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TRIADS: THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO TRIZ - Elaboration on the Use of Triads and TRIZ to Solve Impossible Problems and Create Next-Generation, Breakthrough Designs

TRIADS: THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO TRIZ – Elaboration on the Use of Triads and TRIZ to Solve Impossible Problems and Create Next-Generation, Breakthrough Designs

| On 10, Jun 1998

James Kowalick, Ph.D., P.E., President
Renaissance Leadership Institute, Leonardo da Vinci Division
P.O. Box 659, 9907 Camper Lane, Oregon House, CA. 95962
Voice 530-692-1944 ~ Fax 530-692-1946 ~ E-mail

Triads: A Simple Example of How Three Objects Make a PhenomenonQuestion: What three objects are required for the phenomenon we call “sitting” to occur? For sure, there is something like a CHAIR, and there is a PERSON. One of these objects is the ACTIVE OBJECT, and the other is the PASSIVE OBJECT. The CHAIR is the ACTIVE OBJECT, because it does something to the PERSON: “CHAIR SUPPORTS PERSON,” or, if we want to think more scientifically, we can say that “CHAIR PUSHES-UP ON PERSON.” Before this action occurred, the PERSON could not sit. Perhaps the person was tired, and desired to sit. But he could not sit, unless there was something to support him – something to act against the gravity forces that tended to pull him down to the surface of the earth – towards the floor. That “something” is the CHAIR. So, in this instance, the CHAIR is the ACTIVE OBJECT and the PERSON is the PASSIVE OBJECT that gets “changed” or “modified” in some way (the PERSON gets “supported” by the CHAIR).

But the CHAIR and the PERSON could never come together in a manner that is ordinarily referred to as “sitting,” unless there is a third object involved. That third object is the ENABLING OBJECT. It is called ENABLING OBJECT because it “enables” the CHAIR and the PERSON to come together in a manner that we call “sitting.” What is that ENABLING OBJECT? You may reply “Gravity,” but Gravity is not an object. The third object – the ENABLING OBJECT – is the EARTH itself. Without the presence of the earth, along with the CHAIR and the PERSON, sitting will not occur as we know it. This can be verified (although at great expense) by re-locating the CHAIR and the PERSON to outer space, far from the influence of the EARTH. Sitting will not occur there, even though the CHAIR and the PERSON are right next to each other.

These three objects ACTIVE, PASSIVE and ENABLING form a triad. The necessary requirement for a phenomenon to become manifest, is that there has to be a triad. For the case of sitting, we have three objects: the CHAIR, the PERSON and the EARTH. Question: Do these objects interact with each other? Yes, of course they do. The CHAIR certainly interacts with the PERSON in a way that we describe as “CHAIR SUPPORTS PERSON” or “CHAIR PUSHES-ON PERSON.” What about the PERSON and the EARTH? Do they interact, and if so, how? Yes, they interact in a way described as “EARTH PULLS PERSON” or, “EARTH ATTRACTS PERSON.” Such “attraction” we usually refer to as “gravitational.” What about the CHAIR and the EARTH? Do they interact, and if so, how? Yes, the EARTH interacts with the CHAIR in a manner described as “EARTH SUPPORTS CHAIR,” or, “EARTH PUSHES-UP-ON CHAIR.” But what if the CHAIR is not really directly “on” the EARTH? What if it is really on a floor in a house? It’s practically the same thing! For all practical purposes, the floor of the house is considered to be a part of the surface of the EARTH.

How a Triad Contains S-Fields Consider what was already discussed above. The EARTH supports the CHAIR. The CHAIR supports the PERSON. And, the EARTH attracts the PERSON. These three interactions create the phenomenon called sitting. Could this idea about “Triads” be a “law?” Could it be that all phenomena require three such elements in order to happen or manifest? And how is this different from an “S-Field?” The one triad just discussed contains within itself three of what TRIZ refers to as “S-Fields.” Let’s try out the “Triads” approach on other phenomenon – for example, “Cleaning teeth with a toothbrush.”

