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How to get arrested as an innovator (TRIZ)


Genrich Altshuller developed the TRIZ framework, revolutionising problem-solving by identifying and solving contradictions. His journey from a curious inventor to creating TRIZ showcases his innovative approach to challenges. TRIZ has been applied in tech, automotive, and other industries to drive innovation. Altshuller's inventive spirit, including his clever way to rest during interrogation, highlights his contribution to creative problem-solving. For our ORG.OS this gives us a collection of reframe and provokes we can use to create Innovative people SPIES

How to get arrested as an innovator (TRIZ)

(Reading Time: 10mins)

Genrich Altshuller is often an unsung hero for thinking differently towards challenges and innovation. As a young curious Jewish boy growing up, Genrich was always somewhat of a bright spark. In 9th grade his first invention was a piece of kit for underwater diving, later in 10th grade he built a boat that had a rocket engine attached and it used carbide for fuel.

Genrich, a little older, in 1946 created his next invention that would put him on the trajectory of true innovation legends. He creates a method that allows folk to escape from a submarine without diving gear. As you can imagine this caught the attention of the Russian Navy and was classified as top secret, and later offered a role in the Russian Navy in the Department of patents. Now you might be thinking well that feels as dull as a bowl of boiled rice, wrong for a guy with expansive curiosity this was perfection as it was the catalyst to create the TRIZ framework

While working in the patent department looking over 1000s of patents across a multitude of markets and industries, he identified that nearly all of the inventors had used the same kind of thinking, real innovation amongst all of these was few and far between. He also identified that the principles and approach to solving the problem were all similar and if you looked across the spectrum, there was a library of patterns and contradictions, the only issue is none of the inventors knew it. It struck him that if only all these inventors all spoke to each other and shared their approach they would have realised the challenge had already been solved and this would speed up learning and development of true innovation, it would also make it much quicker and cheaper.

With this aha moment slapping him across the face like a big bass line he decided he would write to Stalin (leader of the Soviet Union at the time) with his findings and suggestions, maybe he was having a make the Soviet Union great again moment (we all know how that stuff pans out), yep he got arrested and sentenced to 25 years in a labour camp just above the Arctic Circle. Lucky Genrich was released from the camp in 1953 with the death of Stalin

However, in the few years there Genrich was surrounded with other like-minded people allowing him to refine and cement his thinking

One of his more refined points of view was innovation isn't just about coming up with new ideas, it's also about solving tricky problems while eliminating trade-offs and seeing constraints as opportunities, something I talk and share about in The Insightful Innovator.

So, with all this life experience Genrich created TRIZ, Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, a systematic approach to creativity that turned conventional problem-solving on its head.

Based on the 1000s of patents and contradictions, Genrich was able to condense them down into 40 core contradictions which he named the Contradiction Matrix.

I will now explain the contradiction, simplify it and use it as a provocative question, given the demographic of my readers I will try to be as generic as possible and remove any jargon, but please note the value comes when you make these specific to the challenge :

The Contradictions

Local Quality:

Change an object's structure from uniform to non-uniform.

  • Simplified: Make it local, make some parts different to suit the needs of local conditions

  • What if: We adapted and customised the employee experiences to their individual needs? We tailored workspace environments to match individual work styles, enhancing personal productivity and satisfaction.


Divide an object into independent parts.

  • Simplified: Break It down and split it into smaller parts.

  • What if: We could segment tasks or projects to improve manageability and focus? What if We broke down organisational goals into department-specific challenges, making them more relatable and motivating for each team?

Taking Out:

Separate an interfering part or property.

  • Simplified: Take It out or remove unnecessary parts.

  • What if: We eliminated outdated policies that hinder work-life balance, creating a more flexible and appealing company culture?


Change the shape of an object to asymmetrical.

  • Simplified: Do It Your Way and change something to make it non-uniform or asymmetrical.

  • What if: Consider asymmetric work arrangements to boost creativity and productivity. We introduced flexible working hours and locations, acknowledging that one size does not fit all in work habits and productivity.


Bring closer together or merge identical or similar objects. Merge similar tasks or roles to streamline operations.

  • Simplified: Bring things together and combine similar types of tasks

  • What if: We merge similar tasks, roles or functions to streamline operations? Did we combine similar departments to foster cross-functional collaboration, breaking down silos and sparking innovation?


Make a part or object perform multiple functions.

  • Simplified: Multitask and make something do more than one job.

