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Contradictions! We live in a world of choices, conflicts and trade-offs. The following idiom says it all – “you can’t have your cake and eat it too!” In this regard, there is an approach to solving such problems wherein you are faced with contradictions. The theory is named TRIZ – the theory of inventive problem solving. By way of example, let me introduce a contradiction in simple terms.

Let’s say you want to increase pressure in a vessel and the result of that also reduces temperature, which you do not want. The conflict in this case is clear: increasing one parameter affects the other parameter negatively, or, changing a parameter positively affects another parameter negatively, which creates an undesirable outcome. The idiom used above “you can have your cake and eat it too!” implies a potential physical contradiction- You want a cake but you cannot eat it!

TRIZ is extracted from the field of engineering. This methodology helps resolve the contradictions without compromise. Lately, I tried applying concept of TRIZ in class of Prof John Davis (Dean SP Jain Center of Management, Singapore/Dubai) on Sales and Channel Management. There was a company which had acquired many diverse companies and thus had a dilemma of structuring its sales force differently to increase efficiencies. The range of organizational options included – letting the sales force be as they were (independent), merge the sales forces, using distributors, or a unique combination of these or alternative structures.

The solution of merging or having independent sales forces had their own positive and negative implications. This type of issue can be termed as “physical contradiction” in the language of TRIZ. To solve physical contradictions separation principles are applied. So, when applying the principle of separation on condition and space, we can identify that the sales force could be geographically separated (separation based on space). The conditional separation in this case was manifested in determining big account vs small accounts for both distributors and an in-house sales force. Additionally, the conditional separation was represented by a merged sales force (one bag) vs a separate sales force (silo) for product offerings.

Thus, though TRIZ was distilled from field of engineering but we can apply principles of TRIZ to solve problems in different functions (e.g. sales in this case) and other non-technical fields. I am trying to apply TRIZ in different fields and I have also identified application of TRIZ in marketing, strategy planning and areas where conflict appears, though I feel there is a lot more to be done in terms of making it easier to apply.