Another Example The toothbrush is a “system” (or object) for cleaning teeth. The teeth represent the “object” being cleaned. So, using the terminology already discussed, the teeth must be the passive object, and the toothbrush “system” is the active object. The interaction is expressed as “TOOTHBRUSH CLEANS TEETH.” But generically, we have already concluded that this will not occur, unless there is a third object to . . . . to do what? To do what is necessary to bring the toothbrush and the teeth together in a manner that represents “cleaning teeth.” Question: What is this third, “enabling” object that is required to bring the toothbrush and the teeth together in a way that represents “cleaning?” The answer: It is another system – the “enabling” system (i.e., the “enabling” object). This object or “system” is a “human being.” Without the human being (for the teeth-cleaning process being discussed), there would be no cleaning. And so, once again, we have three objects that are required in order to create a phenomenon – the phenomenon in this instance is called “teeth being cleaned.”

Identifying the Three Objects in a Triad It is not always easy to identify the three objects or elements of a triad. Often the enabling element is “Psychologically Invisible,” meaning that we cannot mentally visualize or determine what it is. There is a certain methodology that is necessary in order to be able to “see” various phenomena as “triads.” Like any rewarding technique or approach, it takes a lot of practice to gain this capability. The language of “triads” is a very powerful, high-level language; learning this language, and how to use it, is well worth the effort.

Levels of Problem-Solving Languages; the Language of Triads; and Triad Decomposition The higher the level of the problem-solving language that is used to solve a problem, the more rapid and higher-level the solution. The language of Triads – known by the Russian author, journalist and physicist P. Ouspensky as early as 1913 – is a very high-level language. It is also very powerful, and it allows problem-solvers to rapidly achieve high-level solutions. There is another key advantage to using the symbolic language of “Triads.” A triad can be decomposed into steps that represent a process. Thinking deeply about “Triad Decomposition” explains such things as the nature of the organization of Mendeleev’s periodic table of the chemical elements – and other diverse scientific phenomena – which up to this very day, have not been explained by science. In this article, the author will not further discuss “Triad Decomposition” in detail. However, its ramifications are broad in scope, and far reaching, because of the additional capabilities that it gives to problem-solvers. One of many examples of the use of Triad decomposition: it can be used to forecast previously unknown biochemical functions (in the human body) of complex (known or unknown) chemical molecules – for example, new drug agents for treating diabetes.

There are different types of “languages” used in problem-solving. One of the lowest levels (i.e., least effective, on a relative scale) of problem-solving “languages” is the “language of words.” Using this language alone to solve problems is quite limiting – even though this is the language that problem solvers use when they apply so-called “logical thinking” to a problem. But “words” can only take problem solvers so far. There are higher languages that explain much more, in a very short time, e.g., the language of charts, tables and graphs. Engineers and scientists often use this “language.” The famous saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” applies to this language as well.

There is an even higher, more powerful language (higher and more powerful, because it is more “generic” in nature). That higher and more powerful language is the “language of symbols.” The life of problem solvers does not have to stop with TRIZ, or with the problem-solving languages associated with TRIZ. Remember the old saying: “He cannot see the forest through the TRIZ.” Each new (higher-level) problem-solving approach builds on (and contains within itself) the problem-solving languages of its precedents. So it is with Triads.

The Language of S-Fields S-Fields have proven to be quite useful in their present form. For example, the entire “Standard Solution” approach is based upon them, and this approach has been very useful for solving problems. There is also a vast database of case-study examples that has been collected. These case studies (problems and solutions) are related to problem-solving capabilities through the use of S-Field models.

From the beginning, there are some aspects of S-Fields that have been troublesome to veteran TRIZniks and beginners alike. This has caused some veteran TRIZniks to (at least in public) abandon the use of S-Fields. To the contrary: the author believes that S-Fields are extremely useful and valuable, and wonders why they are not offered to users of certain invention software packages (this may be more of a “marketing” decision, based upon the belief that S-Fields are too “complicated” to be learned by the average problem-solver who uses invention software). Nevertheless, calling an “S-Field” a “minimal system” appears to be troublesome, for reasons discussed below.

