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July 02, 2018 Monday 04:14:12 PM IST

To reinvent the wheel is often dumped as a useless activity. However, a detailed study on thousands of patented inventions by Soviet inventor Genrich Altshuller (b.1926-d.1998) and colleagues since 1946 has revealed that almost 68.3% of the patents dealt with routine design problems solved by well-known methods in the literature;27.1% elicited minor improvements to an existing system based on methods known to the industry;4.3% brought about fundamental improvement to the existing methods known outside the industry;0.24% aimed at developinga new generation system that entaileda new principle for performing the system’s primary functions whileonly 0.06% was considered to be a rare discovery or pioneering invention of an essentially new system.


Altshuller and his team surmised: “Somebody, sometime, somewhere has already solved your problem or one similar to it. Creativity means finding that solution and adapting it to the current problem.”


This revelation led to the invention of a novel method of innovative thinking, TRIZ, which in Russian stands for, “Teoriya Resheniya Izobretalelskikh Zadatch”, meaning “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”. In course of time, this method was hailed variously as “scientific creativity”, “top-down lateral thinking” and “structured brainstorming”, and so on. TRIZ has developed a compendium of patterns and an elaborate database of fingerprints that carry the signatures of thosecreative minds who have registered their innovations via patents.


In contemporary times, TRIZ has developed into a powerful tool by being able to providea formal procedure to trigger and mentor inventive problem-solving. Many companies consider TRIZ as an obligatory skill every employee should master. Industry giants, such as Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, General Electric, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, NASA, Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Xerox, IBM, LG, Samsung, Intel, Procter and Gamble, Expedia, and Kodak, have reposed trust in the effectiveness of TRIZ as a method to trigger innovative solutions to specific problems, both in engineering and management.


TRIZ also provides algorithms for the invention of ideas, concepts and systems, based on 40 principles of invention, 8 trends of technical evolution, 76 to 101 standard solutions, and 2500+ engineering and scientific concepts arranged as questions and answers, all distilled from a huge database of about 200,000 patents worldwide.


Contradictions Call for Creative Elimination

According to Altshuller, a set of contradictions lie at the heart of every inventive problem.The contradictions could be either technical or physical in nature. Eradication or elimination of these contradictions lies at the core of innovating something. 

Technical Contradictions:

A technical contradiction is the classical engineering “trade-off”, that calls for optimisation. Some typical technical contradictions typically encountered aregiven below:

·        As the product gets stronger, its weight begins to increase.

·        Large engines improve acceleration, but also increase the cost of the car at the same time.

·        As the service is customised to each customer, service delivery system gets complicated.

·        Training is getting comprehensive, but it keeps employees away from their regularassignments.


Physical Contradictions:

Physical contradictions are rather inherent contradictions, derived from contradictory requirements they need to simultaneously address. Here are some classical examples:

·        Coffee should be hot enough for enjoyable drinking, but cold enough to prevent scalding the mouth.

·        Software should be complex enough to accommodate interesting features but should be simple enough to be user-friendly.

·        Training should be thorough enough but should be smart enough that not to take more time.

·        Temperatures should be high enough to melt a compound rapidly but should be low enough to achieve a homogeneous mixture on cooling.


TRIZ advocates “elimination” of physical contradictions, instead of their optimisation. Patented breakthrough solutions seldom try to optimise; rather they eliminate contradictions, it observes. TRIZ also provides insight into the methods of elimination of contradictions, which will act as thumbrules of innovation.


The Forty Principles of Invention are derived from the detailed investigation into patented solutions, which takea novice or an expert through the process of elimination of contradictions.



The contradictions, either inherent or engineered, could be resolved taking cues from insights from patent literature. Altshuller and team identified 40 fundamental approaches or principles of invention as follows:

1.     Segmentation: Segment the product into independent parts as a result of which a useful or damaging quality is isolated (shop in shop).

2.   Extraction: Extract a disturbing part or property from an object and/or single out the only necessary part or property (e.g. sugar-free biscuits)

3.   Local Quality: By changing the structure of products in a specific place, the desired product is created (cap on milk carton).

4.   Asymmetry: Change the shape of an object from symmetrical to asymmetrical (trendy kettle).

5.    Merging: By merging functions, properties or parts of a product in space or time, a new or unique result is created (day cream with UV filters).

6.   Universality: Make a product more uniform, universal, extensive, and multi-functional (hairdryer).

7.    Nested Doll: Place multiple objects inside others (paper insulated coffee cups).

8.   Counterweight: Compensate the negative property of the product by combining it with another object that provides a lifting force (hovercraft).

9.   Preliminary Counteraction:Analyse beforehand what can go wrong and take preliminary counteraction (sun milk).

10.                      Preliminary Action: Place object before it is needed so that it can go into action immediately from the most convenient location for their delivery (Emla numbing cream).

11.Cushion in Advance: Because nothing is perfectly reliable, prepare emergency measures in advance (metallic car coating foranti-contamination).

12.                       Equipotentiality: Eliminate tension in or around an object’s environment (cling film).

13.                       The Other Way Around: Implement an opposite or reverse action (reversible clothing).

14.                       Spheroidality: Replace linear parts with spherical parts (round brush head for hoover).

15.                       Dynamics: Make a product or property temporarily flexible or flexible for a short while (possibility to buy a car with unique stripes).

16.                       Partial or Excessive Actions: Use a little more than necessary or use a little less of the same product (high active enzymes in laundry detergents).

17.                       Transition into Another Dimension: Change the orientation of a linear product from vertical to horizontal etc. Use a different dimension or multi-storey arrangement (layered cake).

