Leader Volume 9, Number 7
of “TRIZ” to Solve Problems
Over the past ten
years, a radical new approach to problem solving has emigrated
from the former Soviet Union to the United States.
This methodology is known as “TRIZ,” an algorithm for a
Russian phrase, the “theory of solving problems inventively.”
It is based on the premise that most technical problems and
contradictions which people deal with every day, if generalized
sufficiently, have already been solved by others in another field.
If one generalizes a problem and searches through the
patterns of previous inventions, it is possible to rapidly solve
many different types of problems that previously may have taken
many months or years to solve.
In addition, these same inventive principles are finding
their way into the organizational and managerial problem-solving
repertoire as well.
discovered by a patent examiner for the Russian navy in the 50’s
and 60’s. In his
role as a government patent examiner, Genrich Altshuller
recognized two very important things.
First, truly significant inventions came about when someone
resolved a very difficult contradiction.
Secondly, the inventive principles used in resolving these
contradictions were used over and over again across many different
industries and technological areas, unbeknownst to the inventors
in these diverse fields. Altshuller
spent his life organizing, collating, and making these principles
accessible to future inventors.
Schools were established to teach this methodology and it
is now actively used by many industries.
It is also being taught by several consulting firms and has
taken the form of software products as well.
The first form of
TRIZ was a simple hand-drawn contradiction table which allowed the
problem to be described as two property contradictions (for
example, an automobile engineer or designer would like both fuel
economy and weight at the same time).
The table would then show the typical problem-solving
principles used to resolve the contradiction.
With the advent of modern software, it is also possible to
show a picture of examples where this contradiction has been
resolved and to greatly accelerate both the descriptive and
retrieval process. There
are now over 400 identified inventive principles. With software
products such as The Innovation Workbench, one can produce
thousands of inventive examples alongside the inventive
There are fewer
than a dozen major problem-solving techniques that use the 400
inventive principles. We
will look at a few of these techniques to illustrate the power of
TRIZ, as well as to show the application to “soft”
The first basic
principle of TRIZ is that of ideality.
This is a simple, but very powerful concept which states
simply that all systems and organizations move toward ideality
over time by resolving, either in design or in operation, all
contradictions which are inherent to them.
Our western culture is so used to compromising that this
basic concept usually escapes us because we assume it is
and managers, in particular, start compromising on system and
organizational issues long before they have thought about
achieving breakthrough by overcoming all of the contradictions in
a system. It is
interesting that children, who don’t understand all the reasons
why something cannot be done, easily understand this concept and
can generate TRIZ solutions when adults cannot.
All organizations and systems evolve toward ideality with
time, and the problem-solving principles used are known and
predictable. One way
of thinking about this concept is to envision the ratio of useful
functions achieved by a system divided by its negative functions
or costs. The truly
ideal system accomplishes its function without even existing. For
example, a simple corrosion test that requires both a sample and
an expensive container to hold the corrosive fluid and the sample
can be “idealized” through the use of the sample, itself, as
the container (i.e., put the corrosive fluid inside the sample).
This eliminates the entire holding system (performs its
function without existing). The
current move toward using the Internet to provide subscriptions in
place of surface mailings is another example.
fundamental TRIZ concept is that of resources.
Every system or organization has resources that are not
being totally used, or more frequently, not even identified.
The recognition and use of undiscovered resources
frequently resolves contradictions.
Let’s take the simple example of a current-carrying wire
and state the fact that we have an unspecified problem in the air
space around the wire. If a group is then asked to identify what resources are
within the system to solve this undefined problem, they will
typically summarize the resources as the current, the voltage, the
air around the wire, the wire itself, and little else.
From a TRIZ perspective, there are many additional
resources including not just the wire, but all of its geometrical
aspects (diameter, circumference, surface area, and surface
roughness). The air
around the wire isn’t just air, but oxygen, nitrogen, argon,
carbon dioxide, and other trace gases.
The current and the nature of the current have additional
functionality as well. All of these resources can, of course, be reacted or mixed
with another to make additional resources.
