Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (triz)

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Figure 3. Ideal Solution May Be Outside Your Field.

2.2 Genrich S. Altshuller, the Father of TRIZ

A better approach, relying not on psychology but on technology was developed by Genrich S. Altshuller, born in the former Soviet Union in 1926. His first invention, for scuba diving, was when he was only 14 years old. His hobby led him to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer. Serving in the Soviet Navy as a patent expert in the 1940s, his job was to help inventors apply for patents. He found, however, that often he was asked to assist in solving problems as well. His curiosity about problem solving led him to search for standard methods. What he found were the psychological tools that did not meet the rigors of inventing in the 20th century. At a minimum, Altshuller felt a theory of invention should satisfy the following conditions:

  1. be a systematic, step-by-step procedure

  2. be a guide through a broad solution space to direct to the ideal solution

  3. be repeatable and reliable and not dependent on psychological tools

  4. be able to access the body of inventive knowledge

  5. be able to add to the body of inventive knowledge

  6. be familiar enough to inventors by following the general approach to problem solving in figure 1.

In the next few years, Altshuller screened over 200,000 patents looking for inventive problems and how they were solved. Of these (over 1,500,000 patents have now been screened), only 40,000 had somewhat inventive solutions; the rest were straight forward improvements. Altshuller more clearly defined an inventive problem as one in which the solution causes another problem to appear, such as increasing the strength of a metal plate causing its weight to get heavier. Usually, inventors must resort to a trade-off and compromise between the features and thus do not achieve an ideal solution. In his study of patents, Altshuller found that many described a solution that eliminated or resolved the contradiction and required no trade-off.

Altshuller categorized these patents in a novel way. Instead of classifying them by industry, such as automotive, aerospace, etc., he removed the subject matter to uncover the problem solving process. He found that often the same problems had been solved over and over again using one of only forty fundamental inventive principles. If only later inventors had knowledge of the work of earlier ones, solutions could have been discovered more quickly and efficiently.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he categorized the solutions into five levels.

  • Level one. Routine design problems solved by methods well known within the specialty. No invention needed. About 32% of the solutions fell into this level.

  • Level two. Minor improvements to an existing system, by methods known within the industry. Usually with some compromise. About 45% of the solutions fell into this level.

  • Level three. Fundamental improvement to an existing system, by methods known outside the industry. Contradictions resolved. About 18% of the solutions fell into this category.

  • Level four. A new generation that uses a new principle to perform the primary functions of the system. Solution found more in science than in technology. About 4% of the solutions fell into this category.

  • Level five. A rare scientific discovery or pioneering invention of essentially a new system. About 1% of the solutions fell into this category.

He also noted that with each succeeding level, the source of the solution required broader knowledge and more solutions to consider before an ideal one could be found. His findings are summarized in Table 1.

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