*** Special Event ***
Altshuller was a True Genius
by Victor Fey, TRIZ Master
4 March 2016
“Don Coates has asked me to say a few words about my Teacher and Mentor, and I happily comply with his request.
Genrikh Altshuller was a true genius, and this circumstance makes it easy to talk about him. In fact, he was a poly-genius, who had unique and exceptional achievements in many fields of human endeavor, and that makes my task even easier. It was my life’s blessing to have met and known Altshuller for many years.
At the age of 20, he came up with a groundbreaking idea of what would later evolve into TRIZ – the first-ever logic-based scientific discipline of magnifying and enhancing human creativity. Altshuller’s hypothesis that the key secrets of inventiveness should not be sought inside the inventors’ minds, but rather in the logic of the inventions themselves, was unmatched in its ingenuity. Thousands of people around the world owe him gratitude for experiencing the incomparable joy of solving a previously intractable problem – a rare emotion many believed was unavailable to them.
- Altshuller created TRIZ from scratch, virtually ex-nihilo. He didn’t “stand on the shoulders of giants,” as many other great inventors in science and technology have, as he had no real forerunners whose preceding achievements he could use as a basis for his own work. The very idea of a systematic approach to innovating was so heretical that it was hardly ever considered a worthy goal to pursue. Altshuller not only laid down the foundation of the edifice of TRIZ, but he also built up its very structure and made it inhabitable by filling it with literal dozens of concepts and tools, which make systematic concept development possible.
As if the creation of TRIZ was not impressive enough, Altshuller proved himself an organizational genius. He singlehandedly grew and directed a vast network of TRIZ educational centers (and even schools of thought) across the former Soviet Union. With no financial backing from anyone or any organization, fighting against various state institutions that tried to obstruct his efforts, Altshuller, for decades, toiled as a one-man think-tank. From his small apartment in the city of Baku, every month, he mailed out to dozens of addresses thousands of pages of new papers on TRIZ, course outlines, instructional recommendations, newsletters, and personal letters, all produced on a mechanical typewriter. Altshuller individually coached, nurtured, and guided many future top TRIZ trainers and experts, some of whom are in this room today.
- While developing TRIZ and writing under the pen-name Genrikh Altov, Altshuller became a popular sci-fi author; his sci-fi stories and novels were translated into many languages (alas, rarely very well). The typical protagonist in these stories is a creator of some pioneering invention, living in our time. In 1964, Altshuller began research into the mechanisms of generating new sci-fi ideas. This project culminated in the mid-1970s with The Register of Sci-Fi Ideas and Situations, which contains about 10,000 ideas cataloged into classes, sub-classes, groups, sub-groups, etc. Analysis of this science fiction’s “patent database” helped Altshuller develop many techniques used in his courses on creative imagination development.
A survivor of GULAG labor camps, Altshuller had the tough, uncompromising personality of a fighter and a revolutionary. Still, he was a genius of charisma: noble, graceful, full of energy, witty, a brilliant storyteller. He drew people to himself like a black hole: once you got in the near-field of his persona, you would forever be attracted to and deeply influenced by it. I remember several of my colleagues who, being already grown men, spent just two or three weeks with Altshuller (for example, in a workshop), and then began unconsciously mimicking his facial expressions and hand gestures.
Talking about Altshuller’s genius is easy: it was out there for everybody to observe and experience. On the other hand, it’s really hard, if not altogether impossible, to comprehend the genius (otherwise he wouldn’t be that, would he?). I recall one night in 1982, when Altshuller’s favorite pupil and closest collaborator, Igor Vertkin, and I were having a discussion with him in his apartment on a major TRIZ-related subject. First, Igor and I presented our ideas. Altshuller listened to us, almost without interruption. When we finished, he started slowly to unfold his own ideas and arguments. These ideas were so new, powerful, and fully-thought-of that we just sat silently in awe and tried to absorb them. It was an amazing experience: as if a musical masterpiece was being created and performed in your very presence. When Igor and I left Altshuller later that evening, as soon as we stepped out of the building, he and I almost simultaneously exclaimed: “We just witnessed a miracle!”
I just asked myself: “If Altshuller looked at the state of both the TRIZ movement and TRIZ itself today, what would his thoughts be? ” He certainly would be saddened by the passing of some his close colleagues and collaborators who dedicated their lives to the success of his cause. He would probably be rather pleased with the level of propagation of TRIZ in the world. And he would certainly find the state of TRIZ evolution disconcerting. Let me explain why I think so.
Virtually all fundamental concepts of TRIZ – the natural evolution of technology, laws and lines of evolution, ideality, engineering and physical contradictions, substance-field structures, and others – were introduced in TRIZ by Altshuller. Over the past 30+ years, no new major theoretical concept has been developed in TRIZ. These thirty years were not, of course, devoid of many interesting and powerful developments, but no real advancement of TRIZ as a science has been made. Three decades is a long period in the life of a 70-years-young science.
It’s not the right time and place to speculate as to reasons for such lack of theoretical progress, but it’s become a bit boring in TRIZ after Altshuller. TRIZ needs to find itself a new conceptual S-curve (or, perhaps, more than one S-curve). Radically new ideas in any science often come from fresh brilliant minds. I wish to all of us, to those whose lives have already been profoundly shaped by TRIZ and to those who are just beginning the journey, to witness a new Altshuller enter TRIZ in our times. Such a turn of events would certainly have made Genrikh Altshuller very happy.
Thank you for your attention!”
Thank you very much!
- You may download the whole letter, click the attachment below.