President, Decision Labs, Ltd., and Burlington Industries

Professor (Retired) University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

REVISED April 14, 1998

Innovation is now recognized as the most successful strategy for profitable growth, capturing market share, and even surviving.1 A special issue of Newsweek magazine, Winter, 1998, focused on how the power of innovation has changed our lives in the last century. Many management fashions that ignored innovation proved to be unworkable or had only a short-term advantage.2 Stacey notes that stability, harmony, predictability, discipline, and consensus, which are central to most Western management practices, are all wrong. Instead of equilibrium, he argues, we need bounded instability, which is the framework in which nature innovates.3

High-level innovation provides a long-term strategy for success. This article will briefly examine two systems for innovating that were developed in very different cultures using different scientific processes. The Osborn/Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model (CPS), originated in the United States in 1941, uses the behavioral sciences to focus on the steps of the creative process. The Ideation/TRIZ (I/T) method, originated in the Soviet Union in 1946, builds on the generalizable engineering patterns that are associated with successful inventions and systems evolution. Both methods have a 50-year record of successful innovations. The strategist who can combine the features of each system will have a demonstrable competitive advantage. While practitioners are aware of each other’s methods, there has been no attempt to combine the two systems into a more powerful system of innovation. This article will start that process, with the understanding that it can be only a beginning because the dynamic nature of creativity keeps both methods in a continuous state of refinement.


It seems trite but true to state that these are exciting times. Many ideas and forces that seemed to be in conflict are now combined into a higher order of understanding. For example, quantum physics showed that the conflicting theories of light--particles or waves--were both right. We see traditional western medicine accepting eastern herbal medicines, meditation, and hypnotherapy. Newtonian mechanical models of economic and organizational systems assumed that equilibrium was the general state. Chaos theory reveals that equilibrium is only a transitory state. In this article we will see how two seemingly different systems for innovation share many concepts, but differ in how they use existing knowledge.

While there are many similarities between the two systems, the major difference is the knowledge base from which they begin the innovation process. CPS uses the knowledge brought by the group participants. I/T builds on a knowledge base that was created by examining common characteristics of innovations as reported in patents and by applying repeated patterns of evolution in systems. Which approach is correct? Like the conflicting theories of light, they both are correct. It depends on the situation. In advertising there are few valid theories for effective communication, but there are experience and intuition. In contrast, patents are based on knowledge that can be verified, else the patent would not have been granted. The answer seems clear: when knowledge is based on physical evidence, start from that point and leap into the creative unknown. In this case CPS picks up where I/T leaves off. On the other hand, when there is no knowledge base, the approach should be pure CPS. The best approach is a mix of the methods. For example, one may start with CPS, move to I/T, and then finish with CPS. A facilitator must be trained to know how to mix these tools for the best innovative process. A brief, nontechnical description of these two methods will be presented below. But first we must explain why knowledge is critical for survival and growth in modern economies.

To understand the importance of knowledge in companies we must understand the evolution of the factors of production. In the 18th century, farming activities accounted for 95% of the income of countries, so that land and labor were the major factors of production. Karl Marx based his theories on this economic model at the very time that it was being replaced by a newer model that reflected the Industrial Revolution. Capital was needed to buy the tools and machinery for the Industrial Revolution, so the factors of production became land, labor, and capital. In the early 20th century economists found that land, labor, and capital did not explain the economic behavior they observed. There seemed to be a difference in the way some companies were led. Trail blazers seemed to do better, so the concept of entrepreneurship was added to the factors of production. In the middle of the 20th century it became obvious that there was another subtle factor. Some companies seemed to excel because they had more information or they knew how to use it better. Some called it the information revolution and others called it information inundation as computers made it possible to store more information than could be used effectively.

To manage information effectively, we must make a distinction between information and knowledge. For our purposes, knowledge is information that is transformed to produce value. A large data base or a library building that is full of information will not add value until a creative process transforms it into knowledge. To appreciate the impact of knowledge on our economy we need only to consider the impact of the microcomputer industry. A microcomputer is based on silicone chips, which are basically sand and lots of knowledge. Yet this sand and knowledge have revolutionized every sector of our economy and society. Knowledge-based companies comprise the most rapidly growing sector of the US economy and the stock market. High-growth companies are those that are constantly innovating.

