TO FIND AN IDEA
[…] The trial and error method is quite good for solving simpler problems. If the solution, however, is hidden among several hundred or thousand alternatives, the solution process may take years, or the inventor may to complete it, since few people are able to test a hundred variants. Besides, no guarantee can be given that the inventor’s persistence shall be rewarded. The correct solution may be overlooked or rejected.
First and foremost, the rate of technological advance depends on the development of novel machinery, processes and devices. This needs non-conventional, "wild" ideas. In this, the trial and error method is no help at all… No inventor can afford thousands of tests. Suppose the inventor has found the correct solution by a stroke of luck, who can guarantee that his good luck will keep?
What is the way of solving problems requiring thousands or millions of tests?
Both the inventors and their biographers generally evidence that the solution resulted from long meditation followed by numerous variants tried and rejected, which was crowned by a brainwave triggered off by something. (p.14)
"… i.e. the technical object is ideal if it does not exist, but its function is performed. The ideal object is perfect: it costs nothing, it is unbreakable, it causes no side effects, it wants no maintenance, etc.
Analysis of the patent fund shows that a higher degree of ideal state of technical systems is a general rule, although a transfer of the function is not the only way to reach it.
This conclusion could be a beginning of scientific technology applied for solving inventive problems: if one rule has bean found, other rules may be discovered as well. However, the experts stopped their work at the very point where they ought to start it, which proves to be typical of all psychological investigations, for they are initially limited by the wrong postulate; the psychologist believes that invention is a purely psychological process, i.e. only mental activity of the inventor is considered to be of importance. In fact, invention is a regular transfer of technical system from one state into another. Basing on the rules in engineering system development, we can plan the solution process and overcome all kinds of difficulties, including those on psycho logical level. (p.18)
I do not want to be misunderstood. The world technological civilization is based on inventions made by the trial and error method. We must respect the work of inventors who were patiently overcoming all difficulties and solving the most difficult problems by testing one variant after another. But a theory has been developed recently - the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ) – which means that we need not, and must not, waste time, money and energy on the useless variants. If an expert chess player did not know the rules of the game and wasted years to produce the Pe2-Pe4, we should laugh at him. When a modern expert inventor wastes his time on useless variants because he does not know the basic theory of inventive problem solving, we can only laugh at him, too. But this means laughing through tears .(p.21)
The trial and error method does not lead only to a waste of time and money; a greater damage lies in the fact that it does not allow to perceive new problems in proper time. In the latter case, the losses involve decades and centuries. For example, the meniscus telescope (invented by Maksutov) could be built in the times of Descartes or Newton. There was a need for it, but the chances were lost as the problem was not even perceived, so the problem was first tackled in the middle of the 20th century.
The trial and error method is responsible for the absence of good criteria in evaluating new technological ideas. Even when the problem is perceived and solved quickly, the idea is often ridiculed - it is not appreciated.
The traditional approach -the trial and error method as the only possible means for creativity -exists due to inertia. For centuries, people had been inventing new things by that method. For centuries, general opinion was formed that no other method was possible. The very notion of innovation became a synonym for solving problems by that method. The indispensable attributes of creativity became good luck, intuition, natural gift, and brainwave.
It is hard to evaluate the total losses due to the trial and error method applied in the modern conditions of Technological Revolution.
The losses can be greater than those caused by tornadoes or earthquakes. The imperfections of the method used to be coped with by increasing the number of people working at a problem. This possibility may soon be exhausted.
The time has arrived when mankind has to choose between a slower rate of technological advance and a different approach to solving technological problems.