THE INTERVIEW THAT NEVER WAS, BUT WHICH TOOK PLACE AT THE SAME TIME
The composer of interview Sergey V. Sychyov, September, 1998
"A great man, Genrikh Saulovich Altshuller, the inventor and first developer of TRIZ (the Theory of Invention Problem Solving), died on 24th September 1998.
It is already clear that this is a science for the next millennium. It will be hard for us to explain to our grandchildren why the authorities and the electorate, chiefs and academics, special bodies and pedagogues were so afraid of this new science at the end of the last century…Probably it was because TRIZ and LSCI alter thinking, which means, they change life itself. Genrikh Saulovich thought that man should life fittingly - at the limit of his capabilities. And he allowed himself to live in this way. It is possible, that our grandchildren will turn out to be far stronger than us…"
I. L. Vikentyev
We are publishing this interview that never was as answers to questions posed in the numerous works of Genrikh Saulovich Altshuller on the theory of invention long before these questions were indeed asked.
- Who in the classics said: "Much has been written about creation, including a lot of nonsense…" Can you put into effect, conventionally speaking, an example of "nonsense like creation?"
"There is a famous test by Rorshach. Let us take a sheet of paper and place a blot of black ink. Lets bend the sheet of paper in half so that the line of the bend goes through the fold. You then have a symmetrical black stain with intricate features. You have to look and say what this stain resembles. The more original the comparison, the stronger the imagination. Pure witchcraft. A person simply doesn’t know what is expected from him, and why imagination is not included. If one knew, then it’s not worth achieving high marks.
Once in an inventive class a student came up to me and held out a piece of paper with a blot оf black paper: "What does this look like?" I looked as if I was studying the blot attentively, but said something that bore no relation whatsoever to the blot: " It’s a white bear, walking in the burning hot desert at midday. He’s wearing sandals, but they are pinching him."
"Why a white bear, and why in the desert?" asked the flabbergasted student "Because the bear is white, but the stain is dark blue!"
"A white bear," I repeated cheekily, "he’s got dark from the heat. The sun is very strong in the desert."
"And the sandals?" asked the despairing student, "Where did you see the sandals?!"
I randomly pointed my finger in the blot:
"But they are two diverging lines…"
"These are two feet in one sandal. That’s why they’re squeezing."
The student pondered the blot for a long time, then sighed and said: "You have an amazing imagination…I showed this blot to our students and they only said ordinary things: butterfly, wood, shrub…" [1, p. 253-254].
"If it’s such nonsense, why do many people like it? Why do so many teach this very nonsense? Why are such, mildly speaking, outdated "tests" discussed so frequently? Is looking stupid really acceptable?"
- Once I asked in a homeopathic chemists, if they had any preparations to make you think a hundred or a thousand times quicker… "Ha! You want the anti-stupidity drug!" said the shopkeeper in surprise. "Let’s think, young man, who comes to buy the anti-stupidity drug? Here you go, behind the counter, I hear complaints every day: my heart’s bad, my joints aches, I’ve got heartburn… Man is short of everything, but no one complains about lack of brains. No, young man. The anti-stupidity drug is not business, but simply ruin. Herem have a sweet. A very tasty sweet…" Besides, I still have the wrapper from this sweet. I’ll show you if you want. And you can call your interview "Simply Ruin." [2, p. 316].
"So, stupidity is profitable? Have we understood you correctly?"
"There’s a law for preserving stupidity. "I can recall the essence of this law. Let’s assume, generally speaking, that the Earth is shaped like a suitcase. And that there is some expedition or other that went into space and brought back irrefutable evidence that the Earth was shaped like a geoid. This also applies to the law for preserving stupidity, the transition from " The Earth is like a suitcase" to "The Earth is like a geoid doesn’t happen. Initially they will stubbornly claim: " Suitcase, suitcase, suitcase…..". In a hundred years an audacious innovator will say: " Brothers, the Earth isn’t s a suitcase, but more like a hold-all". The innovator will receive the Nobel Prize and for a couple of centuries the acknowledgement of the following hypothesis will be put on hold: "The Earth is shaped like a pumpkin". Then in an entirely different century altogether movement towards that idea that "The Earth is like a sphere" will be required. And then you wave goodbye to "Earth is a geoid." .
