TRIZ – Merging

“Everybody called him Pepto, because every day at work he’d have a pint of vodka in his back left pocket and a bottle of Pepto Bismol in the right. Throughout the day he’d retrieve the bottles from his pockets, take a swill of vodka, and then chase the liquor with a shot of Pepto.”

“Are you serious? He was drinking while he was working?”

“Oh yeah. This was back in high school and we were just a bunch or rednecks working on the factory floor.”

I had asked my friend Dave to tell me the story about the time when he used to auction off his paycheck on payday.

“Well, every year at church we would auction off a car. One of the guys in the church owned a local Ford dealership and he would donate a car to the church auction. Every year people always thought they would be the lucky one to drive the car home.”

“I ran the auction for the church, so I was very familiar with the auction process, where to get the ticket rolls, and stuff like that. I’m also from Louisville, a huge betting community where we were always betting on the horses (Dave always pronounces it as “haarses”). One of the guys in accounting was even a bookie.”

“On the factory floor I drove a forklift. There was a ton of stuff to move around the floor, so I was constantly moving from station to station delivering parts. Well you know my personality and how chatty I am; I knew everyone in the building so I would always stop and talk to the other workers as I was making my rounds. I was in a position to talk with people all day long.”

“Then one day, without a lot of thought, I just decided to auction off my paycheck. I mean I knew a lot about auctions, I was used to betting, and I had access to everybody in the company on a daily basis. It was no brainer.”

“So I drove around on the forklift every Tuesday morning yelling,’ Hey everybody I am raffling off my paycheck, come get your tickets!'”

“How much was your paycheck in those days?”

“About $125 a week.”

“How much did you sell the raffle tickets for and how much did you take in?”

“The tickets were a buck each and minimum … I mean minimum, I would take in $250, although I usually made more like $350-$400….all tax free! On payday, I would take the lucky winner to lunch at the GE Bar and Grill. The place was a total hole in the wall. Anyway, everybody went there to cash their checks on payday. I’d buy the winner’s lunch, cash my check, and then count the winnings out loud to the lucky winner in front of the entire lunch crowd … twenty, forty, sixty, and so on.”

“That’s hilarious!”

“Here’s the kicker. The previous week’s winner was the first person I’d hit up for the new raffle. The winner would always buy a minimum of $5 worth of tickets, lots of time $10. Then I would hit up all the other previous winners, and finally I’d make my rounds to the rest of the folks.”

“So basically, you looked around at all of your available resources and merged them together. I mean you had auction experience, knew about betting, and talked to people all day long. You took your available resources and merged them together to come up with something new.”

“Yeah Mark, I would say that is spot on.”

“You know Dave, you probably didn’t realize this then, but you were using some of the TRIZ basics and the Merging lens. Remember when I explained that you should look at all the available resources you already have around you.

“Well now that you mention it, yeah I do.”

Like I have discussed throughout my TRIZ articles, a lot of the great thinkers probably have never heard of TRIZ (for most the concept didn’t exist yet) or ever realize they were applying the principles. Because we are not all capable of understanding these principles unconsciously, the intention of my TRIZ teachings is to give you a set of tools to help you consciously apply creativity and innovation principles the way the great ones have been doing it unconsciously throughout history.

By the way, Dave went on to be a senior executive at GE, among other great things.

The technical definition of the Merging principle involves either:

1. Bringing or merging identical or similar objects closer together, or assembling identical or similar parts to perform parallel operations.

a. i.e. Personal computers in a network

2. Making operations contiguous parallel; bring them together in time.

a. i.e. A mulching lawnmower.

Circuit boards are an excellent example of the Merging lens. In a circuit board, you’re merging multiple functions into one location rather than leaving each control in its own place.

The Internet is also ripe with examples of merging. “Mashups” are the merging of two existing applications to make something new. For instance, somebody took one application, a directory of sex offenders, and overlaid the directory with Google Maps. Users can punch in their zip code and see a visual map of all the sex offenders in a particular location.

Fast food chains have also taken advantage of the benefits of merging. KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut can often be found partnered in pairs under one roof. The advantage of the merger is that each restaurant can use the same staff, soda fountain, cooking equipment, and location. Two different brands use the same resources and cater to customers from one location.

As you can see, merging brings things closer together to improve the product or system. The applications of merging go beyond tangible objects, though.

Cashing in on the View

Let’s talk for a moment about the Sydney Bay Bridge. Clearly, this landmark is beautiful, but I want to talk about one entrepreneur who wanted to sell the experience of climbing the bridge. People don’t actually climb the bridge; they walk up the rainbow-type arches to the very top of the bridge. The person who came up with this idea is a man named Paul Cay.

This story is not only about marketing, merging, and packaging your product; it is also a lesson in using persistence to get what you want. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this story is this:

If you have a truly unique and creative idea and people don’t hate it,

they weren’t listening.

Folks who have been to my workshops or lectures have undoubtedly heard me say this. I’m told that Paul presented his idea for a bridge climb business to Sydney’s city governments and various other bureaucracies. The board came back with a list of 60 reasons why he couldn’t do this business. Most people would give up if somebody threw 60 roadblocks in front of their idea, but Paul was persistent. He needed a couple of years to make his come back, but he eventually returned to the naysayers and said, “Is it still the same 60 reasons why I can’t do this business? Because I have a solution for all 60 of them now.”

He presented his rebuttals to them and after a review process they decided there was no good reason he couldn’t start his business. So in October 1998, the business was officially launched:

There was an initial $2 million investment in the bridge for safety cables, harnesses, communication equipment and that kind of thing. Two million may sound like a lot, but I’ll let you calculate the return on investment.

People pay $160 each to do the climb. In eight years, more than 2 million people have climbed to the top. You do the math.

The original idea seemed so unbelievably simple, yet Paul’s idea has won more than 33 awards to date. The business actually won its first award for the “Best New Tourist Attraction” before the climb program even opened.

The bridge already existed, and with a modest investment they turned the bridge into one of Australia’s biggest tourist attractions. I’ve thought about this company a lot. What is their product? What are they really selling?

They’re selling a view. And this view is not in the form of ocean-front property that can only be sold to one person. This is a view that you sell to new customers again and again every day. It’s a cash cow.

Think about your own existing products and services. Is there a way to package them differently to have a lot greater effect? Maybe there’s a popular or famous landmark that you can partner with to get more exposure. Who can you merge with to create your own cash cow?