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USIT in Japan: A New Paradigm

| On 03, Nov 2008

By Toru Nakagawa

Be sure to read thecompanion piece to this article, “Comments on USIT in Japan,” by Ed Sickafus.


The Japanese TRIZ community emphasizesan easier and more unified way of studying and applying the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ). First introduced in Japan in 1999, USIT (unified structured inventive thinking), originally developed by Ed Sickafus under the influence of Israel’s systematic inventive thinking (SIT) and TRIZ, has gained in popularity. Papers on the USIT methodology were presentedat the Japan TRIZ Symposium two years in a row. The growing interest in USIT has led to two improvements: 1)all the TRIZ tools for solution generation, including the 40 inventive principles, 76 inventive standards, trends of technical evolution, etc., are reorganized into a system of USIT operators, with five main methods containing 32 sub-methods; 2) the data flow representation of USIT has revealed a new paradigm of creative problem solving called the “six-box scheme” in contrast to the better known “four-box” scheme. These improvements have provided an easier way to understand,apply and promote TRIZ.


The TRIZ community in Japan in comparison to the world emphasizes an easier, more unified way to study and apply TRIZ, making the new methodology better suited and more effective in our culture. TRIZ, developed by Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues in the former U.S.S.R., quickly spread throughout the world. Itis a large system containing deep technological philosophies, a variety of thinking methods, extensive knowledge bases, software tools, training practices, etc.1

TRIZ, however,was not easy for the Japanese to understand when initially introducedaround 1997 as a system of technical knowledge bases relying on software tools. Few TRIZ references were available in Japanese or English making it difficultto understand the methodologies and problem solving techniques. A number of industries in Japanattempted to apply TRIZ to real problems. Software tools and consultants guided most of the applications, and applying Altshuller’s contradiction matrix was the most popular approach.

During the First International Conference on TRIZ held in the United States in November 1998, Ed Sickafus introduced me to the USIT method. After reading his textbook and attending a USIT training seminar in 1999, I introduced USIT in Japan as an easy and unified process for creative problem solving.

It took several years to establish reliable TRIZ textbooks in Japanese. Welearned classical TRIZ and additional advancements in Russia by publishing a Japanese translation of Yuri Salamatov’s textbook in 2000.3 The full scope of TRIZ in a modernized form was better understood after the publication of the Japanese edition of Darrell Mann’s textbook Hands-on Systematic Innovation in 2004.4International conferences in TRIZ and various web publications were good sources for better understanding TRIZ in the global environment.

Parallel to these studies of TRIZ, our experiences with USIT became deeper and we expanded it to better meet our needs. One of the achievements was reorganizing all the principal methods of solution generation in TRIZ into a new framework and forming the system of USIT operators in 2002.5

A second achievement of USIT in Japan occurred in 2004 when I considered the whole USIT procedure in the sense of a data flow diagram. The new diagram was formed in the six boxes from the user’s specific problem to the user’s specific solutions. This diagram was named the six-box scheme in contrast to the four-box scheme of abstraction in TRIZ. The six-box schemebecame a new paradigm of creative problem solving.6

Together with these methodological expansions, USIT has been taught to university students and industrial engineers in training seminars in-house and in open multi-company situations. A number of USIT case studies have been published and have provided for the gradual penetration of USIT into Japanese industries.

The Introduction of USIT in Japan

My initial interests and understanding of USIT were posted on my website, TRIZ Home Page in Japan, as a report of Sickafus’ USIT training seminar in March 1999.7,8The report described the USIT procedure in detail and included two case studies presented at the seminar. These were the first (world) reports on USIT in a comprehensive, yet compact form, other than Sickafus’ textbook.2

USIT as Developed by Ed Sickafus

The principal characteristics of USIT as developed by Sickafus, are as follows:

  • USIT provides the whole process of problem solving in a streamlined and structured manner. The three main stages are problem definition, problem analysis and solution generation. This is in contrast to TRIZ, which has multiple parallel methods of problem solving. The overall procedure of problem solving in TRIZ has been controversial among many TRIZ specialists even though individual component methods are commonly understood.
  • The analysis stage of problem solving is clear in USIT and is based on the objects, attributes and functions. The problem is analyzed in its specific space and time and in the functional relationships among relevant objects. The attributes relevant to each functionare explicitly considered. These concepts are similar to the TRIZ concepts of operational zone and operational time and to the Israeli SIT’s closed world approach.
  • For making an image of an ideal system, USIT developed the particles method – a method of using a hierarchical structure of desirable actions, which is a modification and extension of Altshuller’s smart little people (SLP) modeling method. The method applies the particles in a step-by-step process and then uses a tree diagram to show desirable actions and properties of the particles. This diagram then becomes the foundation for constructing a system of solutions in the next solution generation stage.
  • In the solution generation stage USIT has four basic methods reflecting the simplified ideas of Israeli SIT.2 They are a dimensional change in attributes, pluralization of objects, distribution of functions and transduction, i.e., a combination of solution pairs for linking two functions. In addition to these four methods Sickafus regards that the uniqueness seenin space and time plays roles in analysis and solution generation and that the generalization of solutions is a basic method for improving solution ideas.
  • Apply USIT to real industrial problems quickly to generate multiple new ideas thatcan be examined for implementation. Sickafus placed less emphasis on inventions than on multiple practical and useful solutions.
  • USIT is a method of guiding the problem solving process and enhancing engineers’ abilities to analyze problems and generate new ideas. USIT, in contrast to TRIZ, does not depend on a handbook-type knowledge base and software tools. USIT assumes engineers already possess the technical knowledge necessary, but need to enhance their creative thinking.
  • Sickafus’ USIT training seminar was intense and effective. The first training day Sickafus delivered an overview lecture and shared textbook exercises. Day two the participants completed a group exercise involving solving four problems in parellel, and on the third and final day the ten participants solved four moreproblems using the particles method.

Introducing USIT into Japan Through Lectures and Training Seminars

Since 1999, I have given numerous lectures in Japan regarding USIT and have offered three-day training seminars for individual and multiple companies.The three-day training sessions expose participants to the basics of USIT and they participate in group exercises simultaneously solving multiple real-world problems. Handling multiple problems can be difficult for the instructor but offers the participants valuable problem solving experience in applying USIT principles.

Most participants of these early training seminars were pioneering engineers who previously studied TRIZ and were participating in a users study group organized by Mitsubishi Research Institute. Some of the engineers introduced USIT activities into their companies– Fuji Photo Film and the Fuji Xerox, etc.

The most important initial finding was that we should not rush to promote TRIZ without fully understanding what it had to offer. The predominant strategy for introducing TRIZ during the late 1990s was a combination of orthodox TRIZ already established in Russia, convenient software tools implemented in the United States and the total quality control movement thatproved successful in Japan. We knew that it was important to not rush to follow one of these paths.

We needed to better understand TRIZ to make it easier for Japanese practitioners to learn and apply. They needed to solve problems by using their brains instead of software tools.It was evident that promoting TRIZ at a grassroots basis would have the most impact.So in October 1999, I proposed a “slow-but-steady” strategy for promoting TRIZ in Japan.9, 10 The understanding of USIT formed a solid foundation for this strategy and became a pillar of TRIZ in Japan.

Reorganizing TRIZ Solution Generation Methods into the System of USIT Operators

Using thesolution generation methods was difficult for many USIT users. Even though Sickafus had examples in his textbooks, his description was logical in some places, but intuitive in many others. Because of the nature of idea generation in general, this was unavoidable, but left room for improvement.

To better understand Sickafus’ methods of solution generation we linked his ideas to TRIZ methods. Hideaki Kosha made a comparative table of the 40 principles and USIT methods, and I analyzed the sub-methods in the TRIZ knowledge bases (including the 40 principles, 76 inventive standards, trends of evolutions, etc.) to find the relationship with USIT methods. The USIT methods were enriched by using the elements of TRIZ solution generation and then classified into a hierarchical system.5 (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: Reorganizing TRIZ Solution Generation Methods
into USIT Operators

The new system, a system of USIT operators, has five principal methods and 32 sub-methods.The five principal USIT operators are revisions of Sickafus’ principles.