- Yes, but why is this profitable?
- Only it seems that everything happens because of stupidity. This is not completely true. Stupidity is not profitable, "it’s profitable to go" with the rearguard": "in the front line" is being open to attack, there are many bruises and bumps and relatively few doughnuts there. But movement "with the rearguard" gives the reverse formula: there are few bruises and bumps, but many doughnuts…" And the promotion "with the rearguard" gives the opposite formula: few bruises and bumps, but many…" As you see, this is not stupidity. I don’t want to say with pride "I’m going into the rearguard because it is simpler, safer, and I can maraud. They don’t say that (...) Stupid? Rubbish! It’s a wise choice.(...) All the same, its obvious, that this is stupid. A man loses the ability to create. Its easier to maraud, but more joyless. " .
- I can understand the rearguard. So what’s happening at the front? Are there different arguments against the development of technology and creation of against the active teaching of creation?
- Its worth listening to the objection of the dual gender. "Please, say opponents, who needs this? What is being developed with this technology? Surely it’s clear: the good writer writes well, the bad one writes badly…" According to this logic good rolls grow on good trees, and bad ones on bad trees. Its pure consumer wisdom. And it is not worth arguing with it because the consumer is incapable of thinking about natural things.
Other opponents promote the more founded idea at first glance. "You want," they say, "to discover the mechanism of creativity. Won’t that lead to everyone thinking and writing the same?"
In actual fact this accessibility to all is deceptive. No one’s thoughts will become unified. Individuality will not suffer. Surely the picture died when the laws of perspective were discovered and consciously applied?" [1, p. 248]
- And what about inherited capabilities?
- "Only a deposit is passed on in inheritance. How can I explain this more impressively? A child is born and receives a savings book with a certain sum. Sometimes the deposit is larger, or smaller, but it’s only the deposit! Straight away new investments are made, and by the age of five or eight the initial sum is swamped by new investments. The child who at the beginning had a kopeck can have collected 100 roubles by the age of eight. And the wonder child who has genetic traits in his nappies, can have attained as much as a gold coin by the same age. Even in music."
Moreover, "here’s another juicy detail. Those qualities that are useful in the struggle for existence are transferred. But intellectual qualities - this is a double-edged sword. You may have heard of the work "Woe from Wit?" The body has no special reason to teach itself to pass on mathematical or poetic capabilities. So, people have roughly the same brains from birth. Each of us is born with the potential to develop new abilities. And if someone becomes a genius, then in principle, we can all become geniuses."[2, p. 307-308].
"Why is it such a rare phenomenon?" [2, p. 308]
- "Motor cars come off the conveyor belt. Each car, of course, has their own individual properties. But if the speed of one model of car is 150 km/h then all the other cars will be approximately the same. One may be able to go 5km/h faster, another 5km/h less, but this is an accessible deviation. But with thought… The car that we call our brains is used strangely to a large extent. Of thousands of these cars only a handful develop the design speed. The others crawl behind. And this is considered normal! The whole point is that the cars are full of petrol. And the machine that we call our brains is only rarely full to capacity. Fill any brain sufficiently and it will give you the design speed. A little more, a little less, but within the limits..." [2, p. 308]
- Is TRIZ fuel? Compare the difference between the test indicated at the beginning of the interview (and others like it), and TRIZ?
- " One African tribe crafted pots using clay that contained uranium. From generation to generation they sculpted the pots. The amount of uranium that passed through the hands of these people, if it could be extracted - would have been enough energy to produce electricity for half of the African continent. But the tribe saw this clay like ordinary clay…" [2, p. 307]
- TRIZ, in this comparison, is split by uranium…
- That’s not the point, that someone’s clever and someone isn’t. We shouldn’t use our brains on the level of shaping pots. But when somebody works like they should we are surprised: ah! Look - a genius…I confirm, the level that we call genius is the normal level of activity for the human brain…" [2, p. 307].
-It should be that TRIZ enables us to develop the normal level. Only the rule is different. We are talking, it seems, of organising creative thought, including imagination?
