Sunday, July 22, 2012

Parallels between Panini and Altshuller

There are good parallels between how Panini simplified and made Sanskrit grammar accessible to all and how Altshuller simplified and made the collective wisdom of Inventive knowledge accessible to all. Panini and Altshuller were not contemporaries, they were separated by at least 25 centuries. But their zeal and perseverance to reduce complex stuff into a handful of powerful principles is very much comparable. Their himalayan effort connected the invisible dots and brought out patterns that were submerged in a vast amount of unstructured data. 

Panini is a great sanskrit grammarian and logician (~ 4th century BC). He was a pioneer in Linguistics and his works were path breaking in both descriptive and generative linguistics. He was a forerunner of modern formal language widely used in modern computer languages. Source - 

Genrich Altshuller, the originator of TRIZ, was working in the patent department of the Soviet navy (in the late 1940s). His primary responsibility was to assist inventors in filing patents, but because he was himself a gifted inventor (he received his first patent at the age of 14), he was often asked for help in solving problems encountered during the innovation process. He looked for systematic methods to help people solve creative problems. While there are no tools that allow us inside the human mind to study the process of innovation, the results of this process can be easily observed by studying the inventions themselves, or the patent literature associated with them. Realizing that an innovation represents a fundamental change to a technological system -- and is therefore subject to analysis -- Altshuller turned his attention to the patent fund, screening over 200,000 patents from all over the world.  He identified 40,000 patents that constituted "inventive" achievements, and began a rigorous analysis of these. The results of his efforts formed the theoretical basis of TRIZ.  Source -

They were both  frustrated by the complexity of the large amount of unstructured information. Pannini found it impossible to learn sanskrit grammar in the unstructured way that it was taught to him. He was confident that the problem was not with him but with the lack of structure. Altshuller tried to elicit patterns of inventing by studying a large collection of patents across many domains.

They decided to simplify stuff by bringing structure to the data. Pannini meditated upon the 14 shiva sutras  and reduced the vast data to a manageable number of guiding rules. He derived a highly-structured system of sanskrit grammar by using these simplified rules. Panini's grammar gained acceptance instantly because of its simplicity and the old grammar vanished overnight. Altshuller filtered the large collection of patents (200,000) into a smaller collection of inventive patents (40000). He studied these inventive patents deeply and brought out clear trends in inventions - common principles that Inventors have successfully used across different domains to solve technical problems.

The crowning achievement of both Panini and Altshuller is the creation of a subset of powerful principles. Panini simplified sanskrit grammar into clearly defined rules and principles in his book Ashtadhyayi (~ 4000 aphorisms in 8 chapters). Altshuller distilled all the inventive knowledge into 40 Inventive principles (that form the basis of TRIZ - Theoy of Inventive Problem Solving). 

The 40 TRIZ Inventive principles with examples - 

Special thanks to Dr Shantha for telling me in a very interesting way how Panini created Sanskrit - but for her, I couldn't have drawn this parallel.

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