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Using TRIZ with Deming Philosophy

Enhancing TRIZ with Dr. Deming’s Philosophy

| On 02, Nov 2009

By Ellen Domb and Bill Bellows


Many attempts to introduce the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) into organizations have suffered from a lack of application results with bottom line impact. When TRIZ methods are used the authors have found that the results are not routinely implemented. Where TRIZ applications have lead to implementation, experience has shown that TRIZ is often used to solve problems that are narrowly focused. Such a pattern of practice leaves ample room for challenges from TRIZ critics in search of returns on implementation efforts.

The American professor, William Edwards Deming, offers a system of “profound knowledge,” as the basis for organizational transformation and operation. It helps TRIZ practitioners gain management acceptance of innovative ideas and solutions.

In return, the TRIZ community has much to offer the Deming community on the topic of innovation. Whereas Dr. Deming’s management theory does not include specific guidance on how to generate ideas for system improvement, TRIZ methods are well-suited to this task. Improving the dialog between the TRIZ community and Dr. Deming’s community will provide “win-win” prospects for both communities. The aim of this paper is to encourage and advance this dialog.

TRIZ Use: Problem Definition

Got Milk? Got TRIZ?

The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving applications have not progressed as broadly as what was predicted by TRIZ practitioners upon their introduction to the West in the early 1990s. One significant reason for the slow acceptance of TRIZ in organizations is the perception by many members of management that TRIZ does not produce results that lead to bottom line impact. This perception results in two additional problems that reinforce this perception:

  1. Practitioners of TRIZ are often positioned to claim that TRIZ creates exciting, breakthrough solutions to problems without resources to invest in demonstrating their claim.
  2. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving is not used on applications that are significant to the organization.

The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving successes are often associated with applications that are not considered worthwhile investment opportunities. A related challenge for TRIZ practitioners is the reluctance of organizations to possess significant TRIZ applications and implementation successes that publicize accomplishments and case studies where proprietary interests are preserved.

TRIZ Implementation Efforts

A conference at the Stevens Institute of Technology provided considerable data on the difficulties of implementing organization-wide use of TRIZ methods.1 Reports from Johnson & Johnson, Eaton, Agilent as well as Rohm and Haas were similar in conclusions:

  • Individual TRIZ advocates keep the methods alive in their companies. In most cases, these are individuals with outstanding reputations as innovators in their organizations and the survival of TRIZ has depended on their personal reputations.
  • Management wants to see tests on significant projects and in some cases authorizes the initiation of those projects, but terminates them before the tests can be completed. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving is then relegated to the status of a personal tool for the individual user, not corporate methodology.
  • The issues surrounding the choice of TRIZ-related software, the cost of the software and the complexity of training people on both the TRIZ methodology and the use of software, complicate the decisions related to TRIZ and often result in an early decision against the use of TRIZ methodology.

Dana Clarke, former director of education at Ideation International, presented a classification of TRIZ adoption patterns among large companies that reinforce these observations:

  • Systematic implementation, fully supported by management (two companies).
  • Repeated attempts, spending large amounts each time, then losing momentum (20 companies).
  • Started or made some attempts, no support (30 companies).

Presentations by co-authr Ellen Domb on the use of TRIZ with total quality management (TQM) and Six Sigma quality contain similar data.2,3,4 Many companies recognize that their quality improvement initiatives require a method for creative problem solving, however, even those that have introduced TRIZ as a tool or technique have usually failed to integrate it within their organization-wide systems.

Taguchi Methods Implementation Efforts

In the authors’ experience with repeated applications of Taguchi methods developed by engineer Genichi Taguchi, the involvement of highly visible problem resolution activities and the high potential of these techniques became more evident. The early applications also revealed the narrow focus of these applications to fix or repair products and processes. An obvious reactive application pattern was developing. In borrowing from the concepts of Dr. Deming, a theory was developed to explain why this costly intervention application pattern was apparently widespread across industries. Dr. Deming’s management theory offers an explanation for how organizations can provide more strategic applications of both TRIZ and Taguchi methods.

The Prevailing Style of Management

Dr. Deming used the term “the prevailing style of management,” to describe the administration style of organizations that are characterized by activities that promote widespread local sub-optimization.5 Additional symptoms of these organizations are the apparent existence of a:

  • “Most important part” (as opposed to a strong sense of the purpose of all parts)
  • Prevalence of blame placed on individuals (rather than the system in which they work)
  • General lack of creativity on the part of a significant percentage of the work force

The management actions that unknowingly sustain such non-systemic behaviors are driven by an unrecognized and unstated, set of beliefs and assumptions. The tell-tale signs of these beliefs are management practices that ignore, if not underestimate, non-linear causal loops. Organizational actions are instead viewed as linear (cause and effect) and orientations such as upstream and downstream are used to denote endpoint positions within it.

Contrast the linear view of organizational actions and activities with the recursive model that Dr. Deming advocated shown in Figure 1, where a so-called “zeroth stage” action set the system in motion with the initial design idea. Organizations that follow Dr. Deming’s management model are characterized by a widespread awareness of non-linear system dynamics especially as related to the “plan-do-study-act” (PDSA) learning cycle.6 These attributes, coupled with a high value placed on innovation and a sense of unity (one company) that extends beyond the organization to include suppliers and customers, results in low levels of sub-optimization and high levels of profitability.

The transformation of an organization, from one that resembles the win-lose environment of the “prevailing style of management” to one that is Deming-based (such as “win-win”), has been shown repeatedly to require systemic change.7,8,9,10 Vital to this transformation is the better thinking of individuals in these organizations about systems, variation, knowledge and psychology. In such an environment of enlightened thinking, the introduction of new tools and techniques becomes much easier; since this atmosphere offers freedom for employees to experiment, innovate, integrate and learn. In his 1993 text, The New Economics, Dr. Deming offered this perspective:

“The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside.”

Without the ability to “see the forest through the trees,” organizations that have been weakened by the “prevailing style of management” are unlikely to be unaware that problems exist or that opportunities for investment are overlooked.

A Deming-based transformation is often a challenging road for organizations to travel, with ample opportunities for the organization to become detoured or even reverse course and chart a path back to the “prevailing system of management.” Organizations that have embraced Dr. Deming’s transformation have become models for successful change in many areas. These are the most likely organizations to adopt TRIZ and maintain application momentum. This offers a vast investment opportunity for many TRIZ practitioners.

Figure 1: Production Viewed as a System
(as introduced by Dr. Deming to Japanese engineersand managers in the summer of 1950)

TRIZ Use: Solution Proposal

Guidance from a System of Profound Knowledge

The proposed solution to the TRIZ use problem follows directly from Dr. Deming’s management philosophy as detailed in The New Economics. Chapter 4 states:

“The aim of this chapter is to provide an outside view – a lens – that I call a system of profound knowledge. The system of profound knowledge provides a lens. It provides a map of theory by which to understand the organizations that we work in.”

More specifically, Dr. Deming’s concept of a “system of profound knowledge” offers TRIZ practitioners a framework where they can better understand the organizational dynamics that hinder or promote the implementation of TRIZ solutions. The elements of Dr. Deming’s system of profound knowledge consist of the four parts below including their interrelationships.

  • Appreciation for a system
  • Knowledge about variation
  • Theory of knowledge
  • Psychology

Awareness of systemic behaviors and interrelationships among people or elements of an automobile is crucial to the concept of profound knowledge. Including the realization that variation exists in the performance and content of all systems and sub-system elements. Dr. Deming’s concept of profound knowledge integrates these fundamentals with the explicit assumption that “management is prediction” and “predictions are based on theories.”

The authors propose that the introduction of TRIZ solutions (concepts for new systems, new processes or new products) will be more successful in an environment that has been studied through the “lens” of profound knowledge than one where such efforts are not considered. Lacking an appreciation of Dr. Deming’s system of profound knowledge, an individual may unwittingly introduce new ideas into organizations that routinely act to slow their implementation and eventually abandon and/or reject them.

The authors have guided implementations of a wide variety of new methods in large, moderate and small organizations including the following:

Aided by this experience, the authors have learned that the more an organization is guided by profound knowledge, the more the organization will choose applications of these techniques that are based on its vision and values and principles. In keeping with Dr. Deming’s management philosophy, the influences of the business situation, customers, suppliers, employees and society on the acceptance of these new ideas will also be considered.

