ONG Jeen Wei
Faculty of Management
The perception that agriculture is a difficult, dirty and dangerous (3D) industry could be a barrier for youth to participate in the industry. Getting the youth to participate in agriculture goes beyond ensuring the continual supply of manpower to the industry. The Youth are also expected to bring the industry to greater heights, especially by bringing their innovative minds to make the industry more creative and productive. Nonetheless, engaging youths in agriculture is challenging. It has to start at an early stage of their education and focus on fostering their interest. This article suggests that Theory of Inventive Problem Solving or TRIZ in Russian acronym to be the methodology to systematically guide the youth to innovate and solve problems in the agriculture industry. This article provides a brief explanation and examples of the application of TRIZ tools including inventive principles, function-oriented search, clone problem applications and etc. to innovate and solve agricultural problems. By embedding this into their curriculum, it will hopefully able to nurture the interest among the youth in agriculture and make agriculture as their viable career choice. In the meantime, they also learn a generic methodology to innovate and solve problems
Keywords: Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ); Agriculture; Innovation; Problem Solving; Teaching and Learning.
Youth participation in agriculture in Malaysia has concerned the policy makers. The main worry of the policy makers is the supply of food locally (Zarina, 2014; The Star Online, 2006). The percentage of farmers below the age of 40 in Farmer Organization Authority in Malaysia remains low at only 15% while about half of the members has exceeded the age of 60 (The Star Online, 2006). The initiative include Young Agropreneur Unit or Unit Agropreneuer Muda (UAM) by the Malaysian government, which can produce creative, competitive, innovative and high income generation of agropreneurs (Zarina, 2014). Such initiative could be good to improve the existing young agropreneurs but might not be effective in enlarging the pool of youths in agriculture. A possible cause for the youth not pursuing their careers in agriculture is that the industry is commonly perceived to be dirty, difficult and dangerous (3D) (Nandini, 2016). This perception could be an important reason for the lack of interest among the youth to involve themselves in agriculture as reported by Zarina (2014). Thus, the agriculture industry needs to redefine itself to better engage the youth. On the other hand, it will be ideal if the youth were not only passionate about agriculture but are also equipped with the knowledge and ability to transform the agriculture industry, making it innovative and higher in value creation. Thus, it is important that the youth also learn to be innovative and have the ability to solve problems. This article suggests that the youth should be engaged in agriculture through their curriculum in school. This means the youth should be engaged as early as in the primary school. However, agriculture might not need to be taught as a subject but through the core knowledge of agriculture. Instead, agriculture should be made as the context in teaching innovation and problem solving methodology. The argument for this is the innovation and problem solving methodology would attract the youth better than the core agriculture knowledge. This article suggests the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving or TRIZ, a Russian acronym which is a desirable innovation and problem solving methodology. This is because TRIZ has rich number of systematic tools to innovate and solve problems.
TRIZ was developed by Genrich Altshuller in 1940s through analysis of 40,000 innovative patents (Yeoh et al., 2009). The important findings from his studies include (i) the need to break through the internal contradiction in a system to achieve ideality, (ii) existence of trends to explain evolution of engineering system toward ideality, (iii) the problems in different industries are similar as such the solutions can be repeated which is documented in the 40 inventive principles (Yeoh et al., 2009). As such, the findings from Altshuller’s study also concluded that innovation can be taught. Since then, TRIZ body of knowledge has continue to be developed and expanded. The TRIZ tools can generally be categorized into five main domains (Inno Planet, n.d.). Two of the domains focus on problem solving with one of them emphasizing on defining problem and identifying the root cause while the other works on generating solution. The other three domains covers the market analysis and new product development, solution robustness and people issues. (Inno Planet, n.d.). The TRIZ tools, listed according to its category is shown in Fig. 1. These TRIZ tools can be integrated into the curriculum in schools to innovate and solve agriculture related problems. This will hopefully be able to change the youth perceptions on the agriculture industry. The subsequent part of this article shows the possible ways in which some selected TRIZ tools can be combined in the context of agriculture to be taught to the youth in school.
Fig. 1. TRIZ tools and applications
Source: Inno Planet (n.d.)
TEACHING TRIZ IN AGRICULTURE CONTEXT
This section provides examples of how TRIZ tools can be integrated in the agriculture context to be made as part of the curriculum for the students. This articles discusses the application of TRIZ tools, namely 40 inventive principles, function oriented search, clone problem application, feature transfer, trimming, and the concept of ideality. The selection of these tools are purely on the basis of ease of application and understanding of these tools. Nonetheless, this does not exclude other TRIZ tools from being applied to the context of agriculture.