- The discussion of imagination is similar to the discussion of heat at the end of the XVIIIth century. Heat - is when there is a lot of heat in the body. And what is the heat conductor? It’s a weightless, invisible, intangible substance, that carries heat… Besides, at the end of the XVIIIth century each could easily tell the temperature, but until now we cannot tell the "temperature of imagination."
"What we call a phenomenon of the imagination is suspiciously like a well implemented thought operation. Perhaps imagination itself (like the heat conductor) does not exist, and is only one of the indices of the quality of thought? Like current. Like body temperature. Or liquid viscosity.
Or like this: imagination is present when thought is badly organised, compensating for the malfunction of thought (Kekule saw a monkey, etc.), and there is no need for imagination in well organised thinking, but is there such a thing as the "goodness" of organising thought? (...) Disorganised thought is like a man stumbling at every step. If the stumbling man gets up we say that this is imagination. But if the man is simply walking and not stumbling? Is imagination present or not? Do we need it or not? 
- Now I would like you to introduce yourself to angry readers. Genrikh Saulovish you have already answered this question, but let us look at it from the other point of view. We’ll repeat the question from the heroes of one of your books: "Can Alchemists think up a method of obtaining gold, simply by enriching metal? And if the could enrich talent, intelligence, genius… Imagine that a "Beauty Generator" was created. You press the button and instantly become whatever you want. (...) Imagine what’s happening? After a while beauty will become the norm. Everyone will look the same. More precisely a typical form of beauty will appear." So, you see, "real beauty is rare, there’s not enough of it. Remember the Trojan War, which started because of Helen." [2, p. 312].
- "Because of lack of intelligence" [2, p. 312], said another of my heroes.
- "Well, no one ever fought over wise men." [2, p. 312].
- "I tell you - they weren’t clever enough. (...) I have already encountered this. The powerful conception "almost the same" in the future people will be almost the same, only a little better. The same sun, but without the spots. The philosophy of chemical purists. Its likely that canthropus would have fainted, if we said that one could destroy the great pyramid through physical force. Please!" they would have screamed…" [2, p. 312].
- "But if they had fainted, how could they cry out?" [2, p. 312]
- "Don’t pick holes. They would have cried out after the fainting fit. "Please" canthropus would have cried on coming to, "how can this happen?!" It enriches man’s strength. How is it possible?" And - bang - the inventor’s baton. Which means the pyramid was not destroyed…" [2, p. 312]
- "If we all become geniuses ... won’t it get warm, eh? (...) How do you picture a society full of geniuses?" [2, p. 313]
- "From the canthropus point of view there is an incredible intellectual heat on earth. The dense tropics. Besides, it’s a good title: "The dense tropics". (...) They will only be geniuses to us. But to themselves they will seem excellent children… Of course, if one is to be serious, intelligence should acquire other properties. (…) It is difficult to explain, I am only exploring this idea… Let us suppose, mathematical thought. Give a contemporary mathematician a problem, he will start calculating, carrying out certain operations in his head or on paper. And surely one can feel a ready answer. Here’s an analogy. A mixture of yellow and blue makes green. We didn’t even think that this is an operation of adding and dividing. The length of a yellow wave is 480 milimicrons. The blue wave is 580. A long green wave. The brain does this instantly: we simply see the colour green. We see the ready answer… Intuition, inspiration, enlightenment - these are all attributes of genius covered in a basic fog. Napoleon said "Inspiration is a calculation made quickly." Remember, that calculation is done so fast that it is not noticed. We only see the answer, but we talk of inspiration, guesswork…Memory on the whole is an accumulator of information. But we need it to be the reactor. Knowledge itself must "fuse" with memory, and process it. Now we must force the brain to work. It should work itself. Excuse me for a non-scientific analogy - like the stomach." [2, p. 313].
"TRIZ appeared in 1946 and today is quite a developed science. Sometimes the main theses of TRIZ seem obvious, sometimes, when we begin to use them they seem heretical… Sometimes you are frightened of the solution, and then: what is there to be afraid of?"
- "Glasses and lenses have been used for 300 years before the invention of the telescope. The first telescopes was in essence a simple combination of two lenses. A pipe with two lenses, and that’s it! Even a simple stick, an elementary stick with two lenses attached to it. Why, for three hundred years, did no one think of taking a converse lens and look at it through a different, concave, lens?
