Genrich Altshuller

TRIZ (‘theory of the resolution of invention-related tasks’) is ‘a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature.’ It was developed by Soviet inventor and science-fiction author Genrich Altshuller (1926-1998) and his colleagues, beginning in 1946.

In English the name is typically rendered as the theory of ‘inventive problem solving,’ and occasionally goes by the English acronym TIPS.

An important part of the theory has been devoted to revealing patterns of evolution in problem solving and one of the objectives has been the development of an algorithmic approach to the invention of new systems, and to the refinement of existing ones.

TRIZ includes a practical methodology, tool sets, a knowledge base, and model-based technology for generating innovative solutions for problem solving. It is useful for problem formulation, system analysis, failure analysis, and patterns of system evolution. There is a general similarity of purposes and methods with the field of pattern language, a cross discipline practice for explicitly describing and sharing holistic patterns of design.

The research has produced three primary findings:

  1. Problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences
  2. Patterns of technical evolution are also repeated across industries and sciences
  3. The innovations used scientific effects outside the field in which they were developed

TRIZ practitioners apply all these findings in order to create and to improve products, services, and systems.

Genrich Altshuller started developing TRIZ in 1946 while working in the ‘Inventions Inspection’ department of the Caspian Sea flotilla of the Soviet Navy. His job was to help with the initiation of invention proposals, to rectify and document them, and to prepare applications to the patent office.

Altshuller has shown that at the heart of some inventive problems lie contradictions (one of the basic TRIZ concepts) between two or more elements, such as, ‘If we want more acceleration, we need a larger engine; but that will increase the cost of the car,’ that is, more of something desirable also brings more of something less desirable. These are called ‘technical contradictions’ by Altshuller.

He also defined so-called physical or inherent contradictions: More of one thing and less of the same thing may both be desired in the same system. For instance, a higher temperature may be needed to melt a compound more rapidly, but a lower temperature may be needed to achieve a homogeneous mixture. An inventive situation might involve several such contradictions. Conventional solutions typically ‘trade’ one contradictory parameter for another.

His work on what later resulted in TRIZ was interrupted in 1950 by his arrest and sentencing to 25 years in the Vorkuta Gulag labor camps. The arrest was partially triggered by letters which he and Raphael Shapiro sent to Stalin, ministers and newspapers about certain decisions made by the Soviet Government, which they believed were erroneous. Altshuller and Shapiro were freed during the Khrushchev Thaw following Stalin’s death in 1953 and returned to Baku.

The first paper on TRIZ titled ‘On the psychology of inventive creation’ was published in 1956 in ‘Issues in Psychology.’ By 1969, Altshuller had reviewed about 40,000 patent abstracts and extracted 40 principles of invention. Following the end of the Cold War, the waves of emigrants from the former Soviet Union brought TRIZ to other countries and drew attention to it overseas. In 1995, the first Altshuller Institute for TRIZ Studies in the U.S. was established in Boston.

In 1998, Oxford Creativity was launched by business management author Karen Gadd, using a new teaching and learning style designed to make TRIZ tools and principles more accessible for everyone known as Oxford TRIZ, which was trademarked in 2013.

One of the tools which evolved as an extension of the 40 principles was a ‘contradiction matrix’ in which the contradictory elements of a problem were categorized according to a list of 39 factors which could impact on each other. The combination of each pairing of these 39 elements is set out in a matrix (for example, the weight of a stationary object, the use of energy by a moving object, the ease of repair etc.). The relevant cells in the matrix typically contain a sub-set of three or four principles that have been applied most frequently in inventive solutions which resolve contradictions between those two elements.

For instance, increasing accuracy of measurement of machined balls while avoiding the use of expensive microscopes and elaborate control equipment. The matrix cell in row ‘accuracy of measurement’ and column ‘complexity of control’ points to several principles, among them the ‘Copying Principle,’ which states, ‘Use a simple and inexpensive optical copy with a suitable scale instead of an object that is complex, expensive, fragile or inconvenient to operate.’ From this general invention principle, the following idea might solve the problem: Taking a high-resolution image of the machined ball. A screen with a grid might provide the required measurement.

The main objective of the contradiction matrix was to simplify the process of selecting the most appropriate Principle to resolve a specific contradiction. It was the core of all modifications of ARIZ till 1973. But in 1973, after introducing the concept of physical contradictions and creating SuField analysis, Altshuller realized that the contradiction matrix was comparatively an inefficient tool and stopped working on it. SuField analysis is a special language of formulas with which it is possible to easily describe any technological system in terms of a specific (structural) model. A model produced in this manner is transformed according to special laws and regularities, thereby revealing the structural solution of the problem.

ARIZ (Algorithm of inventive problems solving) is an algorithmic approach to finding inventive solutions by identifying and resolving contradictions. This includes the ‘system of inventive standards solutions’ which Altshuller used to replace the 40 principles and contradiction matrix, it consists of SuField modeling and the 76 inventive standards.

One SuField technique involves the analysis of substances, fields and other resources that are currently not being used and that can be found within the system or nearby. For instance, videotext systems used television signals to transfer data, by taking advantage of the small time segments between TV frames in the signals.


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