One of the very first tools developed in TRIZ is 40 inventive principles (see Appendix 1). These inventive principles were developed based on study of patents (Yeoh et al., 2008). This inventive principles can provide useful guides to innovate and solve problems. The students can be taught on the inventive principles and presented with an agricultural related problems to be solved. For example, they can be presented with the problem of harvesting coconuts from a tall coconut tree. Climbing up the coconut tree to pluck the coconuts is too slow and physically demanding. Also, it could be dangerous. Besides climbing the coconut tree, some coconut harvesting tools have been invented. However, it is still challenging and unproductive to pluck the coconuts from a tall coconut tree using the plucking tools. There are a number of possible solutions could be suggested using the inventive principles. First, the students can use principle number 18 – mechanical vibration. Using this inventive principle, the students can suggest creating a machine that can apply certain degree of vibration to the coconut tree to make the ripe coconuts fall. On top of that, the students can add inventive principle number 24 – intermediary. This inventive principle could be used to suggest a layer of intermediary to prevent damaging the falling coconuts by hitting the ground directly. A net can be included as an intermediary to prevent the coconuts from falling directly to the ground. The second possible solution can be ideated through inventive principle number 17 – another dimension. Another dimension suggests that a problem could be solved by using the other side. The possible solution could be to raise the workers to the same height as the coconut tree to harvest the coconuts. So the workers can now harvest ripe coconuts more effectively from the side rather than the bottom of the coconuts. If these solutions are found to be expensive or not practical, the solution can also be focusing on the tools to harvest the coconuts. The most direct possible solution is through application of inventive principles number 40 – composite materials. This could be done by making the tools using light weight and sturdy materials. In addition, the design of the tools can be improvised through inventive principle number 7 – nested doll and inventive principle number 15 - dynamic. Combination of the inventive principles will help to students to think of breaking the long body of the harvesting tool into parts of different diameter that can be nested into one another. With this, the length of the plucking tool can be adjusted easily to be used on coconut trees with different height.
In TRIZ, identification of a solution does not necessarily mean that a new invention is needed. Instead, TRIZ focuses on adoption of available invention to solve the new problem with the function-oriented search (GEN3 Partners, 2008). In doing so, the three simple steps to follow are: (i) generalize the problem to be insensitive to the context of the industry; (ii) search for the leading area where the solution is already available; and (iii) adapt the solution to resolve the said problem (GEN3 Partners, 2008). The function-oriented search can be used to search for the solution as a whole to the problems and it can also be used as a way to search for a specific function within the solution. So when the students ideated the approach to harvesting coconuts from the tall coconut trees, they need to search for the function from the existing inventions to be adapted. For instance, the students suggested to harvest the coconuts by applying vibration to the coconut tree. Using the function-oriented search, the students will be guided to search for the leading vibration function to cause things to drop. An interesting available leading invention is a vibration machine for fitness or body slimming. The design of vibration machine that transmit the vibration to the target through a belt. To use this on a coconut tree, the vibration machine needs to be modified. The strength and frequency of vibration needs to be adjusted so that it can drop the ripe coconuts but not the unripe one. Also, the machine needs to be mobile around the coconut farm. Thus, a tractor can be modified to carry the vibration machine – another form of function-oriented search. For the second invention that lift the worker to the same height as the coconuts, the students need to search for the function of lifting. Various available lifting machines are already available in the market. It will be very interesting to also expect the students to suggest drones as a leading invention with function of lifting. With further research and adaption, it could be a more efficient way of lifting workers to harvest coconuts. The third solution suggested is to have a light and strong portable stick with a curve blade attached on the top to harvest coconuts. The function that this solution is searching for is a portable light weight and strong materials. The possible leading invention available in the market could possibly be the carbon hiking pole. To adapt the carbon hiking pole to perform the function as a coconut harvesting tool, it needs to be longer bigger and stronger with curve blade on the top.
