In Search of the Ideal TRIZ Teaching Method

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    By Darrell Mann

    Practitioners of the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) debate how best to teach TRIZ. TRIZ masters argue whether it is more effective to begin with the system operator, contradictions, trends or su-field analysis. TRIZ instructors debate the merits of templates and matrices with arguments on both sides.

    The paradox in this is that one of the TRIZ pillars states that in any kind of either/or debate the answer is "both" or the question is irrelevant. Or, perhaps less controversial, the answer is "it depends." The "right" way to teach TRIZ depends on who is teaching it, and, more importantly, whom they are teaching it to.

    Recognizing that everyone is different, learns differently and possesses a different knowledge base leads to the question – What is the ideal way to teach TRIZ?

    Applying TRIZ to Solve the Problem

    Using TRIZ can help solve the problem.

    1. TRIZ research has shown that apparently millions of different solutions all distill down to just a few important solution strategies.
    2. TRIZ states it is the patterns of discontinuous, step-change solutions that distinguish the "breakthrough" from the merely "optimal." Is there, therefore, a similar pattern of step-changes that can be observed in people?

    Spiral dynamics founder, Dr. Clare Graves, focused on a series of experiments conducted to determine if there were any patterns and correlations between thinking-modes and creative problem solving abilities.1,3 In many ways, Graves' research is the psychological equivalent of what Genrich Altshuller, the father of TRIZ, did in creating TRIZ. Altshuller uncovered patterns in the way that technical systems make jumps; Graves was looking for patterns in the ways people think. His starting point was a belief that Abraham Maslow's work was a good start, but was incomplete and flawed in many respects.

    What Graves found was that as people progress through life, their thinking shifts between a number of distinct (as in discontinuous step-change) thinking modes.2,3 Below are the first eight different modes.

     Figure 1: Graves Spiral Dynamics Model of Thinking Modes

    Thinking Modes

    Consider these different thinking modes as the different gears inside a gearbox – individuals are born with one gear in their gearbox – the "survival" gear. Later when people experience and solve a contradiction they add a second gear. And then a third, until they reach a point in life where they either do not experience the next problem or are unable to solve it and are thus unable to add a new gear to the gearbox. Individuals can switch from one gear to another depending on circumstances; each gear is equally important.

    Although society needs all the levels in order to function, they do not always work well together. This is because they are all distinctly – step-change – different from one another. These differences can affect how people learn. When learning new things, what the gearbox analogy suggests is that, as when driving, people spend most of their time in one gear. They can access the other gears, but there is one optimal gear for the prevailing conditions. Everybody possesses multiple gears, but typically has a preferred gear and is likely to use that gear in a learning environment.

    These different thinking modes are about "how" people think rather than "what" people think, and carry with them some distinctly different definitions of what people like and do not like. Figure 2 provides a crude summary of these desires and fears at each of the first eight thinking modes and is useful when designing a teaching program.

     Figure 2: Pleasure Seeking and Pain Avoidance at the Different Thinking Modes

    Because people in different thinking modes have different likes and dislikes, the way they prefer to learn is different. If instructors know and recognize the different thinking modes, they can design TRIZ training to suit those different modes.

    The following are some of Graves' findings on the way the different levels think and learn.

    Beige: Survival Mode

    This thinking mode is akin to Maslow's first hierarchy level; there is virtually no beige in the workforce. There is little more awareness than the problems of sustenance, illness, reproduction and disputes, and any education or training needs to be based on a nurturing model:

    This person is highly unlikely to either be at work, or, more specifically, in a TRIZ session.

    Purple: Tribal Mode

    While only one to five percent of the workforce is in this category, they will work hard and long when properly managed and the work is not negated by their superstitions or taboos. Education and training needs to be built around a friendly parent model:

    Red: Feudal Mode

    Described by Graves as "the hardcore, the rough, tough unemployed," they comprise approximately 10 percent of the adult population. A red subordinate knows how to do the job, shows pride and personal ability in the task and has to feel free to come and go as desired. There is a problem, however, in that red's ego-centrism and short attention span causes him to frequently interrupt. They normally have attempted and failed to get into "our world" and are now absolutely, firmly convinced that the whole world is organized to keep them out. Work, education and training must be built around a tough paternalistic model:

    Bear in mind across all of this that in his career, Graves worked a lot with criminals and, therefore, largely red minds. His conclusion was that it was almost impossible to teach these thinking types.