For the remainder of this paper we will examine how I/T transforms information into knowledge and how CPS generates knowledge from the information held by participants. We will begin with an examination of the concepts and tools of I/T.


The scientific mind searches for higher levels of abstractions that will model reality. When these models are replicated across a wide variety of situations we have a theory. The resulting theory is very practical because it allows us to solve problems without collecting great quantities of data, much of which is frequently irrelevant. Genrich Altshuller started down this theoretical path in 1946 when he worked in the patent department of the Soviet Navy. He wondered if invention was a random process or if there was a systematic pattern of thinking. He developed four ways to model inventive problems and their solutions--technical contradictions, physical contradictions, substance-fields (su-field), and Ideal Final Result (IFR). Each of these will be explained briefly in nontechnical terms.

Technical Contradictions

Alsthuller’s studies of thousands of patents revealed 39 parameters that were the most common. The need for an invention occurred when an attempt to improve one parameter resulted in deterioration of another parameter. The incentive for the inventor, therefore, was to overcome this undesired result, which Altshuller called a technical contradiction. He discovered 40 solution pathways that inventors used to solve these contradictions. He called these solution pathways inventive principles. These parameters and principles were summarized in a matrix which is called the Contradiction Matrix. An abstracted example appears in Exhibit 1.













Source: Ideation/TRIZ Methodology (Soutfield, MI; Ideation International, Inc., 1995), section 2, p. 9.

The feature that the inventor wants to improve is in the rows. The undesired results are in the columns. The proposed solution pathways are in the cells. These are called pathways because they may not provide the direct solution to the contradiction, but they will trigger creative thinking that will take the engineer beyond the existing knowledge base. This is where the well-established CPS methods can take over in the innovation process. Building on the I/T knowledge base both assures that a wide range of relevant alternatives has been considered and focuses the creative process so that innovation will be accelerated.

Levels of Innovation. Altshuller noted that there are levels of innovation. Some contribute more to knowledge than others. In the 1960s he identified five levels and the percent of innovations at each level that existed at the time.

1. Apparent or conventional solutions that enhance features in an existing system. (32%)

2. Improvement in an existing system by adding a new feature, usually with some compromise elsewhere in the system. (45%)

3. Substantial invention within the system using known technology. (18%)

4. The use of science to take the design outside the existing technological paradigms. (4%)

5. A pioneer invention of a new system that is based on a major discovery in science. (1%)4

Clearly, a higher level of innovation will give a company a better competitive position that will be more difficult for others to copy. Concepts such as continuous improvement and reengineering would be at levels 1, 2, and sometimes 3.

Ideality. A true invention overcomes the contradiction completely, but this rarely happens. The goal of the inventor is to increase the ideality of the system. Ideality is defined as follows:

Ideality = I = The sum of the useful effects (U)/The sum of the harmful effects(H).

The goal of the invention, therefore, is to increase U and decrease H. This concept is similar to the input-output model in economics. If this ratio were taken to the limit, which Asthuller called the Ideal Final Result (IFR), H would be zero. This would amount to performing the function without the machine, a case which cannot exist.

The contradiction matrix has been joined by other models that are at a higher level of abstraction, thereby expediting the innovation process.

Physical Contradiction

Because each technical contradiction will contain a physical contradiction, and because physical contradictions require fewer principles, it may be more efficient to transform with physical contradictions. A physical contradiction exists when a parameter is in contradiction with itself, e.g., the size of a car. A car should be small for gas economy and easy parking, but it should be large for easy egress and carrying packages. It is frequently necessary to begin with technical contradictions to help identify the physical ones.

Physical contradictions can be solved using Altshuller’s four Separation Principles--separation in time, separation in space, separation between the parts and the whole, and separation upon conditions. Because these separation principles are so powerful, we will examine applications of each one.

Separation in time. Driving piles into permanently frozen ground required that the piles be pointed for easy driving but blunt to support the structure. The solution was a hollow chamber in the pointed pile. The hollow was filled with wire, concrete rubble, and an explosive charge. When the pile was in place the charge was detonated, which formed a blunt footing. Thus, the physical characteristics were separated in time.