The first three USIT operators are performed on the objects, attributes and functions of the present system. They are object pluralization, attribute dimensionality and function distribution. Transduction was mainly classified into the function distribution. The fourth operator – combining solution pairs – is performed on a pair of preliminary solutions. This is a new category and is comparable to the TRIZ separation principle. The steps of solving physical contradictions in TRIZ are 1) separation of contradictory requirements, 2) making two solutions separately to satisfy the two requirements and 3) combine the two solutions. (The real breakthrough must occur in the third step.)The fourth USIT operator is to combine solutions. The fifth operator– solution generalization– is an extension of Sickafus’ work and introduces the concept of building a hierarchical system of solutions.

Under these five principal USIT operators, all the elements of solution generation methods coming from TRIZ and from Sickafus’ Heuristics in USIT are classified into 32 sub-operators.2A frequently used USIT sub-operators is 1c) divide the object (into 1/2, 1/3…etc.). Recall TRIZ principle 1,segmentation. The guideline for this USIT sub-operator isdefined as: 1) divide the object into multiple parts (1/2, 1/3…etc.), 2) modifiy the parts slightly or differently for different parts and 3) combine them for using together in the system. This guideline was derived by unifying four TRIZ principles:

  • 1, segmentation
  • 2, taking away
  • 3, local quality
  • 15,dynamicity

The “picture hanging-kit problem” is a textbookexample of using USIT operators. Figure 2 shows one of Sickafus’ solutions where the string is adjusted on the smooth part of the nail and then placed on the rough part of the nail.11This solution can be interpreted in five different ways by applying USIT operators, as shown in the figure. Such redundancy is typical when using USIT operators and is useful for generating multiple ideas.

Figure 2: Sickafus’ Nail in the
Picture Hanging Kit

The USIT procedure is shown in a flowchart in Figure 3.6

Figure 3: Flowchart of the USIT Procedure

By translating TRIZ books to Japanese, and studying books and applying TRIZ and USIT to specific problems, in 2003 we moved from a “slow-but-steady” strategy to a “steady” strategy for promoting TRIZ. We are now confident in our understanding of TRIZ and in our successful application of TRIZ/USIT to industrial problems.12

The USIT Six-Box Scheme

Another, even more important, extension of USIT was achieved when I tried to draw the whole USIT procedure in the style of a data flow diagram (DFD). DFD is a concept in computer science – any information process may be drawn in DFD by specifying the boxes representing the information used/obtained in the input and output and at each intermediate step. The arrows with names connecting the boxes show the processes. DFD specifies the required/used/obtained information without describing the details of the transformation. The four-box scheme of problem solving with abstraction is also an example of DFD representation.

The Six-Box Scheme

The six-box DFD representation of the USIT procedure is shown in Figure 4.11, 6

Figure 4: Six-Box Scheme of Creative Problem Solving

The first box represents the initial problem, while the second box states the “user’s well-formed problem” as defined by Sickafus.2 At the lower right, the fifth box is the conceptual solution – the final result of the USIT procedures according to Sickafus, and the sixth box represents the final result implemented in the industrial products/processes. The four boxes at the bottom ofthe figurereflect Sickafus’ basic idea of USIT.Boxes two, three and four are new.

In the upper left, is the wording “understanding of the present system and the ideal system.” In USIT, the present system is understood in terms of the objects, attributes and functions as well as space and time. We are trying to understand the mechanism, or cause-effect relationships, of the present system/problem on the basis of these five concepts.

Placing “understanding of the ideal system” in this top-left box along with understanding the present system is a minor but significant point in this scheme. Understanding the ideal system, or target of the problem solving must be obtained at this position in the procedure. The flowchart in Figure 3 suggests analyzing the present system and then the ideal system in sequence, in contrast to the earlier instruction toeither or both of the present and ideal systems – not always both.

The fourth box “ideas of a new system” signifies that an idea at this stage may be an idea to change a part of the present system.This is not a hint in the conventional analogical thinking, but may be the essence of a hint whose effective use is already found.The idea atthis stage is not yet a solution, but a core idea around which the user tries to derive a conceptual solution. For building conceptual solutions from a core idea, one needs the capability of the relevant field of engineering more than the ability to apply the USIT methodology.

Performing with the Six-Box Scheme

We can convert (or process) the information from one box to another in this six-box scheme.

