this model was its recognition of the overlap between different emotions. It then gets even better when we start drilling down into each of the emotions. Figure 5, for example, reproduces the spectrum of emotions within the ‘Enjoyment’ cluster:

Figure 5: Spectrum Of ‘Enjoyment’ Emotions Within Atlas Of Emotions

It also contains this elegant emotional episode timeline model, which, if anyone really wants to get deep into the Physical Contradiction solving story at the most granular – micro-second-to-micro-second – level might wish to explore more deeply (I imagine we’ll be re-visiting it ourselves in future ezine articles):

Figure 6: Atlas Of Emotions ‘Emotional Episode Timeline’ Model

Meanwhile, the main job here needs to be how we apply this model into the bigger Space-Time-Interface separation strategy context. Figure 7 reproduces the business version of a Physical Contradiction Template (PCT) as found in the imminent Business Matrix 3.0 book (Reference 5).

Figure 7: Physical Contradiction Template (PCT)

The left-hand side of the Template sheet is in effect a check-list of possible contradiction separation possibilities in each of the three, Space, Time and Interface categories. More details of the list can be found in the Business Matrix 3.0 book. The right-hand side of the Template then describes the Venn Diagram we have been using for some time now as a means of guiding users to the Inventive Principles that previous contradiction-solvers have successfully utilized to solve their version of our problem. Any readers that have already acquired copies of the Business Matrix 3.0 fold-out sheet (we managed to publish that almost a year before the book), will recognize this Diagram from the back of the sheet. In that version, we were still labelling the third circle as ‘Condition’. In this new PCT version (and in the BM3 book), now we had the blinding flash of the obvious that Space and Time are also ‘conditions’, the third circle is relabeled, ‘Interface’.

The main working part of the Template is the cluster of empty boxes in the middle of the sheet. Figure 8 shows what they will typically look like after they’ve been completed. The problem being addressed in this case being a common cultural problem relating to what my Australian friends call the ‘tall-poppy’ problem. We want others to be successful, but we also don’t want them to be ‘too’ successful. In the poppy metaphor, the taller the poppy, the more ‘successful they’ve been. Except, the taller they become relative to the other poppies, the more likely it is that they will be the poppy that gets cut down.

Figure 8: Completed PCT For ‘Tall Poppy’ Contradiction

One of the things we often now see – and I experienced it here doing this problem ‘live’ in front of the team – is that merely having a better check-list of separation options is very often enough to enable solution of the problem. The finding that we want others to be successful if we receive some reflected glory and don’t if their success clouds our own feels like I’m close enough to having a solution before I’ve started to look at the Inventive Principle suggestions.

If I still need some help to bridge the gap between problem and solution, from the tall-poppy perspective, perhaps the answer to their problem, therefore, is where the Inventive Principles, and in this case Principle 40, Composite, comes in to play. Principle 30, Thin & Flexible also feels like its on the money.

So far, being a long-term anti-Physical Contradiction person, thanks to the new structure and, particularly the check-lists, I think I’m coming around to the idea more. Now I can enjoy solving conflicts and physical contradictions.


  1. Belski, I., ‘Improve Your Thinking: Substance-Field Analysis’,
  2. Ortony, A., Turner, T. J. (1990). What’s basic about basic emotions? Psychological Review, 97, 315-331.
  3. Shaver, P., Schwartz, J., Kirson, D., & O’Connor, C. (2001). Emotional Knowledge: Further Exploration of a Prototype Approach. In G. Parrott (Eds.), Emotions in Social Psychology: Essential Readings (pp. 26-56). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
  5. Mann, D.L.,’Business Matrix 3.0: Solving Management, People & Process Contradictions’, IFR Press, 2018.