Separation in space. When coating metal parts, the process would be quicker if the liquid temperature were high, but heat decomposed the liquid. The inventive solution was to raise the temperature of the metal part by passing an electrical current through it. This raised the temperature of the liquid around the part but kept the remainder cool.

Separation of the parts from the whole. "A bicycle chain must be flexible to traverse a loop and rigid to accept high loads from the pedals. The solution, a chain of links, is rigid on the small scale but flexible on the large scale."7

Separation upon conditions. Eye glasses can illustrate several separation principles. Bifocals are separations in the space of the lens. Changing to a special set of glasses for working on computers is a separation in time. Glasses that darken in bright sunlight is an example of a separation upon conditions.

The separation principles have a greater power to stimulate inventive ideas than the solution pathways in the contradiction table because physical contradictions are at a higher level of abstraction. Because level of abstraction is a central concept in the development of science, we must provide a graphic illustration in Exhibit 2.


Without the abstraction of algebra one could spend a lot of time finding the values of X by trial and error, which is moving in reality from box #1 to box #4. Moving up a layer of abstraction draws on existing knowledge, i.e., a generalized solution from algebra. Linking this example to the I/T process, the problem (box 1) must be translated into an abstract problem (box 2) so the inventive principles may be used (box 3). These principles, plus creativity, give specific solutions (box 4), which is a return to the real, physical world. Translating Exhibit 2 into I/T terminology, box #2 is the problem and box #3 is a solution pathway.

Moving to physical contradictions would add two boxes to the top of Exhibit 2. The top left box would be the definition of the problem in terms of physical contradictions. The top right box would be the four separation principles. It should be noted that moving to a higher level of abstraction reduced the number of typical inventive solutions from 40 to 4. This is true of any higher level of abstraction. The higher the abstraction the stronger the model, so less information is needed to solve the problem in abstract terms. Creativity is required, however, to bring the solution back to reality and to implement it.

Levels of abstraction make the knowledge that is stored in world-wide patents more accessible. It is no longer necessary for the inventor to examine hundreds of thousands of patents in search of stimulation. While Altshuller began with 60,000 patents, the concepts are now based on 2 million patents.

Substance-Field (Su-Field) Model

The third system for classifying problems and finding solutions is the Su-Field Model. This model takes the innovator into all of the subsystems of the object in question. It begins with three basic parts--two substances and a field--graphed as follows:


In this case the field is acting on substance #2 and there is the desired interaction with substance #1, but the result is insufficient, hence the dotted line. A wavy line would indicate a harmful effect. To achieve the desired effect (a solid line), one can change to another energy field or add another substance, Substance #3. Kaplan gives as an example the problem of finding a leak in a refrigeration system. By adding a fluorescent material (substance #3) and using ultraviolet light (field #2), the leak can be located. In this case both the field and a substance were changed.8 The Su-Field approach is a rapid prototype and is similar to doing fast mental experiments, as suggested by Wenger and Poe in CPS methods.9 To expedite finding solutions, 76 standard solutions have been developed.

Another way of modeling is to add smart little people at that point in the system that is a problem and ask how they would solve it. For example, smart little people will hold up a flexible shaft to prevent a sag while it is machined. Creative thinking will show how they can be replaced with a disposable plastic cylinder around the shaft. The plastic will support the shaft and move along as it is machined.10 The smart little people allow the innovators to focus on the total system and solve the subsystem problems later. Smart little people have several advantages over the Synectics approach which suggests that the inventor put himself or herself in where the problem exists. The inventor cannot be at several points in the system at the same time and the inventor is less likely to propose self destruction than the destruction of a little person.

Ideal Final Result (IFR)

The IFR instructs the inventor to envision a system where the useful effects are high and the harmful effects are zero. That would amount to performing a function at no cost. While this state is probably not attainable, it does force the inventor to envision a solution and then work back from that point. In CPS the participants are asked to give their wildest idea. It frequently becomes the basis for a solution that can be implemented.