  • Box one to two: problem definition. The project team usually defines the problem using specific business and/or engineering criteria.
  • Box two to three: problem analysis following the detailed instructions of USIT.
  • Box three to four: idea generation. The USIT operators can be operated repeatedly on various components in the system (i.e., objects, attributes, functions, solution pairs and solutions).5
    • Describing the process more closely, a practitioner applies USIT as a sub-operator to a component (for instance a nail in the picture hanging kit) and follows the guideline to derive an idea (divide the nail into two parts and change the smoothness of the surface) and tries to find an effective way to use the idea (adjust the string at the smooth part and then hold the string at the rough part). Such operations can generate multiple ideas, allowing practitioners to find effective ways of using the ideas.
    • The above description is somewhat formal and theoretical. In practice and in reality, users get ideas during problem analysis, especially using the particles method, and during the idea generation discussions.
    • Applying USIT operators (including the 32 sub-methods) onto components of the present system can generate a large number of ideas easily. The secret of the idea generation stage is to find the effective use of such ideas or to pick up core ideas that have the potential to grow into a useful solution concept.
  • Box four to five: construct conceptual solutions around the core idea. At this stage engineering capabilities play a larger role than the application of USIT methodologies. Knowledge bases of scientific/technical principles and cases of patents are most useful in this stage.
  • Box five to six: implementation in engineering and business. USIT is done when practitioners have derived the information in box five. In this stage, engineers already know a lot about various design methods.

New Paradigm of Creative Problem Solving

There are a number of comparisons that can be made between the six-box and the four-box scheme.6, 13The four-box scheme, shown in Figure 5, has been regarded as a sophisticated problem-solving method.4 The four-box method focuses on the abstraction. Users are instructed to develop an abstract general problem by mapping the specific problem onto a chosen model. Once practitioners have solved the general problem into the general solution they can use it as a guide for solving the specific problem.

Figure 5: The Four-Box Scheme of Problem Solving
Supported by Knowledge Bases

Based on the four-box scheme practitioners developed a variety of theories and models in different fields of science and technology that work well for problems in specific fields of the model. With creative problem solving, however, the problems are not necessarily easy to formulate in any field or by any model. Typically in enforced analogical thinking, various models and examples are searched for and tried during idea generation.

In this context, TRIZ contributes several models applicable across different fields of technology – the contradiction matrix with the technical contradiction formulation, the separation principle using the physical contradiction formula, su-field modeling which leads to the inventive standards, etc. Each of these models, however, handles a limited, different aspect of the problem.To fully explore the problem and find new solutions practitioners must perform multiple processes.

Conversely, the six-box scheme deals with all aspects of a problem in different fields of technology. The scheme provides a standard set of methodological tools for problem definition, problem analysis and idea generation, and advises users how to introduce relevant technological methods.

The essential point in the new scheme is that the information in box three is obtainable with the standard set of analysis tools and provides the understanding of the present and ideal systems in terms of the standard concepts of objects, attributes, functions, space, time, and desirable behaviors and properties. This information does not come from models outside the problem, but from the problem itself. Ideas for a new system also arise by applying USIT operators to the information in box three, or during the process of deriving information for the box.

With this understanding, Nakagawa has recognized that the six-box scheme in USIT is a “new paradigm for creative problem solving.” 6, 13 The six-box scheme provides a clear definition of the boxes, in comparison to the four-box scheme, and offers a concrete way to perform the scheme using USIT.

Applying USIT

USIT, along with TRIZ, has been taught to undergraduate students in Osaka Gakuin University. These students obtained several case studies of everyday-life problems. Such case studies are easy to understand and useful for explaining how to thinkwith TRIZ and USIT.14

USIT training seminars for engineers have been established with a two-day agenda as shown in Figure 6.14 The same agenda is applicable to both in-house and multi-company situations. Small groups solve three real-world problems in parallel. The groups are ideally comprised of four to seven individuals with diverse backgrounds. If there are more participants, two or three subgroups may work on the same problem simultaneously.

Figure 6: USIT Two-day Training Seminar Agenda

The training seminars are often conducted with engineers who are new to TRIZ and have little or no experience with USIT. The instructor provides an overview of TRIZ/USIT and then the USIT problem solving process starts. The USIT processes are carried out in step-by-step sessions, where each session consists of a short lecture, group work, and presentation and discussion. For most participants, including the instructor, the problems handled in the seminar are new and do not have solutions. The participants know the results are obtained through individual group work using the methodologyand therefore, they gaina sense of accomplishment.

