Using TRIZ as a Creative Process for Breaking Mindpatterns

First presented at the 11th Symposium on Quality Function Deployment, Novi, MI, USA, June, 1999

Tore H. Wiik MSc
SINTEF Design and Product Development
Oslo, Norway


The paper discusses Triz as a tool that will support and enhance the process of breaking mindpatterns to come up with surprising and creative solutions to technical problems. Sintef wanted to test Triz as a method and established two test cases, which are discussed in this paper. In addition to the classical Triz tools, a graphical problem formulator software has been used as a supporting aid to generate the huge number of alternative problem formulations which is an important starting point in the creative process. This software automates the Triz-process since it links its problem formulations to other Triz-tools.


In both situations Triz proved to be an efficient tool to establish first a group consensus and then support the group in finding creative solutions.


Triz in the QFD environment

Triz has been adopted in the QFD environment as an innovative contribution. Its roots are from Russia, but the methodology spread to Western countries as a result of Perestrojka. Triz is based on knowledge derived from millions of worldwide patents. Like making orange juice by adding water to concentrated frozen juice, the extract from the patents give inventive rules, operators and useful patterns that will contribute to efficient innovation. There are several main issues of Triz. One is to make sure that any innovation moves the system on the right course towards ideality. Ideality is defined as all useful functions of a solution or system divided by all harmful functions. Mapping systematically all useful and harmful functions and creating connections between them is an important starting point. Knowledge about the patterns and lines of evolution of technological systems – an important Triz element – and looking into subsystems, super systems and side systems will give good indications about correct paths toward ideality of a system. Triz also categorizes resources, since using the inherent system resources are highly important in order to find the best inventive solution.

Triz aims at finding system contradictions and the method teaches us to actively pursue them and then fight the contradictions with improvements that are not new compromises but solutions with sufficient innovative height to eliminate the compromise.


Generating a surplus of alternatives to pick from

A barrier to efficient problem solution will always be lack of alternatives. Too few alternatives lead us to bring in the experts too soon to dig deep into a single problem solution direction we have come up with. Several creative techniques have been developed since the 60s to support "out-of-the-box"-thinking. They teach us to generate a large number of creative ideas before we start analyzing, selecting and prioritizing. Most of the techniques have a psychological background, and they are aimed at training people to become significantly more creative. Edward De Bono and Alex Osborn have made significant contributions in the field of creativity techniques. Creativity techniques are easy to use, and it is becoming more a matter of training than "born creativity" to come up with surprising solutions to problems.


The creative process

What is creativity? One very good definition is that creativity is creating something new by breaking traditional patterns. So we have two conditions:

Condition 1: We have to create something that has not existed before.

Condition 2: We have to break a pattern, typically a mental pattern.

Condition number two becomes the challenge. The pattern breaking analogy comes very much from Edward de Bono's work on creativity. De Bono explains thoroughly in several of his books[i] what hinders creativity. All high level organisms rely on reuse of patterns to survive. The paradox is that one has to reuse brain patterns to work efficiently, but in order to work with high effectiveness and follow the demands of a constantly changing world we have to break patterns. De Bono teaches us several methods to break patterns. Several of the methods rely on some form of provocation that stirs us up sufficiently so we can break out of the pattern - or out of the box. This is quite equivalent to the energy needed for an electron to jump out of a potential well.


Triz as a creative tool

Genrich Altshuller, the founder of Triz, started his work on Triz in the mid forties. He was aware of much of the research done on creativity up until then, but he felt that the effect of creativity tools depended too much on the individual[ii]. He wanted Triz to utilize the recorded creative work of the world by accumulating creativity used in inventions in such a systematic fashion that it could be used to synthesize inventions. 50 years ago such thinking made a lot of sense. Today we take a less mechanical and a more organic approach to most innovative situations. This trend is typical in project work[iii] as well as in technical development work. However, Altshuller's main vision of extracting, compiling and generalizing knowledge in such a way that it becomes easily accessible by inventors in any area is still valid.


Triz is often considered as divided in analytical tools and analogical tools. The analogical tools are creative tools that help the user to break mind patterns. These tools are:

The purpose of these tools is to enable us to think in terms of analogous situations to solve problems related to the current situation. As such we do not really want to break patterns, we might rather say that they help us to find alternative patterns that are somehow related to the problem being solved.


The Structured Problem Solving Process

The process that we wanted to test follows the recommendations of Ideation International's Triz-process as shown in the table below:





Document problem

Fill in and analyze "Innovation Situation Questionnaire" (ISQ)


Formulate problem

Establish an exhaustive set of possible solutions using the Problem Formulator.


Prioritize directions for innovative solutions



Develop concepts

Use Triz knowledge based tools to create several solution concepts.