But first, I would like to address some problems that, at least partly, may have arisen due to the poor translations of TRIZ concepts from the Russian to the English language. One such problem is the misuse of the word “system” for the word “function.” Consider two “objects.” When these two objects interact, e.g., in a desired way, a function emerges, and this is what, in TRIZ, is called an S-Field, or “Substance-Field.” An example of this is: a toothbrush interacts in a certain way with teeth, such that the function “toothbrush cleans teeth” emerges. The S-Field is created when, according to one account from a TRIZnik, a “Field” provides the energy to bring the two objects (toothbrush and teeth) together to create the function of “cleaning”. The field in this case could be called “Mechanical,” and could be designated as F(MECH).

Systems, Functions, Problem-Solving and Triads TRIZniks (using the English language) might also (loosely) refer to this function (e.g., the function of cleaning teeth) as a “system.” In fact, however, a function is merely a capability of a system – the function is not equal to the system. To describe a “system” is to describe its essential parts – those parts that are absolutely necessary to carry out the system’s essential function(s). If one of these parts is missing, the essential function cannot be carried out. Furthermore, if a problem-solver neglects to consider one of these parts, his “field of solutions” becomes more limited.

What are these parts for the example (teeth-cleaning) under discussion? There are three of them: The teeth represents one “part” – the part to be modified, worked on, changed, etc. (the part to be “cleaned”). This part is a “passive” part. The toothbrush is another “part” – representing the “tool” or “instrument” that can perform the “cleaning” of the teeth. This part is an “active” part. But these two parts alone are an incomplete system. Another “part” is required before we have a system that accomplishes cleaning. This third “part” is the “enabling” part – the part that brings the active and passive parts together in a way that is desired. In this instance, the enabling part is a human being – without which, the “cleaning” function cannot occur. Together, these three parts provide the required “cleaning” function. The “essential” system is made up of teeth, a toothbrush, and a human being.

Interactions (S-Fields) Among the Three Essential Parts of a System’s Function Please note that several essential interactions between these three objects are required for “cleaning” to be effectively accomplished. One involves the interaction(s) between the toothbrush and the teeth. This is primarily a mechanical interaction – but it cannot occur without the presence of the third object – the human being. The second involves the interaction(s) between the toothbrush and the human being. This is primarily a mechanical interaction, but with an intelligent control of the motion, the direction of motion, and the degree of force exerted by the toothbrush relative to the teeth. The third involves the interaction(s) between the human being and the teeth, through the human’s sensory system (acting as feedback). The human being senses by “touch” or “feel,” and possibly by visual means (e.g., using a mirror and his senses to ascertain the position of the brush, the degree of force exerted by the brush, and motion of the brush, relative to the teeth).

These three interactions, or “S-Fields,” are required to effectively create the overall “cleaning” function. If one of these interactions (S-Fields) is missing, effective cleaning will not occur. One could describe this situation by saying that “cleaning” has been decomposed into three interactions, one involving mechanical work, another involving a certain control, and the other involving sensing/feedback. The “cleaning” system also consists of three parts: teeth, toothbrush and person – and all three parts are necessary for cleaning to occur. Each successful interaction between any two parts represents an S-Field (as defined by TRIZ).

Improving or Creating Systems and/or Functions If the goal were to “improve” such a “cleaning” system, one of the first tasks would be to define the system, by defining its (at least three) essential parts. Another task would be to define the essential interactions between these essential parts. Yet another task would be to identify which one or more interactions should be the subject for improvement.

If the goal were to create an alternative system, the designer might want to replace one of the “essential” parts with some other part. One way of doing this is to “trim” a part, and have another part take over its function. The new system function, however, would still be a Triad. Sometimes the individual elements of a triad can be the subsystems of a larger system to which the subsystems belong.

A note of caution: the TRIZ approach correctly states that all systems contain four parts: an engine, a transmission, a limbs (or working part or parts), and controls. Because TRIZniks have “grown up” with this knowledge, naturally when they hear about a new or different approach like Triads, they will try to “fit” the new approach into the old structure that they already “know.” But sometimes it is better to not do that; sometimes it is better to consider looking at the new or different approach as a separate entity. This is how new understandings come about in science. Nevertheless it is tempting to become trapped or stuck in the psychological inertia of the previous system – the system that one has grown up with, or had experience with.

How to Use Triads and TRIZ in an Integrated Way: Eliminating Harmful Effects A system that has a “problem” has a harmful effect, or deficiency or undesirable characteristic of some kind in the system. Some TRIZniks refer to such systems as “ill” systems. The questions are: “How can such problems be solved?” “What can be done to make an ‘ill system’ a healthy system?” “What are the steps?” The use of Triads is plays a large, important part in solving problems, because it is used up-front, prior to the use of S-Fields. Let’s describe some of the essential steps (this is not meant to be an exhaustive, re-writing of current ARIZ procedures!).

One use of Triads is in describing a harmful function in a system. From one perspective, all systems/functions are really “ill” – it is merely a matter of degree. Some systems/functions are more “obviously” ill. Others are less obviously ill. But compared with ideality, all systems are ill, because they lack what they could have, if they were ideal. To the degree that a system’s function is far from ideality, that system and its function are more prone to catching various types of “illnesses.” Why? Because the energy from the “engine” of the system/function is being used to operate and “feed” the “illnesses” instead of being used to operate the desired function(s) of the system.

Triads for the Example of Chair Design Let’s return the “chair” as a technical system. A chair is meant to support a person, and it does. But let’s suppose that the person cannot really “relax” in the chair. He sits down, hoping for relaxation. Although the chair nominally supports him, the person still feels tension in various parts of his body (a harmful effect due, in part, to the chair design, and to the way that the chair supports the person). This occurs because the “current” chair design does not allow the person to be completely relaxed. There are many patents on various types of chairs, some claiming to be more “relaxing” to the user. Our problem, however, is “How to take an ordinary chair, and make it more ‘relaxing’ or ‘user friendly’ to the person who sits in it – especially where the person’s goal is to ‘just vegetate’?”

As mentioned above, the Triad for the chair consists of three objects person, chair and earth. The person wants to be supported in a relaxing way. That is the person’s requirement. The person is the “passive” object, because he needs to be changed or modified or “satisfied.” In a sense, the person is also a “denying” object or “denying force” to “chair progress or evolution.” The current or existing chair design is the “active” object, because it “works on” the person in a manner that attempts to satisfy the person. When these two objects come together, an interaction is created. The interaction can be expressed by a “functional statement” consisting of three elements: two objects and an action. The functional statement is: “Chair supports person” or “Chair pushes up on person.” The action is “supports” or “pushes up on.”

As mentioned above, the action “supports” cannot happen without a third object the earth. It will not happen outside of the effect of the earth’s gravity. The earth is therefore the “enabling” object, without which, the chair (active object) and the person (passive object) will not come together in a way that represents “relaxing.” For the current chair design, the mechanism that allows this “coming-together” is called “gravity,” and the “source” of this gravity is the earth. This triad of person/chair/earth contains the necessary objects for the function “supports” to occur. The language of Triads that is being used to describe this function was learned by P.D. Ouspensky, the Russian physicist, around 1913 in St. Petersburg in Russia. He subsequently published this in his books, now available in both Russian and English through Breakthrough Press (see discussion below).

The person of the current chair design is not happy with the way he is being supported (the system or “support function” is somewhat “ill”). The chair-system and its functions need to be improved – or perhaps a new chair design can be created.

