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Using science of creativity to make engineering work
KAREN Gadd was born into an inventive background. Her father, Ken, worked at Pressed Steel, in Cowley, on the RoadRailer, a lorry trailer which could run on railways and roads.
At first she followed in his footsteps, training as a mechanical engineer, then moved into the City of London, working in strategy and corporate planning.
But when she moved back to Oxford, her passion for music led her to set up Music at Oxford, promoting large-scale concerts supported by business sponsors.
In 1995 she changed course once more, returning to her engineering and business roots, though she still works for the Orchestra of St John’s in her spare time.
She became fascinated by an engineering technique called TRIZ, which was unknown in the West when she took her degree.
“It took me a couple of years to get my head around it and now I’m passionate about it,” said Mrs Gadd.
“I have this missionary zeal.”
She is not the only one. A recent article in Forbes business magazine attributed the success of Samsung’s smartphones to its adoption of TRIZ.
An acronym of its Russian title, Teoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadatch (theory of inventive problem-solving), TRIZ is said to encapsulate the science of creativity. It is not based on a eureka moment but on a systematic trawl through existing knowledge.
Rather than using the random ‘brainstorming’ beloved of creative industries, the Soviet engineer and sci-fi author Genrich Altshuller surveyed patent information from hundreds of thousands of inventions to find common patterns.
Mrs Gadd, whose company Oxford Creativity provides much of the UK’s TRIZ training, said: “It didn’t really come to the West until the mid-1990s, when TRIZ masters came from behind the Iron Curtain, a bit like Jedi masters. I learned it from a couple of them.”
She believes the key to its success is that it uses knowledge from a wide range of inventions, and does not rely on “the spontaneous and occasional creativity of individuals, or groups of engineers”.
The company is a family affair; her psychologist daughter Lilly Haines Gadd is managing director.
The 12-strong team, based at Long Hanborough, runs courses in Korea, China and Saudi Arabia as well as the UK. Oxfordshire companies using the technique include Owen Mumford, Siemens and Oxford Instruments.
She said: “We don’t just work with engineering companies – there are banks, credit control companies, the NHS, Culham, Harwell and places like that. It’s very exciting to be involved in the big things.”
Her book, Triz For Engineers, was published by WileyBlackwell two years ago.
Inspired by the arrival of five grandchildren, Mrs Gadd is now writing another on problem-solving for children, with the help of Oxford cartoonist Clive Goddard.
“The thing about TRIZ is that it’s so self-evident. It helps in all the things we really care about.”
Oxford Creativity is running training courses next month at Said Business School’s Kennington site.
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