Once the students suggest a feasible solution to a problem, the approach to solving the problem can be extended to solve similar problem or in the TRIZ technical term, the problems with the same physical contradiction. TRIZ believes that when problems are generalized, they can be solved through the found solutions. TRIZ termed this tool as the clone problem application For example, a solution for removing the core of bell peppers at mass scale was patented into 1940s by using the air pressure (Inno Planet, n.d.). The air pressure is slowly increased to force air inside the bell peppers and then the pressure is suddenly released to separate the core from the bell peppers (Inno Planet, n.d.). Subsequently, the same approach was used to remove the shells from cedar nuts and Walnut (Ikovenko, 2017; Inno Planet, n.d.). In fact, the same approach has been applied to solve problems in other industries. The artificial diamonds can be broken by increasing the pressure slowly to force the air into the micro fractures of the diamonds and then released the pressure suddenly (Inno Planet, n.d.). Similar approach has also been applied to the processes of grinding sugar and removing bark from thin tree (Ikovenko, 2017). Thus, it is important to also teach the students to apply the available invention or approach to solve other problems. For instance, the students have invented a solution to harvest coconuts efficiently by creating a machine that vibrates the coconut tree so the ripe coconuts will fall. There is also a nest to collect the falling coconuts to prevent damages to the coconuts by hitting the ground directly. Then, they should be guided to think of what other the other tall fruit trees that might need the same solution to harvest the fruits. Once they manage to suggest for example harvesting papaya from a tall papaya tree or harvesting mangoes from a tall mango tree, they should also be guided on the modification they need to introduce their invention. Taking the papaya tree as an example, the vibration will need to be tuned weaker compared to when it is used on a coconut tree and a softer materials should be used in the contact point between the machine and the papaya tree to avoid damaging the tree. A level higher would be asking the students to apply the solution they have generated to solve related problems beyond the agriculture industry. To do this, the students will need to be guided to identify similar problems. It is important for the students to be taught to generalize the problem. That is, instead of viewing the problem as harvesting fruit from a tall tree, they should be able visualize the problem as taking down something from a high place. Once the generalized problem is stated, the students will need to identify specific situations where the general problem statement can be applicable. The possible situations that they students could identify include in agriculture industry like removing the excessive trunks of a tall tree or in other industries such as taking down a stock store at high rack in a grocery store, storage room and etc. Then, the students can modify the available solutions for the different situations identified.
On top of that, TRIZ has tool to strengthen the existing system by transferring the features of another system to a current system (GEN3 Partners, 2008). The tool is known as feature transfer. Ideally, feature transfer should happen between two systems with opposite advantage and disadvantage (GEN3 Partners, 2008). To perform the feature transfer, a base system needs to be first identified together with the main advantage and main disadvantage of the main system (GEN3 Partners, 2008). Then, an alternative system that serves the same main function as the base system but with opposite main advantage and main disadvantage need to be identified (GEN3 Partners, 2008). Then, the component that contribute to the main advantage of the alternative system needs to be identified and transferred to the base system to strengthen the base system (GEN3 Partners, 2008). A common example for feature transfer is the carrot-cabbage feature transfer. Both carrots and cabbages can be used as food, so they have the same main function. The main advantage of carrots is the part under the ground which can be eaten and the main disadvantage is the part above the ground that cannot be eaten. Cabbage, as the alternative system has exactly the opposite main advantage and disadvantage. By completing the feature transfer, the carrot will be under the ground while the top part will be the cabbage. The carrot-cabbage feature transfer is a classic example for the students to understand possible application of feature transfer. A widely use feature transfer in agriculture is fish farming in paddy fields. Both paddy and fish serve the main function as food. The paddy grows at the part of paddy plant above the water but not the part inside the water. Fish, on the other hand, only live inside the water. The feature transfer of farming fish in the paddy field allows both below and above the water of paddy field to be used to produce food. The students then should be encouraged to suggest possible feature transfer in agriculture. For example, the students might suggest that a durian tree bear fruit when it is tall while a pomegranate tree starts to bear fruit shorter. Thus, the students could possibly suggest a hybrid grafting tree of durian and pomegranate tree. After the students suggested the possible feature transfer, they can be guided to use other TRIZ tools like function-oriented search or clone problem application to search for solution to make their suggestion possible.