The chair triad contains three interactions: (1) the interaction between the chair and the person is “Chair supports person.” This interaction is “ill” or “sick” as described above. It needs to be improved, because the person is dissatisfied with it. Using the language of TRIZ, we call this interaction an “S-Field,” with the person being S1, the chair being S2, and the Field being mechanical. One way of stating the problem is, “The chair inadequately or incompletely supports the person.” Another way: “The chair does indeed support the person, but it also causes some harm to the person (e.g., it causes ‘nervous tension’ to the person when he is sitting in the chair – due to the present design of the chair). Therefore there is a conflict between the chair and the person.” (2) The second interaction of the triad is between the chair and the earth the earth supports, or pushes up on, the chair. This interaction can also be expressed as an S-Field. The field in this case is mechanical. (3) The third interaction of the triad – necessary in order for the system’s function to be complete is between the earth and the person the earth pulls on, or attracts, the person. This interaction can also be expressed as an S-Field. The field in this case is “gravitational.”

In order to solve this problem of “poor support of the person by the chair,” there are at least three major avenues that can be pursued – each avenue possibly leading to a helpful solution prompt, and each avenue being part of what needs to be considered in order to design a better or an entirely new chair. Another way of saying this is that all three “objects” of the triad, and all three “interactions” represent system resources that can be applied to the design solution. Without considering these six system resources, the designer may miss some important design solutions, or design features.

Each of the three S-Fields that make up this triad can be “improved” – leading to and improvement of the “supports” function in a way that also leads to a relaxing chair design (those subject matter experts who understand chair design technology can appreciate this fact). One avenue of improvement is improving the “Chair supports person” S-Field. A second avenue is improving the “Earth supports chair” S-Field. How to work with this S-Field may not be clear at first, even to experienced TRIZniks and SME’s, but there are several ways by which improving this S-Field will lead to improving the “Chair supports person” function. The third avenue is improving the “Earth attracts person” S-Field. Improving this S-Field can also lead to improving the “Chair supports person” function (e.g., the center of gravity of the chair can be changed to change the nature of the way that the forces of the earth act on both the chair and person).

System Hierarchies and Local Zones of Operation Please note that for the above example, each of the three “objects” that are necessary for the support function to occur, are “systems” by themselves. To really address this problem in detail, one needs to examine the hierarchy of each of these systems, and determine such things as “Where is the local zone(s) of each of these three systems that is/are most involved in the problem and the potential solution?” For “comfort,” the local zone of the person includes several different “surface zones” of the person’s body – not just the person’s bottom! For the chair, the local zone(s) of interest involve the surface of the seat of the chair, and also other surfaces, as well as the structure of the chair. For the earth, two “local zones” are of interest: the earth’s surface (because of its “support” interaction with the chair), and the earth as a whole body (because of its “gravitational” interaction with the person). In formulating the three “objects” that make up a Triad, it is sometimes helpful – from a problem-solving point of view – to employ a subsubsystem or part of a system as one of the objects, rather than the entire system itself.

Use of Invention Software As an alternative to having to apply the various tools of the classical TRIZ approach manually, a problem-solver can apply invention software to each of the three S-Fields mentioned. For example, the Invention Machine Labs or TechOptimizer software has a program called “Prediction” which addresses the evolutionary staircase for all technical systems. This module can be applied to all three S-Fields (the software asks the user for “object 1,” “object 2,” and an “action,” and then for a Goal for the action – this can be done for each of the three S-fields or interactions). The use of invention software significantly accelerates certain solution processes.

Some Application Areas where Triads has Proved to be Highly Effective The author works with technical teams from Fortune 500 and other companies, assisting them in designing next-generation products, and solving very difficult technical problems. Recent successes with the Triads approach include applying that approach to the functions of several systems, including skid steer loader designs; communication system hardware and software; products associated with the world wide web and internet; copier and document system hardware; and medical devices (for example, BioFutures, Inc. prepared a paper on the use of Triads to create new medical-device, design breakthroughs – to be delivered at the 1998 “4th Annual International Total Product Development Symposium.” This paper will be presented by Dr. Gernot Mueller, M.D., President of BioFutures).