    Blue: Order Mode

    Blue thinkers, who comprise approximately 30 percent of adult populations, believe the role of each human is predestined – people are born into classes of unequal rank, those born with more have the vested responsibility to supply the needs of others and regulate them through fatherly concern. They choose autocracy over democracy; their core belief being that there is "one right way." Work, education and training should be built around either a paternalistic or benevolently authoritarian/moralistic prescriptive model:

    Orange: Scientific Mode

    Graves believed 30 to 40 percent of the population fell into the orange category, and he stated, "They see life, and thus learning, as a game that has precise rules that if mastered will enable them to win." Orange thinkers tend to see themselves as superior to and as the organizer of the productive energies present in lesser men. They are convinced they engineer human behavior. As such, rules and regulations have no inherent sanctity to orange and will be changed, as the situation requires. Orange thinkers expect compensation as a result of accomplishment. Both their job and education should be flexible and provide opportunities for individual initiative. Work, education and training need to be built around a by objectives model:

    Green: Communitarian Mode

    Green thinkers, 10 to 20 percent of the population, believe in belonging, adjusting and togetherness. An increasingly frequent problem inside organizations and education establishments is that many managers and educators are forced to remain at the order and scientific thinking levels, while their subordinates and students are likely to have moved on to communitarian modes. This discrepancy can cause conflict, confusion and cynicism inside those organizations. Looking beyond this potential problem area, the green thinker's energy is heavily consumed in the fear of being disliked. Unlike the blue person, they do not believe it is a moral duty to do their best, nor do they believe that the work is the measure of the man as is the case at orange. The green thinker must be socially motivated through his group. The danger from this model is that the group becomes enamored with the group decision-making process and nothing gets done. Work, education and training for green needs to be built around a participative/collaborative model: 

    Yellow and Turquoise: Holarchy and Holistic Modes

    The yellow thinking mode seeks a sense of personal competence and is comprised of less than one percent of the population. Thinkers at this level believe they should make the decisions wherever they are competent to make them, and believe that the most capable in the prevailing context should be the leader/teacher. Both yellow and turquoise are highly self-directed and will avoid any type of relationship where others try to dominate. Neither is motivated by threat of coercion, by pecuniary motives beyond a certain point, by status or prestige symbols and often do not need social approval. Work, education and training for yellow and turquoise must be built around an exploratory/big-picture model:


    One of the main images emerging from these mini-portraits is one of complexity and conflict. The preferred learning styles for one thinking mode are often the polar opposite of another. This makes any trainer's job tricky, as it is unlikely that any group will be centered in just one thinking level. And if this situation did arise, there is still the problem of whether people are open to learning. Assuming that they are, and assuming that an instructor's job is to teach them new problem-solving tools (as opposed to trying to get them to change their way of thinking from one level to another), the table below summarizes some suggestions that work best in the TRIZ/systematic innovation context:

    TRIZ Teaching Strategies for the Different Thinking Modes
     Theory  Tools  Templates Exercises  Processes 
    Tribal No  Hide the complexity Essential One "right" answerOne- or two-step procedures
    Feudal "World's best" Quick hits, cards, games Essential A clear "best" answer< 4 step procedures
    Order "World's finest problem solvers"Contradiction matrix, 9-windows, radar plots,patent database, no PI tools Essential"Best" answer depends on context Sequential (ARIZ)
    Scientific Three million data pointsTools should adapt to the user Flexible, feel free to adaptOpen questions, real problems, patent able Building blocks to be sequenced as user sees fit
    CommunitarianHere is what has been found so far Segment the group according to what fits whom, emphasis on definition over solution  Team decides, and possibly divides, into sub-groups – some with templates, some withoutMeaningful problems where learning points emerge from debate and discussionFlow-charts, if/then gates, divergent/convergent cycles, thinking hats
    Holarchy/Holistic"All theories are wrong; some are useful"Think of this as a start point; if the individual thinks she can improve it, she can do soNo Relevant problems with no known solution, the bigger the betterSelf-correcting

    In addition to illustrating how difficult the trainer's task is – it is highly unlikely everyone in the classroom will think in the same mode – it is also instructive to identify the thinking modes of the TRIZ masters and experts who make their statements about the "right" way to teach TRIZ. Describing something as the right way is classic blue thinking. Paradoxically, the blue thinking mode is the one that really does not like breakthrough or change. How ironical would it be if it turns out that the originators and main advocates of TRIZ are the ones least accepting of change and different ways of doing things?


    1. Systematic Innovation E-Zine, "Some People Are More Creative Than Others," Issue 64, July 2007.
    2. Graves, C.W., The Never Ending Quest, ECLET Publishing, California, 2005.
    3. Mann, D.L., "Theories of Everything and TRIZ," The TRIZ Journal, July 2008.

    About the Author:

    Darrell Mann is an engineer by background, having spent 15 years working at Rolls-Royce in various long-term R&D related positions, and ultimately becoming responsible for the company's long-term future engine strategy. He left the company in 1996 to help set up a high technology company before entering a program of systematic innovation and creativity research at the University of Bath. He first started using TRIZ in 1992, and by the time he left Rolls-Royce had generated over a dozen patents and patent applications. In 1998 he started teaching TRIZ and related methods to both technical and business audiences, and to date has given courses to more than 3,000 delegates across a broad spectrum of industries and disciplines. He continues to actively use, teach and research systematic innovation techniques and is author of the best selling book series Hands-On Systematic Innovation. Contact Darrell Mann at darrell.mann (at) or visit

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