Many companies including Fuji Film, Fuji Xerox, Ricoh, Nissan Motor Co., Matsushita Electric Works, Konica-Minolta and Sekisui Chemical Industries have actively worked with USIT. In many cases the USIT experts in these companies are developing their own training materials. They are promoting USIT through problem-solving meetings and workshops for engineering groups while maintaining the USIT philosophy that the experts are a methodical supporter of the engineers and not a contract-based expert inventor.13 Most of these corporations first introduced TRIZ and then started a grassroots introduction of USIT. USIT is easier and quicker to learn and master than TRIZ.


USIT was introduced to Japan in 1999 and has been accepted as an easy and unified process for problem solving in industries as the next generation of TRIZ. All the solution generation methods of TRIZ have been reorganized into the system of USIT operators. The data flow diagram representation of USIT resulted in the six-box scheme, which is recognized as a new paradigm for creative problem solving, overcoming the shortcomings of the four-box scheme. Based on these methodological refinements, various industries in Japan have already used USITand itspopularity has been growing steadily. USIT is an easy and unified process of problem solving, another generation of TRIZ and offers a new paradigm for creative problem solving.


  1. Altshuller, Genrich, Creativity as an Exact Science, Gordon and Breach, 1984.
  2. Sickafus, Ed, Unified Structured Inventive Thinking: How to Invent, NTELLECK, Grosse Isle, Michigan, 1997.
  3. Salamatov, Yuri, TRIZ: The Right Solution at the Right Time, Insytec, 1999; (Japanese Edition) Toru Nakagawa (Supervising translator), Nikkei BP, November 2000.
  4. Mann, Darrell, Hands-on Systematic Innovation, CREAX Press, Ieper, Belgium, 2002; (Japanese Edition) Toru Nakagawa (Supervising translator), Sozo Kaihatsu Initiative, June 2004.
  5. Nakagawa, Toru; Kosha, Hideaki; and Mihara, Yuji, “Reorganizing TRIZ Solution Generation Methods into Simple Five in USIT,” ETRIA World Conference: TRIZ Future 2002, Strasbourg, France, November 6-8, 2002; TRIZ HP Japan, November 2002.
  6. Nakagawa, Toru, “Overall Dataflow Structure for Creative Problem Solving in TRIZ/USIT,” TRIZCON 2005, Altshuller Institute TRIZ Conference, Detroit, May 2005; The TRIZ Journal, May 2005; TRIZ HP Japan, May 2005.
  7. TRIZ Home Page in Japan, Editor: Toru Nakagawa.
  8. Nakagawa, Toru, “Seminar Participation Report: USIT Training Seminar (Instructor: Dr. Ed Sickafus, March 10-12, 1999),” TRIZ HP Japan, March 1999.
  9. Nakagawa, Toru, “Approaches to Application of TRIZ in Japan,” TRIZCON 2000, Nashua, New Hampshire, April 30-May 2, 2000; TRIZ HP Japan, May 2000.
  10. Nakagawa, Toru, “Experiences of Teaching and Applying the Essence of TRIZ with Easier USIT Procedure,” TRIZCON2002, April 30-May 2, 2002, St. Louis, Missouri; TRIZ HP Japan, January 2002.
  11. Nakagawa, Toru, “‘USIT Operators for Solution Generation in TRIZ: Clearer Guide to Solution Paths,” ETRIA TFC 2004, Florence, Italy, November 2004; TRIZ HP Japan, November 2004.
  12. Nakagawa, Toru, “Practices of Applying TRIZ/USIT in Japan,” TRIZCON 2004 Seattle, Washington, April 2004; Japan TRIZ HP, May 2004.
  13. Nakagawa, Toru, “A New Paradigm for Creative Problem Solving: Six-Box Scheme in USIT,” ETRIA TFC2006, Kortrijk, Belgium, October 2006; TRIZ HP Japan, November 2006.
  14. Nakagawa, Toru, “Education and Training of Creative Problem Solving Thinking with TRIZ/USIT,” ETRIA TFC2007, Frankfurt on Main, Germany, November 2007; TRIZ HP Japan, November 2007.

Originally presented at the Fourth TRIZ Symposium in Japan September 10-12, 2008, Laforet Biwako, Moriyama, Shiga, Japan and published on The TRIZ Home Page in Japan.