Evaluate results and plan implementation


This process generally follows the standard problem solving process that is also a part of the CPS (Creative Problem Solving)-process[iv]. Basically, this is a process that goes through several phases, each phase first diverging and then converging. This is shown in figure 1. The first phase where we concentrate on finding the actual problem by establishing a large number of alternative problem formulations is equivalent to the Ideation-Triz method, where a software based problem formulator generates alternative problem formulations derived from the user's graphical problem description. The graphical problem description is a network of a system's useful and harmful effects and their interdependencies.

Text Box: Fig.1 The divergence/convergence structure of a creative problem solving process

Two Test Cases

Case 1: The Sintef autoclave case

Sintef is a large Norwegian research organization. The department of Product Development and Design has been investigating Triz for some time. We wanted to do an in-house test before we would use the tool in our consulting business. Prior to this, 4 people had attended a 3-day training seminar in the USA.

As a suitable test case we picked the improvement of a large autoclave. 3 persons within the department had been working on and completed a project for a client on a huge autoclave sterilizing equipment and a corresponding lubrication problem.  The problem with existing autoclaves was that broken glass wore out the bearings. We now gathered the whole group to work together and try to come up with new solutions to the shortcomings of the current model, and possibly invent a new type of autoclave. The three experts had been working on autoclaves for years. We gathered 10 people in the group and were anxious to see the effect of the mix of the 3 experts and 7 novices. We started out by going through the system in a systematic Triz process.

The beginning of the process of filling in the so-called Innovative Situation Questionnaire is shown in fig. 2. Basic information is gathered, but also more food for thought, like "What would be the ideal final solution (IFR)"? An understanding of the IFR helps to give an understanding of how the system will develop on its natural course towards ideality. “The system is gone, but the function is there”, is one ideal result which often comes up. The group developed two IFRs:

  1. Sterilizing the ampoules without the use of an autoclave and with minimal handling of ampoules and with simple equipment.

  2. Ampoules never break in the autoclave

Text Box: Fig. 2: Part of the Innovative Situation Questionnaire that should be filled in at the beginning of the process

The latter immediately led to a typical Triz solution using the separation principles. Why not separate the sterilizing of contents of the ampoules from the washing of the outside ampoules. A core of the problem is broken glass when ampoules break in the washing process.

Finding the “resources” of the system is another important group exercise. The system resources should be used to help the system develop towards its IFR.

Figure 3: Problem formulation network

Going through the laws and patterns of technological evolution that we could expect to be relevant for an autoclave system opens the group's eyes to some shortcomings in the current system. The autoclave being a system for sterilizing medical fluids, it is also under heavy regulations. This stifles innovation and will in most cases delay the time needed for the system to reach ideality. A new idea will typically be met with a phrase like "This would be fine, but it can’t be done since the regulation so and so hinders it. It was a challenge in the group to relieve the experts from this approach.

Agreeing on the main problems to be solved is a more turbulent group task. We expected the experts to agree, but not so. It took 30 minutes of discussion before the whole group reached consensus. Before the group work, the experts thought they were in agreement. During the first part of the process this agreement was shattered. It took some time until a new consensus was reached.

The final statement expressing the core of the problem turned out to be:

Ampoules break in the process and the soy in which the sedative fluid is dissolved mixes with the heat exchange fluid. The rollers and their bearings detoriate due to glass particles and lack of lubrication.

Filling in the ISQ is a tedious process. A good advice is to establish the graphical problem formulation concurrently. This may be important to keep up the group's excitement.

Some of the alternative problem formulations that were generated from the Problem Formulator are shown below:

  1. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Destilled water circulating).
  2. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Frame rotates), that provides or enhances [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid), and does not cause [the] (Ampoules breaking).
  3. Find a way to enhance [the] (Frame rotates).
  4. Find a way to resolve the contradiction: [the] (Frame rotates) should exist to obtain [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid), and should not exist in order to avoid [the] (Ampoules breaking).
  5. Find a way to do without [the] (Frame rotates) for obtaining [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid).
  6. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Water heated to 120 degrees C).
  7. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid), that provides or enhances [the] (Even temperature in sed.fluid), and does not require [the] (Frame rotates).
  8. Find a way to enhance [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid).
  9. Find a way to do without [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid) for obtaining [the] (Even temperature in sed.fluid).
  10. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Even temperature in sed.fluid), that does not require [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid).
  11. Find a way to enhance [the] (Even temperature in sed.fluid).
  12. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Ampoules breaking), under the condition of [the] (Framework rotation varying), (Ampoule glass tension), (Ampoules rattle), (Ampoules loose), (Poor quality of ampoules), and (Frame rotates).
  13. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Bearing, roll and rail wearing), under the condition of [the] (Glass particles in water), (Grease removed from bearings), and (Excessive bearing load).