  • What if: roles were designed for an adaptive strategy and workplace? Job roles were designed to cover multiple aspects of work, allowing employees to explore different skills and interests.

Nested Doll:

Place one object inside another. Implement systems where processes are integrated within each other for efficiency.

  • Simplified: Put something inside something else that’s inside something else (like Russian dolls).

  • What if: Implement systems where processes are integrated within each other for efficiency. We embedded personal development plans within career progression strategies, ensuring growth and satisfaction go hand in hand.

Anti Weight:

To compensate for the weight of an object, merge it with other objects that provide lift.

  • Simplified: Lighten things up and find a way to make something heavy feel lighter.

  • What if: Balance demanding tasks with more engaging or rewarding activities. We balanced high-stress projects with initiatives focused on mental health and relaxation, maintaining employee well-being?

Preliminary Anti Action:

Pre-arrange objects such that they can come into action from the most convenient place and without losing time for their delivery.

  • Simplified: Prepare or do something beforehand

  • What if: We could anticipate needs and challenges in employee experiences, preparing solutions in advance.

Preliminary Action:

Perform, before it is needed, the required change of an object. Implement proactive measures in HR policies and employee support.

  • Simplified: Just act before you need to

  • What if: We implement proactive measures in HR policies and employee support before they are ever needed? We implemented mentorship programs before employees hit a career plateau, ensuring continuous growth and engagement.

Beforehand Cushioning:

Prepare emergency measures beforehand.

  • Simplified: Have a backup plan or safety net to cushion the blow

  • What if: We develop and communicate contingency plans for potential workplace disruptions. We prepared leadership development programs in advance of promotions, ensuring smooth transitions and effective leadership.


In a potential field, level out all differences. Strive for equity in the workplace, ensuring all employees have equal opportunities and resources.

  • Simplified: Level the Playing Field: Make everything equal or balanced.

  • What if: We strive for equity in the workplace, ensuring all employees have equal opportunities and resources. We created a culture where every voice can influence change, regardless of position, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment.

The Other Way Round:

Invert the action used to solve the problem.

  • Simplified: Flip It: Reverse how you’re doing something.

  • What if: We flip challenges to see them as opportunities for growth and innovation? We flipped the script on failure, celebrating it as a stepping stone to innovation and learning, thus creating a fearless culture.

Spheroidality – Curvature:

Use rollers, balls, spirals, or domes. _Think about how to make processes smoother and more fluid for employees.

  • Simplified: Use curves, spheres, or rolling to make movement easier.

  • What if: We could make these leaving processes smoother and more fluid for employees? We designed the employee journey to be as smooth and intuitive as navigating a well-designed app, enhancing overall satisfaction.


Allow (or design) the characteristics of an object, external environment, or process change to be optimal or to find an optimal operating condition. Adapt policies and environments to be more dynamic and responsive to change.

  • Simplified: Keep Moving: Allow things to change to stay optimal.

  • What if: we created a leave policy and work environment that could be more dynamic and responsive to employees' life changes. We allowed roles and projects to evolve with market trends, keeping work exciting and employees continuously learning.

Partial or Excessive Actions:

If 100 percent of an object is hard to achieve using a given solution, then aim for slightly less or slightly more.

  • Simplified Little More, Little Less: It’s okay if it’s not perfect; a bit more or less can work.

  • What if: Set realistic goals and expectations, allowing for flexibility. We accepted that not every initiative needs to be perfect, encouraging experimentation and rapid iteration.

Another Dimension:

Move an object in two- or three-dimensional space.

  • Think 3D: Look at problems from different angles or dimensions.

  • What if: Think outside the traditional linear progression in careers or projects. We looked at career paths not as ladders but as landscapes, offering multiple directions for growth and exploration.

Mechanical Vibration:

Cause an object to oscillate or vibrate.

  • Shake Things Up: Use vibration or shaking to get a result.

  • What if: We shake up routines or processes to foster innovation? We shook up the routine with surprise workshops or projects, injecting creativity and energy into the workplace.

Periodic Action:

Instead of continuous action, use periodic or pulsating actions.

  • Rhythm Is Key: Do things at regular intervals.

  • What if: We introduce intermittent breaks, or changes in routine to maintain engagement? We introduced regular, companywide hackathons to tackle social or environmental issues, building team spirit and social responsibility.

