The problem-solving tool is a paradoxical concept. Ask people: “Do you know that problem-solving tools speed up a problem-solving process?” A typical answer will be: “Yes.” If you continue and ask: “Do you always use problem-solving tools?” The most common answer is: “No, I do not have time to use any tools when I solve a problem.”
This is a really puzzling situation. Think about it, people don’t play chess without knowing how to play, don’t make a statistical analysis without learning math, don’t perform surgery without relevant education, etc. In the case of problem-solving, more often than not, even very educated people decide that they can solve a problem without using any instruments. This approach is wrong and sometimes can even create dangerous solutions.
Let’s try to analyze the function of the problem-solving tools.
According to the Law of System Completeness formylated by Genrikh Altshuller, any engineering system consists of four components: Engine, Transmission, Working Unit, and Control Unit.
For simplicity, we combined the first three components into the single one – Execution that is connected and managed by Control, as shown on the image below:
The system converts Input to Output by Execution Unit that is managed by a Control Unit. Generally speaking, the Execution Unit “knows what to do” while the Control Unit “knows how to do it.” The Execution Unit makes a “product” with the help of available instruments while the Controle Unit pulls data from Output and Execution, compares the parameters to certain rules, and issue directions to ensure correct Output.
The structure of a car is shown in the image below:
The Execution Unit contains an engine, transmission, car body, etc. Control Unit keeps the Execution within driving rules. The Control Unit contains sensors, a navigator, algorithms (to compare and analyze parameters), etc. One may mention that I forgot a driver. That is correct, however, a driver becomes a less critical component of driving over time (self-driving cars). Let’s keep a driver within “etc.”.
A manufacturing system structure is not very different from transportation. The structure is shown in the image below:
The Execution Unit contains equipment and related tools for production. The Control Unit keeps “production rules” and ensures that the Execution performs as per correct methods. The Controle Unit contains sensors, specs, recipes, checklists, etc. Again, since manufacturing can operate without peoples’ direct interaction, let’s keep the human in “etc.”, Similar to a transportation system.
The structure of the R&D system looks very similar to previous examples. There are two main interacting units: Execution and Control. The structure is shown in the image below:
In this particular case, the Input – problems, parameters that should be improved; the Output – solutions, and innovations.
Execution of such activity is performed by the one and only instrument – the “Thinker”. It is a person or group of people; nevertheless, it could be a computer program.
The Control Unit keeps the “thinking rules” – creative thinking tools, approaches, recommendations, etc., These are provided by Innovation Platforms.
It is clear now what is the function of problem-solving tools, innovation platforms. They control problem-solving and innovation processes.
An attempt to solve a problem without these tools is similar to driving a car without driving rules or managing manufacturing lines without manufacturing rules.
An R&D work, problem-solving, innovations are full of uncertainty, hence this type of work is high risk. What does an innovation platform do? It reduces the risk.
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