Besides feature transfer, TRIZ also focuses on trimming as a tool to improvise a system by eliminating components with disadvantage or harmful effect (Yeoh, 2009). This can improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of the system (Yeoh, 2009). Also, trimming serves as an important tool for patent circumvention strategy (Ikovenko, 2017). Trimming is a tool or method in TRIZ to remove a component or more of a system and redistribute the useful function of the component to the other component in the system or the supersystem (GEN3 Partners, 2008). In simple terms, trimming is the act of removing a component in a system but the function of the component in the system should stay. The function shall then be performed by other components in the system or outside the system. In the case where an alternative component or system to perform the function perform by the trimmed component is not available, the component should not be trimmed (GEN3 Partners, 2008). There are three rules for trimming. The first rule or Rule A is the “object of the function does not exist” (GEN3 Partners, 2008, p. 39). This trimming rule is applied when the target to perform the function no longer exists. Therefore, the component that performs the function is also no longer needed. The second rule of Rule B or trimming is the “object of the function performs the function itself” (GEN3 Partners, 2008, p. 40). In this case, the target receiving the function is now performing the function by itself or is performing a self-service. Thus, the component that performs the said function is no longer needed. The third trimming rule or Rule C is where the component that performs a said function is substituted by another component in the system or the supersystem (GEN3 Partners, 2008). This is used to eliminate redundancy of the function performed by different components in a system or to eliminate the need of the component to perform a function when the function can be performed by other readily available system in the environment. After a trimming is performed, most of the time, the system needs to be redesigned to accommodate the redistribution of functions to other components or system. In TRIZ, this is known as trimming problem (c.f. GEN3 Partners, 2008). As trimming is a powerful and interesting tool that guides the inventor to think of the approach to solve the problem differently, it is another very relevant tool in TRIZ that can be exposed to the students. The students can be presented with an agriculture related product or a process. Then they perform a trimming, identify the trimming problem and redesign the product or process. In the case of vegetable farming, the students might decide to trim the process of fertilizing the vegetable. This creates a trimming problem of how to fertilize the vegetable. In the process of growing the vegetable, the students might identify the process of watering vegetables as similar to fertilizing. Thus, they might suggest to mix the fertilizer with the water to eliminate the need to fertilize the vegetable separately. Similarly, the students could suggest the process of spraying pesticide which could also be trimmed and transferred its function into the watering process.
On top of teaching the tools to innovate and solve problems, it is also important for the students to be guided on the concept of ideality. Ideality is an important concept in TRIZ. In TRIZ, ideality derived from the equation of function divided by the sum of cost plus harmful effect (Yeoh et al., 2008). All innovation and problem solving in TRIZ focuses on achieving greater ideality. Thus, it is highly beneficial if the solutions or inventions by the students can be measured against the concept of ideality. Lim (2016) has developed a graphical tool called Eco Ideality Chart that consists of nine boxes as shown in Fig. 2. The initial product would be placed in the middle of the nine-box matrix and the newly new product will be placed in one of the boxes around the initial product based on the evaluation of the function and cost on x-axis and y-axis respectively. This exercise serves as self-checking point for the students to ensure the solution they created does take function and cost into consideration. A more complicated version of Eco-Ideality Chart takes into consideration the expected behavior of function and cost at different stage of product life cycle as explained by Ong (2017). Ong (2017) termed it as the Window of Next Product Voice (WoNPV) as shown in Fig. 3. With WoNPV, the students first have to decide on the stage of the product in the product life cycle and then re-evaluate their solutions by plotting it in the WoNPV matrix. In addition to measuring the solutions developed by the students, the concept of ideality also helps the students to decide the right direction of innovation or problem solving. Based on the criteria of function and cost, the students can plot different agricultural products into four quadrants in the Ideality Chart as indicated in Fig. 4. Quadrant I is the most desirable product with high function and low cost. Products in this quadrant will have the lowest need to improvise or innovate. The second quadrant is for products with high function but is also costly. The innovation for products in this quadrant will focus on cost reduction. Trimming is a highly suggested tool to reduce the costly parts or processes while maintaining the function. Quadrant III is for products with low function but have high cost. Unless for other specific reason such as national food security, agricultural products in this quadrant should be completely eliminated. Products with low function and low cost are categorized into quadrant IV. The focus of innovation for these products should be to increase the function. The function can be increased through TRIZ tools such as feature transfer and clone problem application. Besides that, the same diagram can be used to make decision to choose different alternatives such as deciding the utilization of land among different alternative of farming activities.
