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