RESOLVING CONTRADICTIONS

 

OVERVIEW

Many of the most complex problems are tough to solve because they contain contradictions. They require unique, innovative solutions to solve. Under the “5 Levels of Innovation” framework, these types of solutions would be at levels 2 to 5.

There are primarily two types of contradictions: technical contradictions and physical contradictions.

 

TECHNICAL CONTRADICTIONS

A technical contradiction is a situation where an improvement in one component of a system results in the worsening of another component. To fully solve a technical contradiction, we target two desired features simultaneously, instead of choosing a trade-off between one desired feature and the other. This often results in achieving a breakthrough solution.

Technical contradictions are often stated in the form of an “if- then-but” statement:

  • If (state what change is made),
  • Then (state what good happens)
  • But (state what bad happens)

If I implement a change, then a positive effect occurs, but a negative effect also occurs.”

Example: “If I increase the power of the car’s engine, then the car’s max speed will increase, but the car will burn fuel at a faster rate.”

In the example above, the goal is to find a way to increase the car’s max speed without burning fuel at a faster rate.

It’s also important to understand that there are two opposing conflicts created by an “if-then-but” statement. The opposing conflicts are mirror opposites of each other—two separate states (state 1 and state 2).

  • State 1: “If I make a change, then a good action occurs, but a bad action occurs too. “
  • State 2: “If I don’t make the change, then the bad action doesn’t happen, but the good thing doesn’t happen either.”

 

Example:

  • State 1:If I increase the power of the car’s engine, then the car’s max speed will increase, but the car will burn fuel at a faster rate.”
  • State 2:If I decrease the power of the car’s engine, then the car will burn fuel at a slower rate, but the car’s max speed will decrease.”

 

PHYSICAL CONTRADICTIONS

A physical contradiction is a situation where a component within a system needs two characteristics that are the opposite of each other. Stating a problem as a physical contradiction forces us to consider how to adjust “something” or part of “something” in order to meet the opposite requirements and therefore solve the problem in novel way.

It is often stated that physical contradictions lead to more innovative solutions than technical contradictions. Given a choice, it may be more beneficial to create and solve the physical rather than technical contradiction. If possible, stating a technical contradiction as a physical contradiction opens up a number of new ways for solving that contradiction.

Physical contradictions are often stated in the form of an “A and Anti-A” statement:

  • “To provide the useful action, X must be A, and to eliminate the negative action, X must be anti-A. X must be A and anti-A.”

 

FURTHER READING

  • Cameron, Gordon. (2010). Trizics: Teach yourself TRIZ, how to invent, innovate and solve “impossible” technical problems systematically. Retrieved November 12, 2016, from https://www.amazon.com/Trizics-yourself-impossible-technical-systematically/dp/1456319892
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