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Teaching TRIZ Is Not Learning TRIZ

| On 01, Dec 2008

By Ellen Domb


Many people who could benefit from the methods and concepts of the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) have rejected it because they were confused by the way TRIZ was taught. Methods for adult education have been well-researched in the last 50 years and they can be used to create a robust TRIZ teaching system that is useful in many cultures. The primary strategy is to focus on how learners learn, not on how teachers teach. Case study examples of the application of TRIZ to the development of TRIZ training methods will be demonstrated in this article.


TRIZ, teaching TRIZ, instructional design


TRIZ has been taught in the West in various modes since the late 1980s. A common finding in both Western and former Soviet republics is that:

  • A small fraction of the students become enamored of TRIZ and pursue further study,
  • A larger fraction become competent users of beginner-level TRIZ and
  • Many ignore it after their initial training.1

Since the people doing the training are all from the small fraction of enthusiasts, and since there has been no research by outside experts on teaching and learning, progress in understanding this phenomenon has been limited. In general, the teachers of TRIZ have been the practitioners of TRIZ.

Simultaneously, there have been many changes in the theory and practice of adult education, particularly in the methods used to teach working adults new job-related skills. The speed and depth of change have been documented in other research.2,3An interpretation of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – a cornerstone of educational theory – is briefly outlined in Table 1.4

Table 1: Outline of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy for Learning
LevelNameDescription of Students’ Success
1RememberingRetrieving, recognizing, recalling knowledge
2UnderstandingConstructing meaning, interpretation, inference, comparison, explanation
3ApplyingUsing a procedure, demonstrating execution of a process, implementation
4AnalyzingDetermining how the parts of a system relate to each other and to the overall system
5EvaluatingMaking judgments based on criteria and standards
6CreatingPutting elements together into a new pattern or structure

It is clear from education research that different methods are needed to teach people who are at the different levels of competency outlined in Table 1. A TRIZ example is that Genrich Altshuller was the leader of the first stage of TRIZ development. This is afact requiring level 1 mastery – the student should know this to be considered “literate” in the field, but is not expected to use that fact to do anything else. In contrast, the Algorithm of Inventive Problems Solving (ARIZ) is a many-step process and each process requires level 2, 3 and 4 thinking. Early on, the teacher will provide the level 5 evaluation and the TRIZ community provides level 6, creating new methods. If the student becomes a competent professional in the field, she will do her own evaluation and will become a contributor to the research and creation of new, ARIZ-based methods.

This paper presents modern educational theory in a way that can be easily adapted easily to the needs of TRIZ teachers with TRIZ examples, so that research on effective ways of teaching TRIZ can benefit from research on educational methods.


Observation of Teaching Paradigms

Many people who come into teaching as subject matter experts quickly adopt simple teaching paradigms, such as management expert Ken Blanchard’s well-known four-step system:

  1. Tell them
  2. Show them
  3. Let them try
  4. Give feedback5,6

The problem with this simple system is that it was designed to help managers teach their employees in a face-to-face, one-on-one context, where the manager/teacher knows the employee/student and interacts with the student throughout the process. (The “let them try” stage might take days or weeks, depending on the process being taught.) Extending it to multiple students from a variety of backgrounds in classroom or non-classroom teaching environments is not justified by the original work.5,6Yet the system’s simplicity and structure are highly appealing, and its use has been observed in many TRIZ scenarios, such as the tutorial sessions at conferences – sometimes with the full four steps, but frequently only “tell them, show them,” with students sent home with “let them try” after the instruction class, and no method at all for giving feedback.

Foundations for Changing TRIZ Teaching

There has been recognition in the TRIZ community that improvement in the training of TRIZ is needed.7,8,9,10Observation of the effectiveness of these changes is positive – students learn specific techniques better when their instructors explain them more clearly, use better examples or structure the lessons in a way that matches the learning style of the particular group of students. These are episodic changes, however, not systematic changes. Although the methods have been published in widely available venues, these methods generally have not been adopted by instructors other than the originators. To overcome these limitations, standard methods of instructional design are being introduced to TRIZ.