Fig. 2. Eco Ideality Chart
Source: Lim (2016, p. 45)
Fig. 3. The Window of Next Product Voice
Source: Ong (2017, p. 8)
Fig. 4. Ideality Chart
The discussion of this article could ponder discussions in different issues. First, this study suggests to engage the youth in agriculture through teaching innovation and problem solving in the context of agriculture. Some might argue that the core body of agricultural knowledge should be taught to build more knowledgeable and competence among future agropreneurs. This article does not play down the importance of teaching the core knowledge of agriculture. Nonetheless, teaching innovation and problem solving might appeal more to the youth and thus engage them better in agriculture at a young age. Once their passion in agriculture is built, they would then choose to further their education in agriculture and agricultural -related field. By then, they have the opportunity to master themselves with their chosen fields in agriculture knowledge. In the meantime, this article also does not oppose teaching agriculture-related knowledge as part of the curriculum in school. The agriculture content should be carefully developed to nurture interest from the youth in agriculture. Next, this article suggests to teach innovation and problem solving instead of money-making element of entrepreneurship. Undeniably, teaching the business model and money-making elements of entrepreneurship might also be able to engage the youth in agriculture. Nonetheless, the main attraction of youth to agriculture should be their perception that the industry is interesting rather than the industry is profitable. This is because beyond food security, affordability of food needs equal attention. Third, those who agreed with the approach of this article might be questioning about the application of other available tools for innovation and problem solving. This article uses TRIZ with no bias toward other methodologies. Depending on the context of different communities or countries, different innovations and problem solving methodologies can be deployed to serve this purpose. There should not be a problem if multiple methodologies are needed to serve the purpose. More importantly, the methodology experts and the industry experts have to collaborate in the development of the content. Besides the issue on the innovation and problem solving methodology, the issue whether the curriculum consisting only of the context of agriculture might be questioned as well. This article opines that the context of the curriculum should cover different fields and industries. The students will have good exposure that can only benefit them regardless of the careers they might pursue in the future. In addition, the exposure might also enable them to discover their interest and strengths better. Beyond all the discussion, it is important to note that the interest of the curriculum should be nurturing interest and engaging the youth. Thus, the students are expecting to suggest only logical solutions based on the innovation and problem solving tools they are applying. Feasibility of the solutions might not need to be given priority as the students are not expected to have sufficient knowledge to evaluate if the solutions are feasible to the industry. The ability to suggest a solution and nurture their interest in agriculture industry (or other possible field) should be prioritized. Learning in an encouraging and a fun environment too should be emphasized.
The article demonstrates the possible curriculum content for application of TRIZ to innovate and solve problems in the agriculture industry. First, the 40 inventive principles are used to address the problem of harvesting coconuts from tall coconut trees. The possible solutions through the inventive principles include a vibration machine to drop the ripe coconuts, lifting the workers to the same height as the coconuts to efficiently harvest the coconuts and a portable, lightweight and strong coconut plucking tool. Then, the discussion continue with function-oriented search to look for leading invention in the field to be adapted instead of creating a new one. This article suggests that the vibration machine for weight loss, drone and carbon hiking pole to be the possible leading invention for the three solutions suggested previously. These inventions can then be modified to suit the context of agriculture. On the other hand, TRIZ also focuses on generalizing the solution developed to solve other similar problems through the clone problem application. The discussion highlights the possibility that the solutions generated can be used to remove or take down other things either within agriculture industry or in other industry. Next, the discussion moves to improvising an existing system through feature transfer with a classic example of farming fish in paddy field. Then, trimming and the rules of trimming are also discussed. In the context of farming vegetables, the process of fertilization and spraying of pesticides can be trimmed and their function can be transferred to the watering process. Lastly, the discussion diverts to the concept of ideality and the applications of tools to evaluate the solutions generated and make decision on the available alternatives. On top of the discussion of the content of the curriculum, the article also reiterates on several stands of the author. First, teaching innovation and problem solving in the context of agriculture would engage the youth in agriculture better but this does not stop the teaching of core agriculture knowledge, especially at the higher level. Second, teaching the element of innovation and problem solving is more suitable than the money-making part in the context of agriculture. Third, this article demonstrates the application of TRIZ in the context of agriculture for the curriculum to engage then youth in agriculture. However, this does not preclude the application of other methodologies for the same purpose. Fourth, the curriculum should not just focus on the context of agriculture but should include other industries. Lastly, an encouraging and fun environment should be created for the delivery of the curriculum.
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Appendix 1 The 40 Inventive Principles
Source: Adopted from Yeoh et. al. (2009, pp. 58-70)