TRIZ and Systematic Innovation, What Confucius Said?

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    By Shih Hui-Shen


    Several verses from the Analects of Confucius are examined and discussed to identify their relationship to the Theory of Innovative Thinking (TRIZ) and systematic innovation. Many verses relate to more than one TRIZ tool and some combine several TRIZ tools and concepts. Besides the TRIZ-related aspects, some verses are related to failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) and other useful problem solving tools. The Theory of Innovative Thinking and systematic innovation methodologies along with the Analects of Confucius are put together to generate inspiration. The verses in English are courtesy of (the Analects of Confucius and the detailed explanation of each verse are disclosed clearly on the Web site).


    Omega life views and contradiction, what Confucius said?1

    Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet and the discussion is started from it because Leonardo da Vinci said: "Think of the end before the beginning."

    Starting with Omega life views and examining what Confucius said about Omega life views a question is raised: Have Leonardo da Vinci and Confucius met before discussions resulting in a kind of contradiction between the West culture and the East culture?

    The first verse examined is talking about "wisdom," but Confucius said, "I have no wisdom." Even though he is considered a wise man; that is indeed a contradiction.

    Chapter 9 Verse 7

    Confucius said: "Do I have wisdom? I have no wisdom. If a crude man asked me a question in all candour, I would tap its two extremes, doing my best."

    The description of the verse is similar to the description of Omega life views. Two extremes are used to solve a question while trying to dig out the differences between two extremes in order to answer someone's questions. By being placed in such extremes, new perspectives on question generate more creative solutions. Even Confucius is not familiar with everything; therefore, he uses this approach to create the ideas and to solve someone's question. Except for the internal experience and knowledge, databases in other fields and effects can be adapted to find the solution if one is not acquainted with some fields. One of the big ideas of TRIZ and systematic innovation is: "Someone somewhere has already solved a problem like yours." Refer to the following verse for a similar concept that Confucius said.

    Chapter 7 Verse 21

    Confucius said: "When three men walk together, there is always something I can learn. Choose to follow what is good in them and correct what is not good."

    Both good and not good can be something to learn and it can be important clues to help one find out the opportunities on problem solving. By listing and comparing all these good and not good items or attributes, one may see many contradictions. Solving the conflicts between them is an approach to finding solutions. If one considers the "extremely good" or "extremely not good" situations, it helps to break the psychological inertia. If the object is changed from "three men" to "any physical entity," one can apply contradiction analysis for opportunity identification on the physical entity. The psychological inertia also can be broken by the tool, intensification of system conflicts, which is applied in the Algorithm for Inventive Problem Solving (ARIZ). The resources point of view includes three men are good human resources. Three men can be one's adviser while dealing with some difficult situations or some unknown fields. For the Omega life views, there is another verse regarding it.

    Chapter 17 Verse 3

    Confucius said: "Only the wisest and the most dull-witted are unchangeable."

    It is obvious that the verse provides two extremes:

    1. The wisest and the most dull-witted, a typical example of Omega life views. Not only relating to the Omega life views, the verse can be related to the fool-proof method and FMEA. Since the most dull-witted are unchangeable, it has to come out with several ideas while implementing it to prevent any undesired effects performed under the "most dull-witted" situations. One must keep those extreme situations as close as possible to generate more robust solutions.
    2. Additionally, a better process flow is needed to prevent incorrect operation. The fool-proof method and FMEA can be adequate tools to help. The wisest and the most dull-witted also form a contradiction. The contradiction matrix and inventive principles can be applied to solve the contradiction between them. The original object of the verses is man. If one changes it from man to any physical system, however, Omega life views and contradiction analysis can be applied to break the psychological inertia and help to generate many useful solutions through the contradiction matrix and inventive principles. Here is another example of a contradiction.

    Chapter 12 Verse 10

    Tzu Chang asked about exaltation of virtue and recognition of delusion. Confucius said: "Advocating loyalty and trustworthiness and accommodating righteousness are to exalt virtue. Wishing a man would live forever when you love him and wishing a man would die when you hate him…having wished him live forever, to wish he would die, is delusion. It is without enrichment, it only detracts."