Application of Instructional Design Discipline to TRIZ

Ruth Colvin Clark is a pioneer of the development of the instructional design methodology that is used throughout much of the industrial training world. She is a past president of the American Society for Training and Development and holder of multiple awards for lifetime achievement from multiple professional societies. Her book, Developing Technical Training, is comprehensive; it is based on the same logic as the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy so it is usable at all levels of learning.11,3(Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues developed a Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, more commonly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, in 1956. They identified six levels of the cognitive domain: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The 2001 revision changed the levels from nouns to verbs: creating, evaluating, analyzing, applying, understanding and remembering.)Although Bloom’s Taxonomy was developed for instructional design professionals, TRIZ specialists with no background in instructional design are able to apply her methods.

Clark lists the four considerations for training design. She also cautions that many subject matter experts focus exclusively on content, or on content and media, neglecting the equal importance of all four issues in successful training:

  1. Content
  2. Learning outcomes (Bloom’s Taxonomy levels)
  3. Instructional methods (This depends in part on the medium. It ranges from simple text or lecture, structured games or simulations in classroom settings, rote practice sessions, online simulation, etc.)
  4. Media (classroom, e-learning, self-paced workbooks and textbooks)

These considerations must influence the designer’s approach to teaching five kinds of information:

  1. Fact
  2. Concept
  3. Process
  4. Procedure
  5. Principle

A sequence of tables makes the translation from the definitions of the type of information through the four considerations to TRIZ course material relatively straightforward. See Table 2 for the definitions of the five kinds of information, and the differences and similarities in methods used for each type.

Table 2: Summary of Clark’s Definitions and Options for Five Types of Information
DefinitionUnique information; specific dataRepresentation of ideas or objects with common characteristicsHow “it” works; a process is composed of many proceduresRoutine tasks; clearly defined stepsStrategic tasks; value-based; knowledge-based
Sub-categories1. Concrete fact, specific object; use diagrams
2. Specific data; use tables and lists
3. Statement of unique relationship between concepts; use short labels
1. Concrete
2. Abstract
1. Business systems-organizational workflow, situational (e.g., a procedure)
2. Technical systems
3. Scientific systems (how something works in nature)
1. Linear-same steps and outcome each time
2. Decision-steps and outcome depend on situation
Training ApproachReferences; inductive learning (student abstracts from examples)Identify new or uncommon terminology; identify features and functionsProcess knowledge can improve performance of procedures; overview, then detailsMove quickly to application, practice, feedback; provide job aids, do not memorize steps; how-toWhat, why and how; teach validated guidelines; workers develop own procedures
PresentationProgressive descriptionFormatted information; definition; examples; non-examples; analogies; graphicsDiagrams, flowcharts, simulation; facts and concepts first, then processAction tables with illustrations (table versions of flowcharts)Situations; stories; best practices; case studies; counter-examples; analogies (with caution)
Classroom PracticeDrill with limited tasks; use mnemonics; use facts in job situations; use job aidsTeach related concepts togetherRealistic case studies for problem solvingDemonstrate steps of action table, then short student exercisesApplication to a variety of cases
EvaluationObservation under job-like circumstancesDiscrimination: can they pick an example?Observation of exercisesPerformance test; judge product or actions, or bothApplication to a new situation

Table 3 briefly summarizes the learning objectives for each of the five types of information. There exists a strong relationship between the teaching style and the objective. For example, when teaching the concept of physical contradiction, the student will learn to classify new contradictions successfully. Given a group of contradictions, the student can reproducibly identify the physical contradictions. The teaching method is a formatted definition, possibly with diagrams – in the case of the physical contradiction the emphasis would be on the two different values of the same parameter, with examples from physical, social and business life:

  • The coffee must be hot (to enjoy drinking) and cold (to avoid harm when spilled).
  • The employee must work continuously (to provide customer service) and the employee must work periodically (to comply with labor laws, for good physical health, for good mental health).
  • The airplane must have wheels hanging down (to maneuver on the ground) and the airplane must have wheels not hanging down (to be streamlined, for minimum fuel use, for maximum speed).
  • The training course must be short and must be long.12

Table 3: Learning Objectives for Five Information Types
ApplyN/AClassify new examplesSolve problems; make inferencesPerform the procedurePerform the task, solve problems
RememberRemember the factsRemember the definitionsRemember the stagesRemember the stepsRemember the guidelines

In this example, teaching the concept of physical contradiction (by means of examples) quickly leads to a student’s capability to identify the physical contradictions in a list of mixed physical contradictions, technical contradictions and other statements. This is a necessary prerequisite to the next step of the process – the students formulate their own problems as a physical contradiction then apply the separation principles to the contradiction.

