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5.4.5. TRIZ Thinking: Cleaning


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 5. Basic TRIZ > 5.4. TRIZ Thinking > 5.4.5. TRIZ Thinking: Cleaning

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For most people the task of washing dishes, if not done by machine, is a chore and one which you either resign yourself to or argue about who is going to do it.

We can improve the situation if we look in detail at the task, just as if we were thinking it through as a manufacturing process. We have to look for ways to change the unpleasant portions of the task, so that the “operator” is happy to execute the entire process.

The first step is to break the task down into stages as follows:

  1. Remove the leftover food from the plates (Not pleasant).
  2. Stack dishes and fill a bowl with water and dish soap.
  3. Begin dipping and wiping, maybe with gloves on and maybe not, depending on operator preference.
  4. Rinse.
  5. Drain and leave to dry, or wipe and dry, depending on operator preference and available space.

If we look at the whole operation, we can see that how it begins is nicer than how it finishes, except for the scraping of food off plates. The first plates are dipped in nice, warm, soapy water, which we can enjoy. Toward the end, the water gets pretty mucky and not so nice to use.

To overcome these “harmful” effects, we can use the principles of Preliminary Action and Segmentation. Can we change something that will allow us to end up with almost clean water so the task is still pleasant? Can we break down this part of the task so that we complete the stages in a different way?

Our current process takes a plate and has a cleaning operation applied to it thoroughly removing all the dirty substances. For each plate this takes a given amount of time. Typically most of the substance is removed early on and the remaining time is spent to ensure that the entire plate is clean.

When we break this process down into two stages, we can see alternatives. Instead of thoroughly cleaning each plate, what if we partially clean the plate (one second at most) and dip a second plate into the clean water to soak? This option quickly and ‘mostly’ cleans all of the dishes, and leaves us with a set of plates that we can now enjoy fully cleaning.

An analogous situation is cleaning the car. The unpleasant job is getting rid of all that stuck on dirt. The nice part is taking time to carefully restore the pristine finish and to play with clean water while doing so.

Now we can see that there is an opportunity to enjoy washing dishes or the car by making the time spent mostly playing with the water and only partially doing the less enjoyable parts.

The dishwashing process can be further improved, by introducing a new stage. If we place a large paper bag in the sink and have a tap slowly running water into the bag, we can quickly remove most of the food from the plate with a quick wipe under the tap. The food is being stored in the bag and when all plates have been quick wiped under the tap, simply squash the bag down hard to remove excess water and place in a plastic bin for emptying out in the compost pile.

This combines the TRIZ principles of Preliminary Action again and Substitution (placing a bag in the sink so that the material can be removed easily). You may need to experiment a bit with the type of paper bag.

It may seem silly changing how we do the dishes, but surely it is even more so to continue doing something in a way that you do not enjoy, when you can inventively do it in a way that you can enjoy. This process really does work for most people who have tried it. And, when you have proven that the process of washing dishes can be improved, you can tackle other tasks like cutting the grass, hedges, weeding, etc.

The point is that TRIZ can impact everyday life. Mundane and difficult tasks can be improved if we can convince individuals to get out of the habit of doing things the way they’ve always done them, and look for ways to do them differently. Nearly every job can be improved and made more enjoyable if it’s approached the right way, even something as simple as washing the dinner dishes.

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