Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Car Of Tomorrow, Driven Through TRIZ

Note: This is the second in a special series of daily articles being published this week on the topic of automotive innovation.

Regular readers of my articles will know that among the many innovation methodologies one can choose to spark creative problem solving, Genrich Altschuller's Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (aka TRIZ, which is the more recognized name and Russian acronym) is one of my favorites.

In yesterday's article, I outlined the basic elements of systemic change. Evolution, whether organic or artificial in origin, creates constraints that can shape and drive radical innovation. TRIZ is a particularly effective innovation methodology when facing serious systemic constraints. In applying TRIZ methodology and principles to the current problems facing the automobile industry, I am quickly drawn to several design considerations:
  • It is ill-advised to redesign a car as a system, without considering the larger super-system in which the car operates.
  • It is ill-advised to redesign a car as a system, without considering that the car itself is comprised of sub-systems that may perform multiple functions, independent of the primary goals of the car itself (which is, of course, transportation).
  • When designing around constraints, often the most powerful design breakthroughs come from finding advantage in disadvantage.

Ok, admittedly what I’ve said so far is really the stuff of fortune-cookies. Wonderful and sugary visions wrapped in vanilla abstracts, but where is the application? What do super-systems and design constraints have to do with the 2009 model year?

Let’s look at today’s car in a little more detail.

A car’s primary job is to transport one or more people. An important secondary job is to transport a bit of cargo at the same time. Cars do their work in cycles. They move, and they stop. They get parked for periods of time, sometimes predictably, especially where work commutes are involved. Cities, roads, garages, and parking lots are but some of the supersystems in which cars operate.

Cars are also compilations of multiple sub-systems. Some sub-systems are obvious (fuel, electrical, transmission) while others are more subtle (roof, doors, locks, etc). There is as much if not more detail paid to the design and functionality of automobile sub-systems as there is to the automobile as a single system.

Why is all this important? In considering the many constraints impacting the automotive industry and its customers, economic constraints certainly are near or at the top of the list. When using TRIZ to predict possible evolutions of the car, the driver, and the super-systems in which they will exist, I can look to one of the seventy-six 'standard solutions' that Altschuller claimed were reflected in natural and technical system evolution. One standard in particular suggests the periodic distribution of actions to eliminate conflicts.

Thinking about what a car needs to do for a driver, and what a driver's needs might be outside of a car, I am led to one conclusion. The car of tomorrow needs to be a platform that has value when it is used for driving, but has more value when it is parked.

The corresponding business model is then very simple to describe, but it is also one that if uttered by Rick Wagoner tomorrow, would most certainly cost him his job unless he has a very innovation-savvy board of directors.

"An auto industry of tomorrow will need to build new cars that people will want to buy, not because they will have to drive their cars, but because they will want to park them."

Tomorrow's article: Park To The Future

No comments: