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Titanic TRIZ: A Universal Case Study

By Ellen Domb

When teaching The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) to groups of people from a wide variety of technical and cultural backgrounds, it is important to use a case study that they can all understand. Because of the world-wide popularity of the movie Titanic, the problem of rescuing all the people on board the ship can be used easily with such audiences.1

The Situation

There are frequent opportunities to introduce people to TRIZ in a 3–4 hour workshop, generally a pre-conference tutorial at a convention.2 The participants want to learn actual skills, not just learn about TRIZ. The instructor has to teach a sub-set of the TRIZ concepts and stimulate the participants to get serious TRIZ training at a later time. In a convention setting, however, the participants come from a wide variety of companies, universities and government agencies and have different technical backgrounds. For instance, a case study using a technical electrical engineering example would not be meaningful to the people with chemical or mechanical engineering or software development specialties.

The situation of rescuing the passengers and crew of the ship Titanic was chosen because of the world-wide popularity of the movie.3 The technical situation is well-known to the conference participants and little time is spent defining the basic parameters, as follows:

  • The ship has just hit the iceberg.
  • The engines are still running, but will stop after an unknown period of time.
  • The ship will sink in two hours and the ship’s officers know this.
  • The nearest rescue ship is four hours away.
  • There are enough seats in the lifeboats for 1178 people and there are 2224 on board.
  • In the North Atlantic, a person in the water can live approximately four minutes.

The Tutorial Curriculum

For a three-hour conference presentation, this situation can be used to teach the following:

  1. The ideal final result
  2. The use of available resources
  3. The technical contradiction and the 40 principles

For a four-hour workshop, the instructor can add more detail to each of these or add the physical contradiction to the list of TRIZ tools that the participants sample. The 40 principles and the technical contradiction were chosen because they are easy concepts to teach in a short period of time. References are readily available and the contradiction matrix is a tangible tool that the participants can show others in their organization, to help stimulate the desire to learn “serious” TRIZ.

Figure 1: The Initial Conditions of the Problem

The ideal final result is taught conventionally with the instructor briefly introducing the concept; then leading a discussion.4,5 If there are more than 30 people (the process has been used with ten to 140 people), small group discussions are organized, next each group reports on its conclusions.

The use of resources is taught experientially, for any size group. The TRIZ concept of resources is introduced briefly, by presenting a list with a few examples.

Substance resources

  • Cabins (first class, second class, third class)
  • Kitchen and pantry
  • Engine room, machine shop, cargo hold
  • External environment

Field resources

  • Energy, momentum

Functional resources

  • Buoyancy
  • Insulation

Space resources

  • Surface, volume

Time resources

  • Parallel operations

Teams are created to “search” each of the areas for all the categories of resources and to develop ideas for the use of the resources within the time constraints of the problem. Every group has found unique, interesting and plausible solutions, ranging from the slightly ridiculous:

Take the lard from the kitchen and smear it on your body as insulation and flotation, next use the empty lard container as more flotation.

To the true breakthrough:

Use the kinetic energy of the ship to get back as close as possible to the iceberg, next use the lifeboats to shuttle people from the Titanic to the iceberg.

The victims only have to sit there for two hours until a rescue unit comes and they will be out of the water. The group usually amplifies this idea with lots of other resources such as fur coats, mattresses, ropes to climb with, etc.

In the course of looking for resources, the participants usually develop several technical contradictions, which can then be used to demonstrate the use of the contradiction matrix and the 40 principles.6 If they do not, the instructor should be prepared with a few such as the problem of the lifeboat:

  • We want to increase the number of people in the lifeboat. This increases the weight in the boat.
  • But, the boat has less freeboard (rides lower in the water) and could swamp, killing all on board the boat.

This is a reduction in length of a moving object, in terms of the contradiction matrix.

Figure 2: The Technical Contradiction in the Lifeboat

Note in Figure 2: As you add more people (weight) you get less freeboard (the distance from the gunwale of the boat to the water, shown by the arrow).

This contradiction leads to principles 15, 8, 29 and 34. All can be used to develop plausible solutions using the available resources in the short time that the Titanic’s crew and passengers had available.


Teaching TRIZ in a short time at a pre-conference tutorial is different from teaching TRIZ in a multi-day class. The objective is to teach the participants enough TRIZ that they will be able to use it on a simple situation and will be motivated to learn more. The Titanic case study is useful because it requires little time to explain the situation, it is memorable since it builds on common culture and it impresses the participants since they create the solutions that save all the people, in a short time.


  1. Ellen MacGran developed the Titanic case study as a classroom exercise in Ellen Domb’s Advanced TRIZ class because her company problems were proprietary and could not be discussed with others in the class. That led directly to the development of the conference presentation version of this case.
  2. E. Domb, Tutorial Proceedings of the 11th QFD Symposium, 1999. This tutorial has also been presented at the Council for Continuous Improvement, Detroit, October, 1999, the International Association for Management of Technology, Miami, February, 2000 and the California Council for Quality and Service, San Diego, March, 2000.
  3. The movie Titanic. Both the 1997 version and the 1930’s version.
  4. E. Domb. “Using the Ideal Final Result to Define the Problem to Be Solved” June 1998, The TRIZ Journal.
  5. E. Domb. “The Ideal Final Result: Tutorial” February 1997, The TRIZ Journal.
  6. E. Domb and J. Kowalick. “Contradictions: Air Bag Applications.” July 1997 and D. Mann and E. Domb, “The 40 Inventive (Business) Principles with Examples,” September 1999, The TRIZ Journal.

About the Author:

Ellen Domb is the founder and principal TRIZ consultant of the PQR Group. She is also the founding editor of The TRIZ Journal and a commentator for Real Innovation. Contact Ellen Domb at ellendomb (at) or visit