Which of these Soviet products do you recognize?

July 20, 2013                          David Skinner

You remember the multicolored puzzle aptly named Rubic’s Cube shown in the header above. Hopefully your fumbling with it was less frustrating than mine. It was created by Hungarian born Erno Rubik in 1974.

Tetris was the spellbinding mobile game of geometric shapes that cascaded into patterns. It seemed perfectly suited for the advent of the Game Boy and early cell phones. 

Soviet computer programer Alexey Pajitnov first released the puzzle game in June of 1984. I wasted a lot of otherwise productive time on this!

Triz? What’s that?  Some kind of rocket science? Well yes, for many companies such as Allied Signal, Aerospace Sector, Chrysler Corp., Rockwell International and others – that’s exactly what it is. However the theory behind TRIZ can also be very useful to the average person needing to make the right decision. And I believe that would be most of us. 

  • No degree required. 
  • You need only have an interest in making more productive decisions in your life. 
  • I promise not to lead you into the weeds. 
So if you’ll follow along with this brief explanation of the principles, you’ll find a whole new approach to increasing performance in the things that matter. 


TRIZ is a problem-solving analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of ‘patterns of problems’ and the corresponding study of the ‘inventions that proved successful.’ If you speak Russian the exact translation for TRIZ is Mеория решения изобретательских задач, teoriya resheniya izobretatelskikh zadatch. For the rest of us the pronunciation would sound closer to “trees”.


There are 3 principles at the root of TRIZ:

  • Problems and solutions are often repeated across different industries and activities. For us, this means we repeat the same mistakes across the various activities we perform daily.
  • Errors tend to worsen or deteriorate over time. Meaning, regardless of your intentions, your solutions will worsen over time - not improve.
  • Innovative applications based upon TRIZ theory are often found outside the field in which they were originally applied. An example would be climbing the stairs at work could be as effective as the stair-master at the gym.

The TRIZ Algorithm

You’ll find more in-depth explanations of TRIZ with all its formulas, diagrams, symbols and jargon accessible by searching the Internet or going (here) to the site “Mind Tools” which is a great place to hang out. The key point is that problem-solving for most of us is simply common substitutes we take down off the shelf. In TRIZ, “invention” is what is emphasized. Think about that difference. 

The Back Story

TRIZ was first invented by a Russian patent clerk named Benrich Altshuller in 1946. He poured over hundreds of thousands of patents looking for unique patterns for those that seemed to in his words “offer the ideal solution to contradictions.” Contradictions in lay terms are problems that require alternative solutions that will not give rise to further problems and will remain in their ideal state over time. So back to the story. 

This era of history was not a hospitable one in the USSR. To speak out or worse – write a poorly worded letter to Stalin and one of his henchmen was enough to land Altshuller in the Siberian Gulag with a 25 year sentence. Not until Stalin’s death in 1953 was Altshuller granted release. And once he was out, it was not long before the benefits of TRIZ were out too. Its benefits spread rapidly through the scientific and engineering circles of the world.

Standard Solutions Vs. TRIZ

Many problems involve only simple solutions. However TRIZ is adept at resolving those of a more complex nature, those which create complexity and further problems. As an example: Wanting to increase the speed of an automobile, it might make sense to increase the motor size and horsepower thereby going faster. The problem: The increased size and weight of the motor consumes more fuel, thus lessening the benefit of the additional speed. The TRIZ solution would suggest changing the material from iron to aluminum and invent a lighter more powerful motor.

Perhaps a more familiar problem would be refusing your child’s allowance until they complete their homework. Sounds like the perfect solution, but in reality the child can escalate the problem by going around either mom or dad, gaining their sympathy, getting the payoff  and still not complete their homework. TRIZ would aim its solution to the TV games that competed with the homework.

While these are simple examples of  TRIZ, Altshuller discovered there were 40 similar patterns of solutions. And these similar patterns crossed all fields of endeavor. It’s like we never learned our lessons the first time or we hurried to the first opportunity to pacify a boss overlooking more studied outcomes. By applying TRIZ solutions such “contradictions” can be avoided.

Here's The Great News

When Altshuller laid these elements out in the form of a grid, grouped together by relevance, he found there were factors consistently related among them, such as mass or weight, stationary or mobile, ease of repair or disposability, etc. This grouping created 39 elements or typical problems that TRIZ was more apt at solving than other theories.

Even Greater News

Beyond the 39 elements, Alshuller discovered there was a 40th  option contained in this matrix of contradictions which didn’t mirror elements of the others – thus becoming a ‘wild card’ option to overcome a problem. It was . . . Invention! This is great news. There’s an answer for everything. And if you can’t readily find it, invent it. That’s the 40th option. There's always hope where there is invention!

Not A Technical Manual

As promised, we stayed out of the weeds and this article should in no way be used as a technical treatise on TRIZ. There are however, three important takeaways I’d like to close with.

  • You can safely use any of these ideas at home. What is important is to understand that solutions exhibit a hierarchy, repeat themselves across domains and exhibit deterioration over time.
  • The theory of TRIZ should bring optimism regardless of the difficulty or complexity of the problem, be it engineering, society or personal. Remember, you may be only one element away from finding an ideal solution. If not use that 40th option of invention is available. And finally:
  • If you lose track of this article or would like to do further research on your own – again -- the precise name is Mеория решения изобретательских задач, teoriya resheniya izobretatelskikh zadatch!