Официальный фонд Г.С. Альтшуллера

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© G.Altshuller. CREATIVITY AS AN EXACT SCIENCE. 1979
(Gordon and Breach science publishers, 1984.Translated from the Russian by Anthony Williams)

LEVELS OF PROBLEMS

If you were to ask someone how to hunt, you would immediately be asked in return what you wanted to hunt. Microbes, mosquitoes, whales are all living creatures which can be hunted. But hunting for microbes, mosquitoes and whales takes on three qualitatively different forms. No one would study these three forms of hunt "in general." In invention, however, for a long time creativity was studied "in general" and conclusions drawn from "microbe" inventions were widely applied to "whale" inventions, and vice versa.

The scientific approach to the study of the inventor’s art begins with grasping the simple truth that problems are various and can never be studied "in toto".There are some very simple problems which are susceptible to solution after a few trials, and others of unimaginable complexity which take many years to solve. What makes easy problems easy? Why are difficult ones difficult? What is it precisely that makes a problem difficult? Is it not possible find some means of transforming a difficult problem into an easy one?

Before examining these questions, let us first define the concept of "easy" and "difficult" problems.

One can divide problems according to their degree of difficulty into five levels or classes. The very easiest problems, (the first level) are characterized by the use of means (devices, methods, substances) intended precisely for the given goal. Here is an example of a problem of the first level.

PROBLEM 1

A furnace contains molten metal; into the central core of the furnace leads a pipe carrying liquid oxygen. What must be done to prevent the oxygen travelling through the pipe from gasifying until the point of exit from the pipe?

The answer is obvious: what is needed is heat insulation, and if it is already present it must be strengthened, thickened, double walls have to be added, enforced cooling, etc, has to be resorted to. This was precisely the way in which the actual problem was tackled: "A device for passing liquid oxygen into molten metal in the form of four concentric cooling pipes, and a muzzle designed to prevent the gasification of the oxygen flowing through the innermost pipe, insulated from the surrounding heat by an insulation layer 15 to 20 mm thick" (the author’s description. Patent Certificate. No. 317 707).

To counteract heat you have to apply insulation of a thickness more than 1,5 to 2mm, which would be clearly too little, and not as much as 1,5-2 meters, since a tube with such a protective layer would take up too much space in a furnace. It should be 15-22 mm, as one would expect. The solution is patently obvious. Numerous experiments with the problem have shown that anyone can solve it with a few trials - scientific researchers, constructional designers, students, students at colleges of technology, schoolchildren. It is curious to note that Pat. Cert. No 317 707 is attributed to ten authors.

This is a typical problem, solved at the first level: in principle the very same problem can also be solved at various levels.

In every edition of the Bulletin of Discoveries. Inventions. Industrial Prototypes. Trademarks around 30 percent of the inventions are solutions to such problems. In the given instance the search for a solution was practically reduced to zero. The technology of inventive creativity on this level has no need of improvement.

Let us now suppose that the problem is: "The arc light prevents the electric welder from seeing the processes going on in the welding zone. The light from the arc blanks out the duller parts - drops of metal, etc). What can be done?" Formulated like this the problem can be tackled without difficulty on the first level. The welding zone should be illuminated by a beam of light brighter than the arc itself. Now let us increase the difficulty of the problem by introducing supplementary specifications.

PROBLEM 2

The arc prevents the electric welder from seeing the processes taking place in the welding zone. The light from the arc blanks out the duller parts (drops of metal, etc). The conditions for observation must be improved without substantially complicating the apparatus and without lowering productivity.

This new problem is more complicated and therefore one has to choose a few dozen variants. One rejects, for Instance, all proposals involving introducing supplementary lamps for illuminating the welding area, since they would considerably complicate the equipment needed. Also inappropriate are all suggestions calling for periodically switching off the welding arc since this would involve reduction of productivity. The simplest solution, meeting the conditions laid down in the problem appears thus: "A device for shielding the eyes and face of the electro-welder consisting of a framework and frame with an inset light filter designed to improve observation of the process of welding; it is equipped with a reflector in the form of a right-angled section of a sphere with the same dimensions as the shield and focussing the light from the arc onto the welding material and the molten zone"(Pat. Cert No 252 549).

In problems of the first level the object (device or method) does not change (the heat insulation already present is strengthened). At the second level the object is changed but not substantially (a mirror is introduced into the shielding device). At the third level the object is changed essentially and at the fourth it is totally changed; in the fifth the entire technical system is changed in which the object fits.
(Pages 17-19)


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