The discoveries that have been made thanks to the telescope are linked by thousands of threads to the development of mathematics, physics and chemistry. From helium that was first discovered on the Sun, stretches a chain of discoveries from radioactivity, atomic physics, nuclear energy… (...) Just think: for three hundred years people held ordinary lenses in their hands and didn’t understand, didn’t feel, that this was a key to the greatest discoveries!" [5, p. 323-324].
All the same "the telescope appeared three hundred years later not by chance. It was thought that the lens distorts the reflection of the subject studied through it. And it was so logical, that it was only natural to suppose that two lenses would just give a more distorted image…
This is an elementary psychological barrier: man decides not to cross into the generally known. Even in his head he does not start to doubt the common truth - it is so usual, so reliable… But if the heretic spark flares up, it will be distinguished straight away. Won’t it come out suddenly? Won’t colleagues laugh? And in general - why get distracted and start working on dubious ideas if there are already numerous things in relation to which have already been known for such a long time that they are completely scientific, completely solid…" [5, p. 328].
- If we have already touched history then tell me: why did you study the theory of invention? Why (for what Reason? And with what Aim?).
"I came to invention from Science Fiction , a common event. I read "20,000 Leagues under the Sea" in 5th class and started to think about pressure suits. In 9th class I received my first inventor’s certificate for a diving breathing apparatus. I didn’t attribute particular significance to this event: I was drawn by the ocean and deep-sea spaces. The pressure suits were simply the means. Year after year I worked on pressure suits, and the number of inventor’s certificates increased, but oxygen breathing apparatus in principle was only operable to a depth of 20metres. But once I mutinied. Captain Nemo walked on the ocean bed, - that’s why we need pressure suits!" [1, p. 257]
This problem seemed very fitting, either:
It related to a field that I was familiar with, I could think about it without recourse to books,
It was so difficult to solve, that the problem wasn’t even posed, so I had a lot of time to solve it - nobody hammered at the anvil,
It was comparatively difficult - therefore it was intriguing, it is attractive to show that the impossible is possible, the very scope and romance of the problem was attractive." 
"Man at the bottom of the ocean… It would have been enough to pose this problem, but it was as if I was pelted by a hail of questions: can man withhold pressure of 500-1000 atmospheres? Could he breathe in such conditions? Would he still be able to see, hear, move? How will he adapt to returning to normal conditions?.." [1, p. 257]
The problem was solved [1, p. 257 - 260]. Other problems appeared, which were also solved… "The snag was in something else (...) For the first time I felt the terrible injustice of man being given only one life. Whatsoever path I would have chosen, it would be one path, one road, and you could never avoid the thought that there was something priceless on the other road. A man needs dozens of lives. So he can be an artist, musician, pilot, revolutionary, physicist, artist, sailor, surgeon, writer, biologist, explorer, soldier, teacher, historian, builder…and all the level of a Master or Grand Master, which itself takes a lifetime.
Such people have a tremendous gravitational force. I more and more often came to the thought that man should be all knowing and all doing. This problem was not solved by a mechanical expansion of specialities. A General Theory of Powerful Thought was required: how to solve difficult problems, how to develop talent, how to develop talented, creative thinking. For a beginning - how to solve inventive problems in technology. This was already a tangible and real (in my view) definition of the problem. I put aside deep pressure suits and engaged in the theory of inventiveness." [1, p. 262].
If then one is to talk about objectives... "If you discard different words, and try to bring them together into a singular formula, then you’ll have the following picture: mankind’s progress depends on the concentration of talented people in each generation. The higher the percentage of creative individuals in the population then the better and higher that society will be. This is the main parameter that determines the opportunities for a society, its future, its business and occupations. Because if Einstein is engaged in work, then if the aggression or squabble in the corridor reaches him, he won’t be occupied. Everything changes. This capacity for cleansing, and enlightenment in creativity remains unchanged throughout the history of mankind.
Let us make several exceptions, in the sense of negative creativity, but all the same progress remains, and relies on creativity. A man engaged in creativity, can not be a bad man, he is not interested in being a bad person - it only takes away time. I saw this in the prison camp…" [6, p. 21].