It is fairly easy to get a group of people to expand the
list of resources, from the easy five or six to more than thirty,
with this kind of focused thinking.
The same thing happens in TRIZ problem- solving sessions.
In the application of this approach in the organizational
and management sense, we always find a significant number of
additional resources in the people and systems we have in the
organization. Most peoples’ talents are underutilized and in many cases
we don’t even know the full extent of the talents of our people.
fundamental TRIZ concept is in the dealing with contradictions
though the use of separation principles.
The four basic separation principles, which are among the
400 problem solving operators mentioned earlier, are:
in Time. When
faced with an organizational or technical conflict, consider
separating the contradiction in time.
For example, in trying to organize a management system with
conflicting scheduling demands, consider allocating specific time
slots to focus on certain areas.
In the technical arena, consider how engineering systems
such as airplane spoilers change their operation or function as a
function of time and their need at any specific point in time.
in Space. Frequently,
conflicts can be resolved by separating them in space.
When there are potential conflicts within organizations
involving acquisitions or confidential business discussions, the
specific project group is often physically separated from the bulk
of the organization. In
many chemical-processing systems, application of energy or
mechanical forces is restricted to only certain areas within the
process to avoid having negative effects where they are not
Between Parts and the Whole.
In application of this principle, a system or organization
is designed to have a different behavior at different levels or
subsets. Most large companies are organized by business and functional
structure, rather than the old-fashioned hierarchical structure
that was common decades ago.
The smaller pieces of the organization are agile and fast
while the parent organization is slower and more conservative in
the handling of long term financing, corporate strategy, etc.
In the technical arena, many technical systems have very
different designs at the micro level vs. the macro level.
The common bicycle chain is an excellent example of
this--the chain is very rigid at the micro level and very flexible
at the macro level.
Upon Condition. In
the application of this separation principle, a system or
organization is designed to change its behavior or response as a
function of what is presented to it.
For example, many separation devices are designed in such a
way as to respond to differences in viscosity, particle size, or
application of this principle in the management and organizational
sense would imply, for example, that an organizational structure
or its individual people would change their processes or behavior
as a function of external business conditions.
Many organizations maintain special task forces which are
only activated by special circumstances such as public relations
concerns, safety or environmental crises, or special business
The last, and
potentially most significant, principle of TRIZ is that not only
are the same problem-solving principles used repeatedly, but there
are patterns of invention that continuously repeat themselves.
What this means is that many types of product inventions
can be predicted and used to better plan technology budgets and
work. It also means
that almost any patent application can be improved by expanding
its claims, and that there are more ways than first appear to get
around an existing patent.
Two of the most
basic of these lines of evolution are:
1) The transition
from rigid to flexible to wave technologies.
This goes on all around us and is best illustrated by
looking at the methods used to point to items in presentations.
Many years ago teachers and speakers used rigid stick
flexible, collapsible metal pointers came into being which could
be tucked in a pocket and quickly expanded to full pointer size.
Now laser pointers exist which require no mechanical
extension at all. Each
of these inventions was predictable and required different
technical skills from the previous invention.
This also points out the use of lines of evolution to plan
hiring and technical recruiting. For example, each of these
different technologies would require different skills from wood
machining to flexible mechanical joining/welding to laser design,
2) The transition from mechanical to thermal to chemical to
electronic to electromagnetic fields of energy application.
One only has to look at cooking, heating/cooling, and
technical computing to see this line of evolution traced over and
over again. Again,
this can be used to plan the next generation of research, where to
be looking for new technological advancements, and what meetings
and conventions to attend.
As can be seen,
the TRIZ methodology has a number of key elements that can be used
to solve very difficult technical and organizational problems,
understand more clearly how to approach contradictions, and plan
the evolution of systems and technology.
The TRIZ methodology is in its infancy and has a bright
future as its applications increase and as its fundamental
principles are taught and extended by the educational system.
For more information on TRIZ, browse
www.ideaconnections.com, www.triz-journal.com, and www.aitriz.com;
or read And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared by G. Altshuller (Technical
Innovation Center, Worchester, MA, 1996) and an article in Machine Design (October 12,1995, 56-67).