For example. Problem formulation 5 Find a way to do without [the] (Frame rotates) for obtaining [the] (Stirring of sedative fluid) triggers the following ideas:

·         Jets rotate, while the frame stands still

·         Find ways to stir fluid in non moving ampulla

·         Rotor in ampulla

·         Hang in cycling crib

·         Use gyro principle

·         Circulate ampulla in ultrasound field

·         Metal wire around ampulla

·         Piezo electricity

Test case 2: The cutting tool

In this case, Sintef as a consulting organization wanted to use Triz as a tool to support the process of designing a next generation cutting tool for a rotating workpiece. The cutting tool company, Teeness ASA, possesses a dominating technology, but has for some years felt the need to bring their cutting tool adapter up to a higher level of ideality. This had been an ongoing process for some years, but has not resulted in a sufficient level of innovation. As a part of a Norwegian innovation program (P2005) sponsored by the Norwegian Research Counsil, to test the validity of new and innovative problem solving tools, the tool company and Sintef decided to try out Triz.

The process resulted in several innovative solutions. The company is currently evaluating which of the solutions that should be patented. This limits the level of detail in this article. The selected solutions may be subject for a future paper.

The events that took place in the workgroup followed the same basic pattern. We worked through the creative circle shown in figure 4 from order to chaos and back to a new order.

Text Box: Fig. 4: The creative circle from order to chaos and back

The basic Triz process used in this case follows this pattern:

  1. Try to reach a consensus regarding the current situation and the problem situation. This includes limitations in the solution space.
  2. Identify IFR
  3. Identify system resources that could help us to reach IFR.
  4. Design the graphical problem network
  5. Utilize the software to generate an exhaustive set of possible solutions.

We experienced an almost identical scenario that we found in the internal Sintef-situation (Case 1). Disagreement among the experts in what they really tried to solve, disagreement in the complex situation between the useful and harmful effects with respect to identifying them as well as how they are interconnected. As soon as consensus has been reached and a new situation order has been established, the road to good solutions is much straighter.

In both cases there was a surplus of ideas. Typically, we have to sort them in solutions for short term, medium term and long term range. Common to all is that they take us towards IFR? Several of the ideas have been thought of before, but put aside due to secondary problems or because they have not been communicated.

The graphical problem formulation that was built consisted of 26 useful and harmful functions and 35 connections. This in turn made the software generate 68 alternative problem formulations as "basic directions for innovation". The 68 formulations were sorted in 13 different groups.

Of the 68, 47 were set aside for various reasons like "out of scope" or "coinciding with other formulation".

As a second dimension in the sorting process we split the 21 solutions in short term, medium term and long term. The result is shown in the table below where the numbers in the matrix refer to the 68 formulations.


Short term

Medium term

Long term

For future consideration

Group 0



idea not generated from the problem formulator


Group 1 (the adapter is gone)





Group 2 (improve adapter)

10, 28, 29, 34




Group 3 (isolate vibrations)


11, 25, 27



Group 4 (improve burr removal)





Group 5





Group 6





Group 7





Group 8





Group 9

39, 41, 42, 45, 68




Group 10





Group 11




49, 51

Group 12





Some of the formulations have triggered solutions from the Triz 40 inventive principles (analogical tool), like principle 4 (asymmetry), principle 3 (local quality), principle 9 (prior counter-action), principle 14 (spheroidality), principle 15 (dynamicity), principle 18 (mechanical vibration), principle 23 (feedback) and principle 40 (composite materials).

We also found several physical contradictions in the system. These triggered solutions derived from the separation principles.

As a result, the company has set aside project groups to thoroughly investigate the 21 ideas.

So we experienced a quantum leap in creativity. But some questions remain unanswered.  How much of the success is due to the fact that people come together and work in a group? How much of it is due to the systematic approach? How much of it is due to Triz-terms like resources, IFR, contradictions?

This requires more research. What seems clear, however, is that the Triz process created excitement in the groups and represented a new way of thinking that most people in the groups were very happy with. The workshop approach and the use of a common and accepted method obviously caused a significant increase in creativity and as such represented a turning point.


The amazing thing that took place in both workshops was the transfer from order to chaos and back to order, but then a higher level order with a much clearer understanding than before. This transfer took place both in the problem formulation stage as well as the idea stage.

We tend to believe that the problem owners agree on what the main problems and their causes are. This is not so. It takes a thorough discussion in a larger group to agree on this, and then both the conclusions and the reasoning behind should be properly documented to reduce future confusion.

Triz has certainly introduced some new and rewarding techniques for this process.

[i] Edward de Bono: Serious Thinking, HarperCollinsPublishers, Great Britain, 1992

[ii] Zlotin and Zusmann, Managing Innovation Knowledge, Triz-journal April 1999

[iii] Briner, Hastings, Geddes: Project Leadership, Gower Publishing House, London, 1999

[iv] Parnes, Noller and Biondi, Guide to Creative Action, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1977