18.                      Mechanical Vibrations: Use vibrations to achieve a positive effect (massage cushion).

19.                       Periodic Action: Instead of continuous actions use periodical or pulsating actions (electric toothbrush).

20.                     Continuity: Carry on work continuously and eliminate all idle or intermittent actions (boarding pass such as e-tickets).

21.                       Rushing Through: Conduct a process at high speed to prevent errors (DSL internet versus fiber optic internet).

22.                     Blessing in Disguise: Use harmful factors to add value (3M yellow post-it with low tack adhesive).

23.                     Feedback: Introduce feedback by using output as a means of input, output audits can be improved (telephone number of service desk on packaging).

24.                     Intermediary: Merge one object temporarily with another (oven bag for cooking chicken).

25.                      Self-Service: Make an object serve itself by performing auxiliary helpful functions (self-checkout at supermarkets).

26.                     Copying: Instead of a valuable or fragile object, use inexpensive copies (zirconia jewellry).

27.                      Cheap Objects: Use inexpensive and/or disposable objects to reduce costs (disposable cutlery).

28.                     Replace Mechanical System: Replace a mechanical system with a different shape, action, or function (folding electric bikes).

29.                     Pneumatics and Hydraulics: Replace solid parts of an object with pneumatic (air) or hydraulic (water) parts (a barber’s chair).

30.                     Flexible Shells: Replace traditional constructions with flexible shells (water repellent, breathable sports clothing).

31.                       Porous Materials: Make properties of objects, systems or materials porous (read-to-use iodine bandaid).

32.                     Colour Changes: Change the colouror other optical propertiesof an object (Polaroid sunglasses).

33.                     Homogeneity: Make objects interact with a given object with identical properties (two-component adhesive).

34.                     Discarding and Recovering: By making objects or parts of objects that have fulfilled their usefulness go away and by subsequently restoring them, they can be reused (reusable make-up packaging).

35.                      Parameter Changes: Change the properties of an object (steam shower).

36.                     Phase Transitions: Use phenomena occurring during chemical phase transitions (pregnancy test).

37.                      Thermal Expansion: Convert heat energy to mechanical energy (solar panels).

38.                     Strong Oxidants: Reinforce oxidative processes to enhance a function or process (cryotherapy for warts).

39.                     Inert Atmosphere: Replace a neutral environment to support a desired function (vacuum wine saver pump).

40.                     Composite Materials: Change from homogeneous to composite materials (thermos flask).



Altshuller and team also identified eight different patterns of technical evolution, which would also help predict the future of different technologies of the day.


Pattern One: Evolution towards perfection by increasing useful effects and by reducing harmful effects and approach a quasi-ideal state (E.g. evolution of automobiles).


Pattern Two: Evolution as in an S-curve; characterised by a slow start, an accelerated spread followed by saturation and being overtaken by competing technologies (e.g. evolution of desktop computers to laptops).


Pattern Three: Non-uniform development of different elements of the system, causing delays in successful induction of technology (e.g. evolution of LASER).


Pattern Four: Evolution towards increased dynamism and controllability, with the system becoming more flexible over time andeasier to monitor (e.g. evolution of internet-based transactions).


Pattern Five: Evolution to increased complexity, followed by simplification (e.g. evolution of pizza delivery system).


Pattern Six: Evolution with matching and mismatching elements (e.g. evolution of vacuum cleaner evolving from constant suction to pulsating suction to resonant pulsation).


Pattern Seven: Evolution towards the microlevel and increased use of fields (evolution of computer-aided services in multiple sectors).


Pattern Eight: Evolution toward decreased human involvement (e.g. evolution of washing machines).


Seventy-Six Standard Solutions

Analysis of patent literature also helped Altshuller and team to identify 76 standard solutions, which they grouped into 5 large categories:

1.      Improving the system with no or little change (13).

2.    Improving the system by changing the system (23).

3.    System transitions (6).

4.    Detection and measurement (17).

5.     Strategies for simplification and improvement (17).


Many more authors have contributed further to the list and today a new system of 111 standard solutions is in place.


Typical Procedure of TRIZ Problem Solving

A typical TRIZ method for solving an inventive problem will have a minimum of four steps:

1.      Identification and definition of the inventive problem;

2.    Comparison of the identified problem with TRIZ general problems;

3.    Identification of the TRIZ standard solution to the general problem; and,

4.    Application of the TRIZ suggested solution to the given problem.


As a typical example, consider the problem: The difficulty to squeeze the ketchup bottle which is typically positioned upwards. By comparison with TRIZ standards, one may identify it as a problem which could be solved by the TRIZ Inventive Principle 17 (Transition into Another Dimension).So, the ketchup bottles are today designed to stand on their lids, making it easy to squeeze it.


For another example, consider the air conditioner with noisy compressors, creating avoidable sound pollution inside homes and offices. Based on the TRIZ Inventive Principle 2 (Extract), one may resolve the problem by placing the compressor part of the air-conditioner outside the building.


ARIZ and Industry 4.0

Until recently, creative or innovative problem-solving was regarded as a core competence of humans, which cannot be easily substituted. However, that perception could change in the near future!


The most important contribution of TRIZ method is that it allows for developing an algorithm of innovative problem solving (ARIZ). Today, an elaborate algorithmic approach towards inventive problem-solving involving an 85 step-by-step procedure is recommended to solve complicated invention problems.


It could be easily perceived that ARIZ is compatible with contemporary Industry 4.0, which endeavours to make human intervention redundant in the manufacturing process. If the creative or innovative problem solving also could be made algorithmic, human intervention could be almosteliminated from the process of innovation. Humans could soon be left to choosefrom among different innovative solutions proposed by ARIZ!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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