Continuity of Useful Action:

Carry on work continuously; make all parts of an object work at full load, all the time. Aim for consistent performance and engagement by providing ongoing support and resources.

  • Don’t Stop: Keep the good stuff going continuously.

  • What if: We aim for consistent performance and engagement by providing ongoing support and resources. We ensured that every role has a clear impact on the company's mission, making work meaningful and motivating.


Conduct a process, or certain stages of a process, at high speed.

  • Speedy Gonzales: Speed up parts of a process.

  • What if: We implement fast-tracking for projects or learning where beneficial? We fast-tracked innovative ideas, bypassing red tape to bring fresh solutions to life faster?

“Blessing in Disguise” or “Turn Lemons into Lemonade”:

Use harmful factors (particularly, harmful effects of the environment or surroundings) to achieve a positive effect.

  • Lemonade: Turn negatives into positives.

  • What if: We leverage challenges as learning opportunities or catalysts for growth? We leveraged setbacks as opportunities for team bonding and learning, strengthening resilience and camaraderie.


Introduce feedback (referring back, cross-checking) to improve a process or action.

  • Check Yourself: Use feedback to improve.

  • What if: We establish a culture of continuous feedback for improvement? We built a culture where feedback is not just encouraged but celebrated, leading to continuous improvement and personal growth.


Use an intermediary carrier or process. Utilise tools or platforms that facilitate better communication or workflow.

  • Middleman: Use something else to help you get the job done.

  • What if: We utilise tools or platforms that facilitate better communication or workflow. We used digital platforms to bridge gaps between departments, enhancing communication and collaboration across the company.


Make an object serve itself by performing auxiliary helpful functions.

  • Help Yourself: Make something that can fix or do things by itself.

  • What if: We encourage self-directed learning and problem-solving amongst employees. We empowered employees to customise their benefits and learning opportunities, making them active designers of their experience.


Use simple and inexpensive copies instead of complicated, costly, fragile objects. Adopt scalable and efficient solutions for training and development.

  • Copycat: Use copies to save on cost or effort.

  • What if: We adopt scalable and efficient solutions for training and development? We replicated the best practices from high-performing teams across the organisation, elevating performance companywide.

Cheap Short living Objects:

Replace an expensive object with multiple inexpensive objects, comprising certain qualities (such as service life, for instance)

  • Use and Throw Away: Sometimes cheap and temporary is better.

  • What if: We implement cost-effective solutions for temporary challenges? We implemented flexible, temporary solutions for immediate challenges, allowing for agility and innovation.

Mechanics Substitution:

Replace a mechanical means with a sensory (optical, acoustic, taste or smell) means.

  • Swap It Out: Change the way you’re doing something for something simpler.

  • What if: We leverage technology to automate routine tasks, freeing employees for more creative work. We replaced manual, repetitive tasks with automation, freeing employees to focus on creative and strategic work?

Pneumatics and Hydraulics:

Use gas and liquid parts of an object instead of solid parts e.g., inflatable, filled with liquids, air cushion, hydro reactive.

  • Go With the Flow: Use liquids or gases for a better effect.

  • What if: We incorporate flexibility and adaptability in work environments and tools. We introduced fluid team structures that can expand, or contract based on project needs, optimising resources and talent.

Flexible Shells and Thin Films:

Use flexible shells and thin films instead of three-dimensional structures.

  • Flex It: Use flexible or soft approaches where rigid ones don’t work.

  • What if: We adopt flexible policies and structures that can adapt to changing needs. We adopted flexible work policies that adapt to external changes, ensuring the organisation remains resilient and employees supported?

Porous Materials:

Make an object porous or add porous elements (inserts, coatings, etc.). Encourage openness and transparency in communication and processes.

  • Breathe Easy: Make something with holes or gaps to improve it.

  • What if: We encourage openness and transparency in communication and processes. We cultivated an environment where transparency and openness are the norms, building trust and clarity?

Colour Changes:

Change the colour of an object or its external environment.

  • Change Colours: Use colour changes to signal something.

  • What if: We use visual cues to enhance understanding and engagement in learning and development. We used visual management systems to keep everyone informed and engaged with company goals and performance?


Make objects interact with a given object of the same material (or material with identical properties).

  • Stick Together: Use materials that are alike.

  • What if: We cultivate a cohesive team environment where similarities in goals and values are emphasised. We fostered a culture where teams are united by shared values and objectives, despite diverse backgrounds and skills?