The first TRIZ tools were developed in the Soviet Union between 1946 and 1985 (referred to as the "Classical TRIZ" era). In 1986, the TRIZ Technical School was established in Kishinev by former students and collaborators of Altshuller's: Boris Zlotin, an electrical engineer, scientist, and inventor, and Alla Zusman, a research engineer and patent agent. The purpose of the Kishinev School was to advance the methodology and to provide training in TRIZ. By 1989, the School had refined the existing TRIZ tools, developed additional tools, and begun advancing and adapting the methodology for use with computers. By the end of the so-called "Kishinev Era," over 6,000 students had been trained and more than 4,000 successful applications of TRIZ had been achieved. In 1992, Zion Bar-El, an entrepreneur in the areas of high-technology and innovation, saw the potential of TRIZ and the Kishinev School, and brought the entire school to the United States, forming Ideation International, Inc.

Ideation continued developing TRIZ, integrating the tools with software advancements in their Innovation WorkBenchTM System software. This software includes the Innovation Situation Questionnaire, the Problem Formulator, a system of over 400 typical solutions, over 250 relevant technical articles, more than 1,300 innovative design solutions, and a results analysis module to benchmark and identify preferred design concepts. A user interface leads the user through the problem-solving process by applying the most appropriate I/T tools.

Ideation has applied the methodology toward solving complex problems in the automobile, aerospace, textile, wood, and petrochemical industries. Examples of these solutions include a novel containment ring for jet engines invented for Allied Signal and an innovative golf cart brake system for Rockwell International. Ideation has also expanded the application of TRIZ beyond engineering and into the fields of business and management.

The Problem Formulator is particularly relevant to CPS applications because it leads the innovator through an easy graphic representation of the elements of the problem and their relationships. We will follow the example of a problem in aircraft jet engines where impellers burst and fragments fly. The innovator simply types the name of the element and the computer places it in a box. The innovator then draws a line to link the two boxes. The computer then asks whether the link is required, causes, eliminates, or hinders the next element. The computer then draws an arrow to represent this relationship, as may be seen in the upper part of Exhibit 3. Using this diagram, The Problem Formulator then develops problem statements, samples of which appear in the lower section of Exhibit 3. These questions are then prioritized by the innovator and used to give direction to innovation.


The computer creates the following questions:

1. Find an alternative way to provide (Ring is thick), which provides or enhances (High mechanical strength), and doesn’t cause (Ring is heavy).

2. Find a way to enhance (Ring is thick).

3. Find a way to resolve CONTRADICTION: (Ring is thick) should be for providing (High mechanical strength), and without causing (Ring is heavy).

4. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent (Ring is heavy), under the condition of (Ring is thick).

5. Find a way to benefit from (Ring is heavy).

6. Find an alternative way to provide (High Mechanical strength), which provides or enhances (Containing fragments), and doesn’t require (Ring is thick).

7. Find a way to enhance (High mechanical strength).

8. Find an alternative way to provide (Containing fragments), which eliminates, reduces or prevents (Fragments flying away), and doesn’t require (High mechanical strength).

9. Find a way to enhance (Containing fragments).


12. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent (Impeller burst), under the condition of (Centrifugal forces).


20. Find a way to benefit from (Centrifugal forces).

Source: "An Introduction to the Ideation/TRIZ Methodology," CD Computer Disk (Southfield, MI: Ideation International, Inc., 1997).


The concepts of ideality and patterns of innovation can be extended for additional applications. Two applications, Anticipatory Failure Determination and Directed Evolution, will be summarized briefly.

Anticipatory Failure Determination amounts to running the ideality equation backwards by asking, "How can we make the Ideality Ratio unfavorable?" Engineers delight in finding ways that will make the new system not perform as expected. The I/T tools are then used to prevent these events from happening.

In the same way that solutions to contradictions form patterns, systems in nature, organizations, markets, and society evolve in patterns. The following eight patterns have been observed in large system evolution:

1. There is the well known S-shaped curve that can be divided into birth, childhood, growth, maturity, and decline.

2. Evolution is toward increased ideality.

3. Subsystems do not evolve at the same rate, resulting in contradictions.

4. Technological systems evolve toward increased dynamism and controllability.

5. Technological systems evolve toward higher complexity, then toward simplicity, then toward complexity again, and continue in this cycle.