Its well known that you were repressed under Stalin. Does the question " Did TRIZ help you then?" sound cynical?
"This is the situation, Before the prison camp there was Lefortovo Prison. The cells were twenty square metres. It was impossible to sleep or lie down during the day. So, you just sat and waited for evening, and repeated it all in the evening. At 10 - roll-call, at half-ten interrogation, and then all over again…The first night was OK. The second night was more difficult, but I held on. But when I returned to my room, then there was doubt among my cellmate as to whether or not I could last more than two nights. He said, you had to hang on at least four days, then it would be the weekend. The investigators were looking after their health, and didn’t do interrogations at the weekend.
Here I felt that I couldn’t survive. An inventive situation arose. I needed to sleep, and not to sleep. I should sleep, because I needed to: I needed not to sleep, because I needed to be on my guard. I needed to be in two states at one and the same time. It was a difficult problem, one could say, rather, that it was unsolvable. But what does it mean to sleep? The maximum that I was allowed was to sit with my eyes open. But to sleep - what I really needed - was to sit with my eyes closed. My eyes had to be open and closed simultaneously. Simple solutions of the type "one eye open - the other closed" wouldn’t work, I didn’t even try them. But when I formulated a contradiction, here all my remaining training from the pre-prison times acted.
The problem, in actual fact, was not difficult. My eyes had to be open for the watch, who periodically looked through the "judas", dangling all day long. They should see that I would be sitting with eyes open, with wide open eyes, so that there was no doubt. But I needed eyes wide shut…
We tore paper from "Nord" cigarette packets ... These weren’t even "Nord", at this time we fought for priority, fought with cosmopolitans, these were "Sever" cigarettes. We tore two pieces of paper from the box. With a burnt out match we drew pupils. I sat more comfortably. My cellmate, when the guard went into the neighbouring cell, spat on one picture, then spat on the other, I screwed my eyes up, and he fastened the eyes, right here, for ages. And I froze, waiting.
Yes, there is some comfort in uncomfortable situations. If I invented some thing or other I had to show that it was necessary for years afterwards. But here was an immediate application, a self-trial if you like… And there’s a state prize for it.
So there I sat, on the bunk bed, on a bed with a wooden board, prickled all over on the turned over blanket, pillow… My cellmate fixed his eyes on me and started to walk about the room. We thought about everything in advance. The point of the second formula of invention: you can talk with great trust to a sleeping man. He started to ask me questions and to talk. In general he intimated a very engaging conversation, and didn’t contradict instructions: please, talk for 25 years…
I slept wonderfully. I wanted to sleep and nobody disturbed me. I slept fantastically. But at night they dragged me away for interrogation again." [6, p. 11-13].
"Then there were many tasks. But honestly speaking then this showed me clearly for the first time that studying TRIZ is a strength." [6, p. 15].
A difficult feeling: You are Don Quixote, attacking the windmill! You want to solve everything instantly, and make everyone clever and happy." [2, p. 316].
"The battles considered the greatest have long ago ceased to have an affect on history. Octavian Augustus destroyed Mark Anthony’s fleet at Actium; for how long have we felt the results of this battle? Cervantes lost a hand in the battle for Lepanto. You remember with whom he was fighting and how it ended?.. And Don Quixote helps those trying to do something impossible even today. He has a share in every victory. The practical reimbursement will be felt even longer…
I confirm: Don Quixote’s lunge at the windmill is one of the most significant fights in the history of mankind…" [2, p. 318]
G.S. Altshuller, Paint for fantasy. Prelude to the theory of developing creative imagination, collection: Chance for an adventure, "Karelia" Petrozavodsk, 1991, pp. 237-303.
Altov G., Searing Reason, Science-fiction tale, Collection "How to become a heretic", Karelia, Petrozavodsk, 1991, pp 299-318.
Altov G Built for a storm. Science-fiction story, collection: How to become a heretic, Karelia, Petrozavodsk, 1991, pp. 319-349.
G.S. Altshuller, Vertkin I.M. "How to become a genius: Life Strategy of creative individual", Belarus, Minsk, p. 478.