The system can be used for a single situation, such as teaching the concept of physical contradiction, or it can be used for the whole sequence of facts, concepts, process, procedure and principle. Table 4 shows an example of a completed table for teaching elements and teaching methods for classroom teaching of ideality, for application in problem definition and problem solving.

Table 4: Examples of Teaching Elements and Methods for Ideality
Teaching ElementsActual; situational benefits, cost, harmWhat is “ideality” – the equation and relationship to “value” and cost, benefit, etc.How ideality fits into overall TRIZ system; part of refining the problem definition; structured problem/opportunity identification1. Equation method
2. Checklist
3. “Itself” method
Ideal final result (IFR) and evolution to the IFR; greater
ideality = better concept
Teaching MethodShow; explain; solicit class examplesInstructor presentation and examples; student examplesExplain; example; student Q&AShow how equation, “itself” and checklist are the same; student practice, with feedbackStories


Improvement in the teaching of TRIZ may lead to wider use of TRIZ. If there is no initial barrier of training difficulty to overcome, more than just the historically small number of TRIZ enthusiasts may get the benefits of TRIZ in their work, and their employers will get a significantly higher return on their training investment.

One basic principle of TRIZ is that breakthroughs come from using methodologies developed outside the field where the problem occurs.13 Using the disciplined methods of instructional design is a way of recognizing that the field of learning is different from the field of development of TRIZ methods, and that the use of the extensive research work in the teaching/learning field can benefit TRIZ.

These recommendations were tested at the 3rd Iberoamerican Innovation Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October 2008. Ten participants in the workshop on teaching methods created individual worksheets based on Table 2, for teaching both physical contradiction elimination (a process) and ideality (a principle). All were able to create the tables easily; the six participants who were already teaching TRIZ said that this helped them understand why they had difficulty in the past conveying certain concepts to their students. This is anecdotal evidence, not technical proof, that the method is useful but it is the beginning of the investigation. A larger experiment with TRIZ teachers is planned for the Altshuller Institute meeting in March 2009.


Thanks to Professor Phil Rosenkrantz for pointing out the similarities among many of the change management methods and the fundamental role that teaching plays in change management. Thanks to Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark and her training staff for their patience with our learning process.


  1. Panel discussions, TRIZCON 2005 and ETRIA TRIZ Future 2004.Participants included TRIZ Masters Boris Zlotin, Alla Zusman, Isaak Bukman and Sergei Ikovenko, and TRIZ consultant/instructors Ellen Domb and Larry Smith.
  2. Ruark, Benjamin, “ARDDIE:The year 2013:ARDDIE Is In, ADDIE Is Out,” T&D Magazine, American Society of Training and Development, July 2008.
  3. Anderson, L.W. and Krathwohl, D.R. (eds.), A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing:A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.NY: Longman Press. 2001.
  4. Rosenkrantz, P.,Professor of Industrial Engineering, California Polytechnic University, Pomona California.Unpublished manuscript, used by permission,2008,
  5. Blanchard, K.H., and Johnson, S., The One Minute Manager,NY:William Morrow, 1982.
  6. Blanchard, K.H.; Zigarmi, P.; Zigarmi, D.,Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership,NY: William Morrow, 1999.
  7. Domb, E. and Miller, J., “Complete Technical System Generates Problem Definitions,” TheTRIZ Journal, December 2007.
  8. Domb, E.; Miller, J. Czerepinski, R., “Case Study: Pizza and the System Operator for Teaching,”TheTRIZ Journal, March 2008.
  9. Filmore, P.,”Key to Teaching TRIZ: Breaking Mindsets,” TheTRIZ Journal, February 2008.
  10. Mann, D.,”The Problem With ARIZ and Other Innovation Processes,” TheTRIZ Journal, December 2007.
  11. Clark, R.C., Developing Technical Training, 3rd edition, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
  12. Rantanen, K. and Domb, E.,Simplified TRIZ,2nd edition,Boca Raton: CRC Press,2007.
  13. Altshuller, G.S.,Creativity as an Exact Science, Translated by Anthony Williams, NY:Gordon & Breach Science Publishers, 1988.

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 3rd Iberoamerican Innovation Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October 2008 and at the European TRIZ Association’s TRIZ Future 2008 meeting in Enschede, NL.