6. Technological systems evolve as a process of matching and mismatching components.

7. Technological systems evolve toward the micro-level and increased use of fields.

8. Technological systems evolve toward decreased human involvement.

Understanding these patterns will make it possible to anticipate scenarios of a system in the future. This is a better approach than the technological forecasting methods that simply extrapolate past trends because they do not capture the fact that subsystems evolve at different rates. Using Directed Evolution, a future scenario can be created for products, services, processes, technology, organizations, industries, and markets.

To understand the power of Directed Evolution, we must understand where it is in the hierarchy of problem solving. Using the I/T concepts explained above, we may see four steps in this hierarchy, as follows:

1. Identify the problem as a disease in a system that is the result of mistakes in a system’s evolution.

2. Use Inventive Problem Solving as a treatment for a disease.

3. Use Anticipatory Failure Determination to predict and prevent problems.

4. Use Directed Evolution as a decision-making process to control the evolution or adapt to it in ways that are favorable to the strategist. Thus, it converts predictions into decision making.11

TRIZ tools have emerged into advanced tools that are being used in management, education, marketing, and the social sciences, including politics, to solve existing problems and anticipate future ones. We have seen that when past patterns, such as those in solution pathways, do not produce an innovative solution, a creative process must be used. At this point we need to focus on diverging, using methods that will take the innovators beyond existing knowledge bases. Here is where the concepts and the tools from the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving model are appropriate. The CPS approach also introduces the critical need to handle the team members' relationships and to get the innovations implemented.


The review of the I/T tools revealed that the solution pathways and separation principles did not always stimulate a problem solving innovation and creative thinking was needed. Here we will see how the six steps in the Osborn/Parnes CPS and I/T models share concepts and contribute to each other. A more detailed explanation of how CPS works and its links to the decisions for new product development are in another article.12

1. Objective, goals, vision, wish finding. Both systems tell the participants to dream, wish, or envision the problem as solved. Directed Evolution provides a knowledge base for envisioning the desired future. CPS provides activities to encourage people to visualize a solution by thinking out of the box.

2. Fact Finding and Data Gathering. What are the situations, backgrounds, questions, data, and feelings that are involved? I/T tools provide a knowledge base and abstractions that will accelerate answering these questions. CPS methods will find answers to questions that are more subjective than technical.

3. Problem Finding. The I/T software leads the strategist through a series of questions that will produce a cause-and-effect model. This software will speed the problem definition stage and delight participants who like a visual presentation. CPS methods use a level of abstraction approach by asking WHY questions to move up the abstraction scale and HOW questions to move down the scale until there is agreement on the problem and its causes.

4. Idea finding. What are the possible solutions for solving the problem? I/T tools excel in using past patterns to find solutions, especially to technical problems. The Su-Field and mental experiments are I/T tools that could be used at this stage. CPS facilitators would argue that this is a convergence process that does not generate completely new alternatives. CPS has many tools and exercises that will get participants to think beyond their functional areas. This is the divergence phase of CPS. Each step in CPS begins with a divergence phase and ends with a convergence phase before moving to the next step.

5. Solution Finding. This step requires a re-examination of the criteria. Criteria may have been specified in goal setting, but they will need clarification so that they can be used to screen the many ideas and prioritize them so that they can be implemented. At this point ideas can be combined and strengthened. How can the ideas be strengthened, combined, and prioritized?

The I/T Innovation WorkbenchTM has a routine for evaluating alternatives. CPS uses tools such as a paired-comparison matrix to prioritize alternative solutions.

6. Acceptance Finding--Plan for Action. What are all of the action steps needed to implement the solution? Who is for and who is against this change? What are the resources--financial, skills, data, political--to make it happen? I/T tools do not address this stage directly, but it is a strong point in CPS methods. Teaming considerations are critical at this point.

It should be stressed that these CPS steps are not linear. They should be considered as a circle. It may be necessary to skip ahead or back up a step to clarify a point. Also, the CPS process is iterative, so it is more like a spiral. Continuing around the six steps will clarify and develop a better solution.


