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Creativity, the TAO and TRIZ

Creativity, the TAO and TRIZ

| On 10, Dec 2000

EDITORS NOTE: Although The TRIZ Journal does not endorse Tao as a religious belief system it does consider this particular paper to be an interesting perspective on the subject.

Andre de Zanger and Judith Morgan
Creativity Institute – 1664 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10128 (212) 289-8856

The Dialectic Paradox or The Resolution of Opposites

The philosophy of the “Tao” or the “Way”, was set down in approximately 600 B.C. by Lao Tzu in 81 poems, entitled “The Tao Teh Ching”. The Tao poems contain a philosophy of life that has lasted through the centuries and they have been retranslated as well as rewritten many times. They contain many ideas which are relevant in the area of creativity: “being in the moment”, “effortless action”, “enjoying the journey”, “the importance of nothingness”, “listening to your own inner way”, and the “integration of opposites”. The last idea, the “Integration of Opposites” [TRIZ: the “Resolution of Contradictions”] , will be explored in this article through an exercise, the Dialectic Paradox, which you can experience and use to solve problems or gain new insights into issues. The following is one of the Tao poems that talks about the importance of Opposites:

Tao #2

People finding one thing beautiful,
Think another unbeautiful,
Finding one creation sound,
They judge another unsound.
Yet, creation and destruction,
Difficult and easy,
High and low,
All arise from each other.
Since something and nothing
Give birth to one another,
Offer texture to a life,
And nourish the imagination,
A creative person accepts no rules,
And knows that opposites,
Are part of the whole.
Accepting everything as it is,
The let it come and go,
As something to participate in,
Yet not to dominate,
To nourish, yet not to possess.
In union with what is,
They give birth freely,
Without claiming authority,
For creativity is all around,
And within us all.”

(From the book “Tao of Creativity”)

This poem reflects the idea that opposites enrich and contribute to one another [TRIZ: “No contradiction … No invention”] , “varying tones makes music”, and are not something to be avoided or removed. In the integration of opposites we “accept everything as it is” and don’t make judgments or rules that something should be one way and not the other [TRIZ: Principle #1 Segmentation and/or #5 Merging both could be useful separate or together – examples: Micro-chip and Fax machine that is a Fax, a printer and copier] .

When applied to creativity the importance of opposites resonates with Einstein’s idea that “the answer is within the problem”. The concept that the problem itself may be a part of the solution is an important part of the Tao [an importance in TRIZ – Problem Identification, Su Field analysis etc.] . An exercise called the Dialectic Paradox is one way of trying this concept out on an issue or problem that you would like to solve. It involves the Resolution of Opposites (Dialectic means opposites and Paradox, the resolution) and uses the negative side of the problem to come up with new perspectives. It reflects the idea that creativity is wholistic, not necessarily dualistic.

“The Dialectic Paradox” – Exercise:
(From the book “Creative Genius”)

  1. Put a problem or issue into one word – find the word that most describes the problem. For instance, if it is a struggle with someone, perhaps the word most descriptive of the problem would be “conflict”. If it is a feeling of being unmotivated or stuck, perhaps the word might be “stagnate”. Find the best word to describe the negative side of the problem.
  2. Find the polar opposite word – the word that best describes the ideal resolution of the issue. For example, the resolution of “conflict” could be “harmony” and for “stagnate”, it might be “motivated”.
  3. Put the words into a two word phrase, such as “motivated stagnation” or “stagnate motivation”, or “harmonious conflict” or “conflictual harmony”.
  4. The next step is to resonate with these opposites and think of some examples of them in an object or process. Nature is a good source to find examples of the two forces combined into one. (The Tao is full of nature metaphors.) Examples: “harmonious conflict” might be mediation, negotiation, symphony, akido, parasites, fever. “Stagnate motivation” might be hibernation, cocoon, meditation, yoga, etc. This step is one that usually takes some time and/or is one that is helpful to brainstorm with other people. Asking others for their response or associations to the dialectic can be stimulating and fun. The more examples the better your possible choice will be and the more you have “played” and opened up new perspectives. It is helpful to do this step in a relaxed state:

[Find ways of entering a relaxed state of consciousness: going for a walk, taking a shower, deep relaxed breathing, listening to music, etc.]

Tao #16

Quiet your mind of thoughts,
So your heart shall be at peace.
Being at peace,
Your imagination may more easily arise.

[Note: It is our belief that creativity involves 4 phases:

  1. Motivation: moving towards an Ideal (+) or away from pain or problems (-).
  2. Saturation: total involvement: Information/Knowledge/Experiences.
  3. Incubation-Alternation: alternating between various states of consciousness (Alpha-Beta-Theta and Delta)
  4. Resolution and /or Revelation (AHA!)].

5. Choose one of the examples that resonates with you and write down all of its qualities. Working with “stagnate motivation”, for instance, one might choose the concept yoga and have the following associations to it: stretching, movement, breathing, quiet environment, feeling the moment, expanding, flexibility, contentment. In doing the list, it is important to write down anything that comes to mind even if it seems far “afield”. Other more “way out” ideas connected to yoga might be: India, gurus, cults, strange, mystical, unknown.

6. Choose one or two of these qualities and “force fit” it back into the issue. For instance, if one chose the quality of movement they would ask, ” how might movement help with my sense of stagnation”? Perhaps physical exercise would help – “changing one’s physiology can change one’s psychology”. Movement might mean bringing more energy into one’s life through friends, hobbies, classes, etc. Or one could take the broader idea of yoga and directly force fit it back into the issue. What comes to mind is the idea that stagnation may be a kind of yoga, a chance to relax, to be “in the moment”, rather than achieving or doing. In fact that idea connects to another word on the list, hibernation. Hibernation is a time of deliberately taking a break, especially in harsh or non-nourishing circumstances, winter. Hibernation is a way of protecting the organism and resting until circumstances are more supportive. Perhaps, stagnation is a way of taking a break – a hibernation of sorts with renewal and rebirth at the other end. Maybe the environment is not supportive at this point and the solution is to find a more nourishing community. One might choose one of the words that was more far afield like, mystical. In what ways might the mystical be involved in stagnation? Perhaps, stagnation is not the problem but the solution – the unconscious acting as a guide telling one to stop, to not move forward on a certain project at this time.

Tao #23

Nature does not insist,
That things last forever.
High winds may last
For part of a morning,
Heavy rain for half a day.
If nature does not insist,
Why should you?
Like the forces of nature,
Creativity is natural too.
It may flow for part of a day,
Hibernate for half a year,
Or illuminate a night.
Open yourself to it,
And feel well used,
Feel at home,
Feel welcome.
Honor the natural way,
And it will honor you.

(From the book “Tao of Creativity”)

From the above connections, there are several possible new perspectives on the problem:

  1. Infuse more energy or movement
  2. Change how one thinks about stagnation and embrace it as a time for rest and renewal
  3. Change the environment into a more supportive one
  4. Perhaps not pursue whatever it was that one was feeling stagnate about, maybe their intuition is telling them to not move forward.

One can take all of the words or processes that were listed and “force fit” them back into the issue. Pretend it is somebody else’s problem so that you are freer to try on different possibilities. The answer or resolution might be right there or it may take some time, an incubation period, to resonate with some of the new insights. Incubation is an important part of the creative process. The Dialectic Paradox exercise opens up many possibilities and new ways of looking at an issue and will bring the Tao philosophy into your creative thinking process. Play with the ideas and words that come out of doing the exercise and see if some new perspectives are opened.


  1. “Tao of Creativity”, Published by The Creativity Institute, 1997.
  2. “Creative Genius”, Published by The Creativity Institute, 1998.