I discovered the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, or TRIZ (its acronym in the original Russian), when I began working with Lev Shulyak in 1992. He had translated an introductory text on TRIZ from Russian into his broken English, and he wanted help editing and marketing it.
In that manuscript I saw a fascinating concept that had global impact: a methodology that can help everyone from children to rocket scientists solve problems more quickly and with better results.
I signed on, and the decision changed my life. Soon after, Shulyak and I formed the Technical Innovation Center, dedicated to TRIZ. And the rest is history.
TRIZ (pronounced “trees”) is the brainchild of Russian scientist and engineer Genrikh Altshuller. Born in 1926, he made his first invention at the age of 14 and was later educated as a mechanical engineer.
In 1946, he developed his first mature invention, a method for escaping from an immobilized submarine without diving gear. This invention was immediately classified as a military secret, and Altshuller started working in the patent office of the Caspian Sea Navy, where he became intrigued by the meta-question of how innovation happens.
Altshuller searched scientific libraries, but could not find even the most elementary book on the subject of inventing. Scientists have often claimed that their inventions resulted from accidents and serendipity, but Altshuller didn’t accept this mantra. He decided that if a methodology for inventing did not exist, one should be developed.
Taking an empirical approach, Altshuller began by reading patents, a resource that was readily available where he worked. Patents represent the best documentation we have for what constitutes invention; they’re detailed descriptions of new solutions to existing problems.
Grounded in the patent base, but abstracting beyond the specific technical subject matter, Altshuller found that a meaningful invention is, in essence, nothing more than the removal of a contradiction without compromise.
What does this mean? Basically, it means eliminating a technical or physical conflict in one characteristic of a system without compromising other characteristics of that system.
Further, Altshuller observed that the same problem types appeared time and time again, and yielded to correspondingly generic solutions.Innovation seemed to follow a taxonomy, which supported the idea that it could proceed methodologically, like other engineering disciplines. And once its techniques had been discovered and codified, they could be taught to engineers and children alike, and applied to generate innovative ideas for diverse problem situations.
Altshuller assembled a team and proceeded to develop this methodology. TRIZ knowledge is divided into two groups: Key Concepts and Tools. Key Concepts include Levels of Innovation, Ideality, Contradictions, and Evolution of Systems. Tools include the 40 Principles, Standards, Substance-Field Analysis, and ARIZ, the algorithm for solving nonstandard problems. As I tell my trainees, TRIZ is the natural way that creative people have solved inventive problems.
I believe TRIZ can help many makers become more effective problem solvers, and I hope you’ll want to learn more about it. For more information, please visit our website at triz.org, or the Altshuller Institute for TRIZ Studies, a not-for-profit group dedicated to promoting and overseeing TRIZ development, at aitriz.org.