TRIZ: Theory of Inventive Problem Solving

The TRIZ method is an organized, systematic, and creative problem-solving framework. The TRIZ method was developed in 1946 by Soviet inventor and author Genrich Altshuller who studied thousands of inventions across many industries to determine if there were any patterns in innovation and the problems encountered. 

Understanding the TRIZ method

TRIZ is a Russian acronym for Teoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadatch, translated as “The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving” in English. For this reason, the TRIZ method is sometimes referred to as the TIPS method.

From careful research of over 200,000 patents, Altshuller and his team discovered that 95% of problems faced by engineers in a specific industry had already been solved. Instead, the list was used to provide a systematic methodology that would allow teams to focus their creativity and encourage innovation.

In essence, the TRIZ method is based on the simple hypothesis that somebody, somewhere in the world has solved the same problem already. Creativity, according to Altshuller, meant finding that prior solution and then adapting it to the problem at hand.

The five levels of the TRIZ method

While Altshuller analyzed hundreds of thousands of patents, he acknowledged that not every innovation was necessarily groundbreaking in scope or ambition. 

After ten years of research between 1964 and 1974, he assigned each patent a value based on five levels of innovation:

  • Level 1 (32% of all patents) – these are innovations that utilize obvious or conventional solutions with well-established techniques.
  • Level 2 (45%) – the most common form where minor innovations are made that solve technical contradictions. These are easily overcome when combining knowledge from different but related industries.
  • Level 3 (18%) – these are inventions that resolve a physical contradiction and require knowledge from non-related industries. Elements of technical systems are either completely replaced or partly changed.
  • Level 4 (4%) – or innovations where a new technical system is synthesized. This means innovation is based on science and creative endeavor and not on technology. Contradictions may be present in old, unrelated technical systems.
  • Level 5 (1%) – the rarest and most complex patents involved the discovery of new solutions and ideas that propel existing technology to new levels. These are pioneering inventions that result in new systems and inspire subsequent innovation in the other four levels over time.

How the TRIZ method works

Since its release, the TRIZ method has been refined and altered by problem-solvers and scientists multiple times. But the problem-solving framework it espouses remains more or less the same:

  1. Problem solvers must start by gathering the necessary information to solve the problem. This includes reference materials, processes, materials, and tools.
  2. Information related to the problem should also be collected, organized, and analyzed. This may pertain to the practical experience of the problem, competitor solutions, and historical trial-and-error attempts.
  3. Once the specific problem has been identified, the TRIZ method encourages the problem solvers to transform it into a generic problem. Generic solutions can then be formulated and, with the tools at hand, the team can then create a specific solution that solves the specific problem.

The last step in the TRIZ method appears to be rather complicated. But it is important for innovators to remember that most problems are not specific or unique to their particular circumstances. Someone in the world at some point in time has faced the same issue and overcome it.

Key takeaways:

  • The TRIZ method is an organized, systematic, and creative problem-solving framework. It was developed in 1946 by Soviet inventor and author Genrich Altshuller who studied 200,000 patents to determine if there were patterns in innovation.
  • Altshuller acknowledged that not every innovation was necessarily groundbreaking in scope or ambition. From the result of his research, he created five levels of innovation, with Level 1 innovations resulting from obvious or conventional solutions and Level 5 innovations resulting in new ideas that propelled technology forward.
  • The TRIZ method has been altered multiple times since it was released and may appear complicated. However, problem-solving teams can take comfort from the fact that others have most likely prevailed against similar problems in the past.
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