More on the Background and History of Triads The value of a creative approach, in part, lies in its usefulness and in its “truth” – not in whether or not it is related to another approach, or whether or not it can be “placed” within another approach. Triads is different from TRIZ, but like other tools of engineering and science, it can be used together with TRIZ for problem-solving and for creating next-generation designs. I have had experience in using the two approaches in an integrated way, to solve very difficult problems. With Triads, it takes practice working on solving real problems to become somewhat proficient at solving problems and creating breakthrough designs.

For a more detailed treatment of Triads in both Russian and English books (the author has some copies in Russian), P.D. Ouspensky’s books are quite good, as are the books in English by Dr. Maurice Nicoll, an M.D. and a Jungian psychotherapist who has applied Triads to psychological systems. Ouspensky wrote several books, including “A New Model of the Universe;” “Tertium Organum:” “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (in French);” and “The Fourth Way;” These books deal with two main subject areas: physics and psychology – and are considered to be classics. One of the necessary capabilities of a good problem-solver is the ability to think abstractly (or, metaphorically). This level of thinking is often evident in fairy tales – but it also appears in the works of both Ouspensky and Shakespeare. Altshuller clearly appeared to have this brilliant ability. So do Zlotin and Litvin, both of whom now live in the United States.

Except for one TRIZnik in Israel that I have been corresponding with, I have not yet noticed any information presented in any other recent TRIZ sources about Triads. This is surprising, because the earliest available information on Triads was published by a Russian prior to the discovery and development of TRIZ. Triads, as discussed in this paper, is only one part of the overall Triads approach – which is far more comprehensive.

Books and Software on Triads and TRIZ Books on both the Triads and TRIZ approach, as well as invention software, are available through a bookstore – Breakthrough Press – that specializes in breakthrough products and leading-edge tools and approaches of engineering, located in Sacramento, California. Their inventory includes reports on Triads and TRIZ. That bookstore’s telephone number is 916-974-7755 (Fax is 916-482-9898; their E-mail address is:

About the Leonardo da Vinci Division The Leonardo da Vinci Division of Renaissance Leadership Institute RLI, Inc.) is dedicated to advancing the ability to solve problems, and to create world-class, breakthrough product designs. Prior to its incorporation within RLI, this division was deeply involved in functional-cost-analysis, quality function deployment (QFD), and Taguchi Methodology. Upon its incorporation under RLI, it has also added the TRIZ approach to its toolkit, and has contributed to the state of the art of TRIZ. Its parent corporation, RLI, uses these tools and approaches within RLI’s client companies to (1) instruct corporate technical staffs in these leading edge tools – both inside their company, and in regular public sessions (See The TRIZ Journal Calendar Page), (2) consult with corporate technical teams to solve very difficult technical problems related to technical projects, (3) assist corporate technical teams in conceiving and developing next-generation products and processes, (4) work along with corporate technical teams to forecast next-generation breakthrough products in design detail, and (5) certify corporate “champions” in TRIZ and Triads, so they can teach others within their corporations (see Certification Program under Calendar of The TRIZ Journal Web Page).

Acknowledgments The author thanks the following persons for their contribution to this paper. To P.D. Ouspensky, his Teacher, and their followers, who brought the Triads approach to the attention of the world. To Genrikh Altshuller, the Father of TRIZ, without whom this brilliant approach would not be possible. To Mssrs. Jim Smith and Lee Petersen at the Melroe Company, a division of Ingersoll-Rand, for taking the lead in corporate America in applying TRIZ and Triads to their new and existing product lines. To various TRIZniks from several countries who are continuing to advance the state of the art of TRIZ. To Dr. Gernot Mueller, M.D., President of BioFutures, Inc., who as a subject matter expert in the medical field, and an associate TRIZnik, has opened up the pathways to brilliant new medical-device designs for practitioners and corporations involved in that field. And last but far from least, to my co-editor of this Journal, Dr. Ellen Domb, for her devotion and dedication to TRIZ and Triads.