    From the verse, someone wishes a man to live and to die. It is obvious that the description is a contradiction. Compare this contradiction to a physical contradiction. Physical contradiction solving strategy can be applied to solve this problem. In the verse, it is also said that delusion is a kind of contradiction, which can be recognized clearly through TRIZ.

    Ideal final result and trends of evolution, what Confucius said?2

    Several verses are related to the ideal final result (IFR) and trends of evolution, for example this is what Confucius said.

    Chapter 2 Verse 1

    Confucius said: "To rule with virtue is like the North Star in its place, around which all other stars revolve, in homage."

    In TRIZ, the IFR is also like the North Star's place in the sky during a problem solving journey. Many solutions, ideas or opportunities are like other stars in the sky and are around the North Star. During this problem solving journey, the IFR is the goal and it guides one to the right direction.

    Except for the problem solving application from the patent circumvention point of view the most powerful and the strongest patent may be surrounded by many patents or may be hidden intentionally and carefully. One must find out the most powerful piece from the patent database if a patent design is conducted around task.

    In the real world, the North Star is not the brightest star in the sky. It takes time to find it if one does not have enough skills or practice. Some standards or rules must be followed, which reflects the real situation when one wants to look for the truly powerful patent in the patent database. Some rules and some components may be used to find it effectively such as the identification of the function attribute, the inventive strategy and the context. These components can be selected as search keywords to narrow the patent quantity. The next verses will discuss other examples of the IFR and the trends of evolution.

    Chapter 15 Verse 11

    Confucius said: "Men who do not care about the future, will soon have trouble."

    The verse recommends one to think about the future while dealing with any situations. But how does one think about the future? What is there to think about and which way is one to think about the future? The IFR and the trends of evolution can be applied to help. Besides previously discussed strategies, knowledge, effects and experience from the database or consultants can be an auxiliary support to help think about the future. The verse also relates to the implementation of FMEA. If one does not want to get in any trouble in the product or process, spending time to perform FMEA in advance is highly recommended. The next verses will give more examples of the trends of evolution, which are revealed in the Analects of Confucius.

    Chapter 2 Verse 4

    Confucius said: "At fifteen, I aspired to learning. At thirty, I established my stand. At forty, I had no delusions. At fifty, I knew my destiny. At sixty, I knew truth in all I heard. At seventy, I could follow the wishes of my heart without doing wrong."

    The verse describes each stage of Confucius, which can be related to the trends of evolution. In a real life situation, the age, stage and its contents may be varied depending on different conditions such as cultural, economic and educational environments. It could be a reference to product design, problem solving and for helping one to know what people think at a certain age. The verse also reflects the maturity analysis and the evolution trend of a man's life. The following are more examples regarding the trends of evolution.

    Chapter 3 Verse 23

    Talking of music with the grand music master of Lu…Confucius said: "Music can be appreciated…stirring in unison it begins. As it continues, how harmonious, how clear, how it grows unto its finale!"

    It relates to the rhythm coordination in time related trends, a typical trend in TRIZ.

    Chapter 2 Verse 23

    Tzu Chang asked about the future of the 10 generations to come. Confucius said: "The Yin inherited the rites of Hsia. Their gain or loss can be deduced. The Chou inherited the rites of Yin. Their gain or loss can be deduced. The future of whoever succeeds the Chou can be deduced for a hundred generations to come."

    The verse is also a typical application of the trends of evolution because if one uses this strategy correctly then it is apparent that one can predict the next step of the system, even with the rites system in the previous verse. The gain or loss of the system can be deduced through this methodology.

    Chapter 6 Verse 22

    Confucius said: "With a single change, Chi could be Lu; with a single change, Lu could be the way."

    This means that the Chi state could be evolved to Lu state's status with a single change. If Chi state could evolve further, it can achieve a higher stage and be closer to the IFR. The verse describes the trends of evolution and highlights the change. Even a little change can solve a problem. Barely changing or modifying the existing system may induce significant improvements. The strategy of the trends of evolution can help to effectively reach the IFR.

    Function attribute analysis and trimming, what Confucius said?3

    Several verses will be discussed to see what Confucius said about function attribute analysis and how to trim the system.

    Chapter 12 Verse 7

    Tzu Kung asked about ruling. Confucius said: "Sufficient food, sufficient arms and the trust of the people."

    Tzu Kung said: "If one had to be dispensed with, which of the three should be first?"

    Confucius said: "Dispense with arms."

    Tzu Kung said: "If one had to be dispensed with, which of the remaining two should be first?"

    Confucius said: "Dispense with food. Death has always been since the beginning of time, but without trust, the people could not establish their stand."

    The verse explains how to rule a country and can be related to the function attribute analysis. The verse clearly discusses the trimming process too. In the verse, the country system includes three components: food, arms and the trust of the people. Each component performs its function. While considering the trimming of the system, one must think about the main useful function of this system. In the verse, before answering how to rule a country, one must check what the main useful function of a country is and keep in mind that the main useful function cannot be eliminated during the trimming process. Confucius chooses the sequences as illustrated in the verse for trimming because the people could not establish a stand without trust, which obviously violates the main useful function of the system. Without people in a stand, a country stands no longer. This example, regarding ruling a country, really highlights the spirit of the functional attribute analysis (FAA) and proposes the trimming criteria. Note: The detailed FAA and trimming methodology are not discussed in this paper, refer to existing TRIZ resources.

    Voice of the customer, what Confucius said?4,5

    Voice of the customer (VOC) is the final consideration because the goal is to emphasize that "what the customer said is as important as what Confucius said."

    Chapter 2 Verse 10

    Confucius said: "Look into his motives, note his course, take heed of whether he is at ease and how can a man hide, how can a man hide!"

    It means one can observe someone's behavior in several ways in order to know a man. If the term is changed from man to customer then the verse provides a lot of clues for hearing and realizing the voice of the customer. The verse gives a guideline to approach and to observe the customer. During the observation process, one may refer to the following verse in order to acquire more objective information.

    Chapter 9 Verse 4

    Full text of the Lun Yu (499 sayings of Confucius) said: "Confucius never allowed four things: he allowed no speculation, no absolute definitude, no inflexibility and no selfishness."

    From the point of view of TRIZ and systematic innovation, innovation happens when the voice of the product matches the voice of the customer. The theory of innovative thinking and systematic innovation explains how to hear the voice of the product and how to create it. What Confucius said is how to hear the voice of the customer and how to acquire useful information from them. All one has to do is match the voice of the product and the voice of the customer and put them together.


    Leonardo da Vinci suggested that individuals: "Think of the end before the beginning."

    This approach does exactly that in TRIZ and systematic innovation. From a TRIZ standpoint, to make a good invention means to resolve a system conflict without a compromise. In order to make a good conclusion of this paper, form a contradiction from "Think of the end from the beginning," from the beginning of the Analects of Confucius and see whether the contradiction can be solved through the following verse.

    Chapter 1 Verse 1

    Confucius said: "To learn and to practice what is learned time and again is pleasure, is it not? To have friends come from afar is happiness, is it not? To be unperturbed when not appreciated by others is gentlemanly, is it not?"

    Rewrite the verse to conclude the paper. "To learn and to practice what is TRIZ and systematic innovation time and again is pleasure. To have solutions come out from a contradiction is happiness."


    The author would like to acknowledge the Web site for the Analects of Confucius in English. Without this helpful translation the paper would not be accomplished.


    1. William Cheung, Confucius Publishing Co. Ltd.
    2. D.L. Mann, Hands-On Systematic Innovation, Second Edition, IFR Press, 2007.
    3. Victor Fey and Eugene Rivin, Innovation on Demand: New Product Development Using TRIZ, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
    4. Genrich Altshuller, Innovation Algorithm: TRIZ, Systematic Innovation and Technical Creativity, Translated by Lev Shulyak and Steven Rodman; Technical Innovation Center, Inc.,
    5. Genrich Altshuller, 40 Principles Extended Edition: TRIZ Keys to Innovation, Technical Innovation Center, Inc., 2005. 

    About the Author:

    Shih Hui-Shen is a TRIZ trainer and systematic innovation promoter in Taiwan. His major and recent research focuses on the patent facilitation. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving and systematic innovation are his second professional specialty. He has been a process engineer and technical manager in the semiconductor industry for several years and has generated many patents and patent applications, and held many training courses. Contact Shih Hui-Shen at sipromoter (at)

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