Water Logic and Rock Logic

There are several underlying causes of an under-use of TRIZ methodology as well as the narrow focus of TRIZ applications. The guidance of better thinking about systems, variation, psychology and knowledge and their inter-relationships is proposed as essential to expanding the use of TRIZ.

First, consider the simple question: “What is this part of?” Embedded in this question is an explicit reference to a connection. The systemic thought is revealed by the concept “part of,” as opposed to “part.” Without the “of” one could only inquire about the “part” as in the question: “What is this part?” Given this inquiry, the connections would be lost when returning to a worldview of “fragmented pieces.”

From where?-> This part -> Lead to?

The “from-this-to” sequence evokes questions such as:

  • “What is this part of?”
  • “Where did this come from?”
  • “What will this lead to?”

Each one represents the understanding of relationships and inter-connections. The thinking revealed by these questions has been termed “water logic” by noted thinking consultant and author, Dr. Edward de Bono.11 By contrast, references to events, parts and pieces are termed “rock logic.”

To view the world with rock logic is to view it in the form of an exploded view diagram; parts floating in space without any apparent connections. Rock logic also leads to disconnected, mechanistic perspectives such as:

  • Black/white
  • Good/bad
  • Us/them

Compare this with water logic and its holistic, continuous perspectives such as:

  • Continuous shades of gray
  • Continuous improvement
  • One company

To view the world with water logic is to view it without seeing parts as in the environmental sentiment of the “circle of life.” Such a view reveals the world to be a pattern of relationships.

It does not follow that water logic is better than rock logic. Rather, they are different as well as complementary. “Better thinking” is needed to recognize the difference between these perspectives as well to understand their relative strengths and weaknesses. One should recognize the need for a decision and use the appropriate logic in the appropriate situation.

Theory of Inventive Problem Solving practitioners should note that there is complete harmony between the water logic viewpoint of Edward de Bono and the founder of TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller’s understanding of a system. The Su-field modeling language includes a system that consists of at least two objects and the field that links them or two objects and the action that links them, coupled with the environment in which they operate, uses more general modeling language.

Investment Thinking

Next, consider two age-old adages: “A stitch in time saves nine” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” What these two adages have in common is an awareness of connections – a sense of water logic. Notice that the pro-action, the addition of “a stitch” and the application of “an ounce,” are far cheaper than the nine stitches or the pound of cure. To act in this manner with a consciousness of connections, is to practice the economics of “investment thinking.”12 To pick up nails to prevent a flat tire is to “minimize loss to society” and be reminded of Dr. Taguchi’s concept of quality.13

The general attributes of investment thinking are an allocation of resources (time, money, energy, etc.) to prevent a greater expenditure of resources or to cause a greater gain in resources. Both scenarios are heavily dependent on water logic. Subject to a distorted view of these connections, as in the rock logic view of activities, many investment decisions would be delayed, if not overlooked entirely. Take, for example, the classical dictum, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” a decision guideline easily attributed to the “prevailing style of management.” This dictum is a natural extension of a rock logic contrast of a given situation. It is a “good”- “broken” set of positions with nothing in between. To not act until “it” breaks is to overlook a potentially valuable application of a “stitch in time” or “a preventive ounce.” To wait until “it” is broken is to miss this investment opportunity and pay the expense of a potentially costlier intervention.

A greater degree of appreciation of rock logic and water logic (as they relate to investment thinking) is needed to improve decision making related to TRIZ implementation in many organizations. That is, better thinking about management decisions related to the allocation of corporate resources such as money, time, people or energy. The challenge is to acknowledge the limitations of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and entertain TRIZ applications that are guided by better investment thinking.

Better Thinking

In regards to water logic, a theory on the role of better thinking about systems, variation, knowledge and psychology is offered. This theory is presented, step-by-step, in Figure 2 as a non-linear model. As proposed, educational programs and mentoring activities that cultivate better thinking (they increase awareness on better thinking) will provoke a challenge to the belief systems rooted within the “prevailing system of management.” These actions will “change the way we behave” in these systems, where “we” is a reference to all members included in the stated system. Subsequently, these members will “change the way we work together,” as when information, ideas or products are delivered in a condition that a member would deliver to themselves. In turn, “we” will then “change the way we run the organizations” (to treat others as we would treat ourselves is to change the operation of the organization). Such behaviorswill have a reinforcing effect on “increasing awareness on thinking” leading to higher and higher levels of system consciousness and “working together.”