Because problem definition is critical for innovation several methods should be noted that focus on understanding the causes of the problems. Three will be described briefly: Mindmapping, MindMan, and the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

Tony Buzan developed the concept and registered the name MindmappingR in the 1970s as a tool to help people take notes. It does not force the readers into linear thinking. It allows them to think in their own terms. They can record facts as a map with a central theme with branches from the central theme and twigs from the branches. They can visualize linkages that cannot be seen in an outline. They can use words, pictures, colors, and cartoons. Artistic talent is not needed. Students who have used it in college courses have been amazed at how much more they learned and could apply from their readings. Mind mapping is very helpful in creative problem solving sessions because it helps the participants to visualize the causes of the central problem and to prioritize them for the next step, idea generation. Joyce Wycoff shows how mind mapping can be used to aid in writing, project management, brainstorming, learning, and personal development.14

MindMan is a computer version of Tony Buzan's concepts. The computer will draw the branches and twigs in color and provide computer graphics. A sample of the software is available on the web, www.mindman.com.

Eliyahu Goldratt's Theory of Constraints takes a logical, hard-science approach to problem definition. As a physicist he takes the position that conflicts exist in a system only if there are errors in measurements or assumptions. Conflicts can be removed by tracing back through the system to find the cause. Using project management as an example the conflict exists when some combination of three commitments cannot be met--time deadline, budget, and project content. To meet the original commitment one or more of these three commitments must be relaxed. Goldratt shows how logic and the intuition of the persons working on the project can be used to avoid such conflicts.15 He focuses on the causes of the failure to meet the time deadline. First, just adding individual estimates is not realistic because everyone adds a substantial safety factor. The reason for adding a substantial safety factor can be linked to the reward system of the organization. Failure to meet a deadline is generally severely punished while finishing early is rarely rewarded. He provides a simulation that shows how the time to complete a task can go from 10 to 16 days by moving the level of confidence of completion from 0.50 to 0.85. Rather than adding a buffer at each step he recommends putting it at the end of the project where it can be monitored.

A project that is dependent on a single resource will be delayed when this resource must be shared among several projects. The additive rule does not apply here because the resource must shift among projects, which takes time to get back up to speed. He suggests that an individual not be assigned to more than three projects. Goldratt reports wide acceptance of TOC around the world and on many different applications. The flow charts that his methods produce have some resemblance to mind maps and the Ideation/TRIZ Problem Formulator. He reports that TOC and TRIZ are being combined in Israel.16


Two systems for innovation, developed at the same time, in different cultures, share concepts and can reinforce each other to make a powerful approach to creating new opportunities and solving problems. Just how they can be combined will depend on the knowledge base that exists, the nature of the problem, the decision processes of the organization, and the preferences of the facilitator.


1 Gary Hamel, "Strategy Innovation and the Quest for Value," Sloan Management Review, Winter, 1998, 7-14.

2 G. David Hughes, "Managing Management Fashions," Working paper, September 16, 1996.

3 Ralph D. Stacey, Managing the Unknowable: Strategic Boundaries Between Order and Chaos in Organizations (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992); Ralph D. Stacey, Complexity and Creativity in Organizations (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1996).

4 John Terninko, Alla Zusman, and Boris Zlotin, Step-by-Step Triz (3rd ed.; Nottingham, New Hampshire: Responsible Management, Inc., 1996), 14; Stan Kaplan, An Introduction to TRIZ (Southfield, MI, 1996),14.

5Kaplan, 4.

6 Kaplan, 14.

7 Kaplan, 14.

8 Kaplan, 19.

9 Win Wenger and Richard Poe, The Einstein Factor, (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996).

10 Terninko, Zusman, and Zlotin, 132.

11 Based on a presentation by Ideation International, Inc., 1997.

12 G. David Hughes, "Add Creativity to Your Decision Processes," Working Paper, December 15, 1997.

13Personal experience of the author with college seniors at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

14Joyce Wycoff, MindmappingR (New York: Berkeley Books, 1991).

15Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Project Managment the TOC Way (Great Barrington, MA: The North River Press, 1998) and ______, The Critical Chain (Great Barrington, MA: The North River Press, 1997).

16Personal communication to the author, April 7, 1998.