Discarding and Recovering:

Make portions of an object that have fulfilled their functions go away (discard by dissolving, evaporating, etc.) or modify these directly during operation.

  • Move On: Get rid of what you don’t need anymore.

  • What if: We encourage a culture of learning from failures and moving on. We learned to quickly pivot from failed experiments, extracting valuable lessons and moving forward with new insights?

Parameter Changes:

Change an object's physical state e.g., to a gas, liquid, or solid.

  • Turn Up the Heat: Use changes in temperature to your advantage.

  • What if: We are open to changing the scope or direction of projects based on feedback and results. We embraced flexibility in work arrangements and project scopes, responding dynamically to feedback and results?

Phase Transitions:

Use phenomena occurring during phase transitions e.g. volume changes, loss or absorption of heat. Recognise and manage the dynamics of team development and project cycles.

  • Phase Change: Use the change from solid to liquid to gas (and back) creatively.

  • What if: We recognise and manage the dynamics of team development and project cycles. We recognise and manage the natural cycles of team dynamics, supporting teams through changes and challenges?

Thermal Expansion:

Use thermal expansion (or contraction) of materials. Consider the impact of external pressures and stressors on team dynamics and address them proactively.

  • Expand or Contract: Use materials that grow or shrink with heat.

  • What if: We consider the impact of external pressures and stressors on team dynamics and address them proactively. We adjusted team sizes and compositions in response to project heat, ensuring optimal performance and engagement?

Strong Oxidants:

Use strong oxidants to enhance a reaction. Introduce elements that can accelerate development and growth.

  • Oxidise: Use reactions with oxygen to speed things up.

  • What if: We introduce elements that can accelerate development and growth. We introduced catalysts for growth, such as cross industry learning opportunities, to accelerate development?

Inert Atmosphere:

Replace a normal environment with an inert one. Create a safe and supportive environment for experimentation and innovation.

  • In a Bubble: Create a safe or controlled environment.

  • What if: We create a safe and supportive environment for experimentation and innovation. We created safe spaces for innovation, where employees can experiment without fear of failure?

Composite Materials:

Replace homogeneous materials with composite ones. Leverage diverse teams and skill sets to enhance creativity and problem solving.

  • Mix It Up: Combine different materials for a better result.

  • What if: We leverage diverse teams and skill sets to enhance creativity and problem solving. We leveraged the diverse skills and perspectives of our workforce to solve complex problems more creatively?

Who uses it

TRIZ has been applied in countless scenarios, from engineering and manufacturing to marketing and strategic planning. Here are a couple of examples:

Samsung: One of the most cited examples of TRIZ in action is Samsung's use of the methodology to become a global leader in the technology sector. They applied TRIZ principles to solve technical contradictions in their product development processes, leading to significant breakthroughs in design and functionality.

Automotive Industry: Car manufacturers have used TRIZ to solve engineering contradictions, such as improving fuel efficiency while reducing emissions. By applying principles like "segmentation" and "preliminary action," they've developed innovative solutions like modular engines and advanced catalytic converters.

Cookware: A classic example of overcoming contradictions with TRIZ is the development of nonstick cookware. The contradiction was the need for a pan surface that was both highly durable and nonstick. By applying the principle of "composite materials" (combining materials with different properties), manufacturers were able to create pans that met both criteria, leading to the widespread adoption of nonstick cookware.

In fact Genrich himself used it while in the slammer, throughout his time there he was interrogated with sleep deprivation. To overcome this he simply broke it down into a simple contradiction I want to sleep but am not allowed to sleep how can I overcome this, simple he ripped up some card from a cigarette box, drew two eyes on each one and took them to each eye lid so when the soldiers walked past they would think we was a wake

What can we take from it

By applying TRIZ, HR, EX and L&D professionals can address problems with a new fresh perspective cultivating an innovative workplace culture that is focused on creating human-centric people SPIES

I put TRIZ principles into the tackling section of our ORG.OS as I see them more as a set of provocations or reframes in our toolkit.

These tools enable us to tackle our limited thinking when needed as well as a reframing barrier within a challenge, whether it's innovating an onboarding process, rethinking performance management, developing internal leadership programs, or crafting new Employee Value Propositions (EVPs). The TRIZ principles empower us to see the possibilities before us, encouraging us to adopt a dreamer's mindset. It's this perspective that is crucial for creating truly innovative solutions capable of attracting talent away from our competitors.

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