Figure 2:Awareness of Better Thinking Translates into a Change in Organizational Behaviors14

Individual Solutions

The solutions to the resistance to TRIZ implementation that have been discussed here deal with organizations. Many of the successes of TRIZ, however, have been at the level of individuals who learn TRIZ well enough to apply it to their own problems and become convinced that TRIZ will work for them on the problems that they encounter in their own environment. Individuals who work in organizations governed by “the prevailing style of management” may be successful using TRIZ in their own areas without waiting for the company to adopt the use of TRIZ as a general policy. Ian Mitchell of Ilford Film presented an excellent set of examples at an European TRIZ Association (ETRIA) meeting showing how he is applied TRIZ to the maintenance of complex equipment and used his experience to organize a community TRIZ discussion group for individual TRIZ advocates from ten other companies.15

This could be considered another example of using TRIZ thinking to solve the problems of TRIZ implementation. Figure 3 shows the application of the system operator (9 windows) to this problem.

The System Operator for the Problem of Resistance to TRIZ Use
Sub-systemIndividual learning TRIZIndividual using TRIZ on technical and business projects
SystemLocal department under-using / resisting TRIZ useLead individual helps others use TRIZ when they are ready
Super-systemHistory of use of other toolsOrganization under-using / resisting TRIZ useOrganization-wide use of TRIZ in Deming-based organization

The individual who is interested in TRIZ can use the future/sub-system or future/system solutions even if the future/super-system solution is out of reach.16


The authors’ experience with the pattern of introduction, acceptance, use and eventual decline in the use of quality control and quality improvement systems over the last two decades suggest significant parallels between the current status of TRIZ implementation and the experiences of TQM advocates since 1980. Given these similarities, it is likely that many of the obstacles to broader TRIZ implementation are not unique to TRIZ and the general lessons learned by TQM advocates may be of broader use.

In exchange for the invaluable TRIZ implementation guidance that is gained by an increased awareness of profound knowledge, the TRIZ community has much to offer the Deming community. Whereas Dr. Deming’s philosophy invites solutions that offer “win-win” prospects for the stakeholders in the affected system, his methods do not offer specific guidance on how to generate exact solutions that possess these attributes. By comparison, this is a function that TRIZ performs well.


  1. Proceedings of the Consortium for Creative Engineering. Stevens Institute of Technology. November 9, 2001.
  2. Ellen Domb, Proceedings of the Altshuller Institute, TRIZCON, March 1999.
  3. Ellen Domb, Proceedings of the Altshuller Institute, TRIZCON, April 2000.
  4. Ellen Domb, Proceedings of the Altshuller Institute, TRIZCON, April 2001.
  5. W. E. Deming, The New Economics, The Center for Advanced Engineering Study (CAES) at MIT, 1993.
  6. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis, The Center for Advanced Engineering Study (CAES) at MIT, 1986.
  7. N. Mann, The Keys to Excellence, Prestwick Books, 1986.
  8. W. Scherkenback, Deming’s Road to Continual Improvement, published by SPC Press, 1991.
  9. H. Neave, The Deming Dimension, SPC Press, 1993.
  10. K. Delavigne and D. Robertson, Deming’s Profound Changes: When Will the Sleeping Giant Awaken? Published by Prentice-Hall, 1994.
  11. E. De Bono, Water Logic, Viking Press, London, 1993.
  12. W. Bellows, Revisiting Deming’s Management Theories in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Water Logic, Rock Logic and Investment Thinking, Journal of Management History, 2002.
  13. G. Taguchi, Introduction to Quality Engineering, Asian Press Organization, 1983.
  14. W. Bellows, Losses to Society and Opportunities for Companies, the NASA Training Workshop on Non-deterministic Approaches and Their Potential for Future Aerospace Systems, NASA-Langley Research Center, May 2001.
  15. I. Mitchell, Proceedings of the European TRIZ Association, November 2001.
  16. D. Mann, Tutorial on the Systems Operator (9 windows), TheTRIZ Journal, September, November andDecember 2001, and January 2002.
Note: This paper was originally presented at The Altshuller Institute’s TRIZCON2002.