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Using Analogies to Develop Breakthrough Concepts

By Ellen Domb

Both the classical and software-based TRIZ methods rely heavily on the use of analogy as a teaching method and as a problem solving method. Typically, the TRIZ practioner decides what problem to solve and then redefines the problem by any of the following methods:

  • ARIZ
  • Individual tools of ARIZ such as zones of conflict and s-field analysis
  • Other tools of problem analysis quality improvement, theory of contraints, etc.

The pratitioner then selects specific tools that will solve the re-defined problem. The 40 Principles of Problem Solving are the oldest TRIZ tools and exemplify the use of analogies. The principle is selected, usually by means of the contradiction matrix. Regardless of the resource (books, software, class notes, etc.), the method remains the same:

  1. Read the principle. Some solutions will be obvious immediately.
  2. Read the examples. Examples for each principle (in books and software packages) come from a wide variety of sciences, such as mechanical engineering, agriculture, materials processing, etc.
  3. Use the examples to gain understanding of the principle and create a solution to your problem.

This method works for about 70 percent of TRIZ students, mostly technical professionals in engineering and manufacturing, as well as a significant minority of people who are applying TRIZ to solve non-technical problems. But the remaining 30 percent of studentshavedifficulty between steps 2 and 3; that is, they do not make the connection between the examples of the principle and their own problem, so they don’t get any benefit from the principle or the examples.

This method helps the remaining 30 percent of students. Surprisingly, people in the 70 percentgroup report that they get additional insights from taking the time to analyze the analogies in this manner as well. The outline of the method is as follows:

  • Perform functional analysis or Su-Field analysis to identify the object acted on, the object doing the action (the tool, in Su-Field language) and the force or energy or field by which the force is transmitted. Do this for your problem, and for the example.
  • Identify the system elements in your problem and in the example. You will need to do this twice for the example once for the initial situation, and once for the improved situation. The elements of the system are:
  • Object
  • Tool
  • Energy transmission
  • Transmission means for the energy (Altshuller referred to this as the “limbs” of the system)
  • Guidance and control of the tool
  • Identify what changed in the example between the initial situation and the improved situation.
  • Apply this finding to your problem change the same element as the one that changed in the example.

Example: An analysis worksheet for any problem where the example is the substitution of a pneumatic device for a human-powered mechanical device. Use of this worksheet will focus your attention on changing the energy source (A slug of metal still hits the nail, but it gets its power from a new source.) reminds the student that some changes in the transmission mechanism and the guidance and control might be needed if the energy source changes. The worksheet has been completed for the example of a bicycle, which is not powerful enough to carry heavy loads uphill.


Example, start

Example, improved

My problem, start

My problem, improved








Pneumatic hammer


Modified bicycle

Energy source


Pneumatic device



Energy transmission

Hand and arm

Pneumatic device, positioned by hand and arm



Guidance and control

Eyes, brain, muscle

Eyes, brain, muscle



The table suggestschanging the energy source and possibly the energy interaction. Possible energy sources include small gasoline or propane motors, flywheel systems that store energy during the downhill motion, etc.

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