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Organic TRIZ on the Farm

Organic TRIZ on the Farm

| On 06, Dec 1998

John Terninko Responsible Management, Inc.


What Genrich Altshuller did for inventive problem solving, Bill Mollison of Tasmania did for sustainable agriculture. Central to the philosophy and methodology of Mollison’s Permaculture is the concept of using existing resources. Several resources satisfy each need of a community and each resource satisfies several different needs. More complete applications create mini-ecological systems. The created systems are integrated in such a way that harmful effects from one element of the system become benefits for another element of the system.

For example, the chicken is a recognized source for eggs and meat, but can also help with six other homestead needs. In an well-integrated system design, body heat, carbon dioxide and feather dust become resources for increased plant growth in the greenhouse. The chicken is also a source of fertilizer (manure), weed control and insect control for the small group of dwarf fruit trees. The chickens benefit from both the protection and oxygen provided by having the hen house as part of the greenhouse. Being allowed free-range of the orchard provides additional health benefits to the chickens, as well as food and shade.

It should be noted that this approach is not limited to agriculture, but is also used for urban/community design.

The use of resources and effects is central to Altshuller’s concept of ideal design. However, missing from the Permaculture methodology is a systematic method for innovation, as well as the identification of design evolution patterns … and these two elements are the heart and soul of TRIZ. This paper presents an application of TRIZ for an existing Permaculture-designed homestead that recently experienced a weakness in its design. Several Permaculture concepts are included to demonstrate where the methodology offers a mind set similar to that of the TRIZ practitioner. In both methodologies, analogic thinking is the foundation to problem solving.

Key Words

40 Principles, Agriculture, Andes, ARIZ, Bill Mollison, Contradiction, Crop Damage, Effects, Farm, Freezing, Frost, Genrich Altshuller, Ideality, Innovation, Permaculture, Physical Contradiction, Problem Formulation, Resources, Spring Planting, Su-field Analysis, Synergy, Systematic Innovation, Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, Technical Contradiction TIPS, TRIZ, Useful Function, Water.


Twenty years ago, the Permaculture approach was applied to accommodate needs of a family of five. This design for an integrated homestead revolved around the multiple resources provided by sheep. However, the family needs have changed over time, and also, possibly, the weather patterns. The spring of 1998 had unusually warm during March and April. Plant growth was early and healthy.

A rule of thumb for the New Hampshire farmer is to plan for a killing frost as late as June 10th. Some farmers play the odds, winning some years and losing other years. The farmer has some control over the planting of annuals, but light and temperature changes caused by the weather and season trigger trees, bushes and perennials. On April 13, 1998, after the unseasonably warm weather, there was a leaf-killing frost for plants such as asparagus, sun chokes, plums, apples, heart nuts, mulberries and lilacs. These are all plants that normally have no leaves at this time.

The question is: Can TRIZ, Permaculture and the ancient wisdom of the Andes be used to reduce the consequences of a frost in future years? What is needed is a more robust design for the food growing system of our homestead.

By identifying five levels of inventiveness for problem solving, Altshuller instructs us to select the tools of TRIZ in the order of their increasing power. Unfortunately, we have no way of predicting the necessary level of inventiveness required to solve a given problem, for it is only after a problem has been solved that the level can be estimated. If after a problem concept has been found it is discovered that a level one solution was all that was required, then TRIZ was not necessary. Similarly, if clearly defining the problem adequately provides acceptable solution concepts, then no further effort is required.

A set of criteria must be used to decide when to stop searching for additional solution concepts and when more powerful tools must be used to identify additional concepts. In Gasanov, et al., the authors state that:

  • Level 2 solutions can be found by using the 40 technical and the physical separation principles.
  • Level 3 solutions require Su-field modeling and the 76 Standard Solutions.
  • Level 4 solutions require ARIZ.

The sane approach is to progressively use more powerful tools, stopping when pre-selected criteria have been satisfied.

The Integrated House

The following example describes a home that used permaculture design methods to effectively integrate available resources. Several resources and concepts are integrated into this design, which offers nice examples of TRIZ through both Ideality and the utilization of system and super-system resources.

The design utilized the water cycle. The structure, intended for two people, was very modest in size. The living space was orientated with a southern exposure, with the greenhouse located on the southern side of the house and a cooler located on the northern side of the house.

During the winter months, snow from the roof dropped into a small room (the refrigerator) via a trap door. The door was kept open during cold weather and the room filled to its ceiling. In the living quarters, a hole was cut in one wall to provide access to a food storage bin within the large block of snow. The volume of snow was sufficient to cool the food during the warmer months.

The snow room had holes in the floor for the melted snow to drip into a fishpond filling the cellar. The fishpond also extended under the greenhouse, where rope was used to wick water to the soil to maintain an ideal moisture level for the plants. Temperature and sunlight were controlled by the opening and closing of blinds, which were controlled by a freon phase-change (designed before freon was publicly know as a hazard to the ozone layer).

At the back (north side) of the greenhouse, black containers filled with water were used for heat storage. The containers stored heat from the warm daytime temperatures in the greenhouse, and also from both conduction and radiation of heat from a wood stove in the living quarters.

The Integrated Garden

The garden plot used the resources of companion planting for plant enhancement and insect control. Mulch was used for weed and moisture control. The companion planting and mulch together provided satisfactory results except for two insect infestations and this year’s damaging spring frost.

The Problem for TRIZ

Trees (not TRIZ) and plants are damaged by below freezing weather after the leaf buds have opened. The primary useful function for the garden is rapid and productive plant growth. The primary harmful function is the death of new growth. The traditional way of preventing frost damage is to irrigate with a fine water spray over the plant and trees. The thin layer of ice that forms provides insulation to the leaves when they need it most. However, the TRIZ team was concerned with a small homestead and not a commercial venture. On the homestead labor intensive concepts may be acceptable, though the ideal design should require no effort!

Available resources

Substance resources

earth, surface water, ground water, stones, ledge, barn, trees, mulch, manure, green mulch, stove wood, boards, rocks, air, wind, sun, bees, grass, propane, gasoline, water pumps cutting tools. (Concept: move water into canals between plants.) (Concept: redirect moving water before it enters the pond.)

Field resources

gravity, magnetic field, thermal field (daily).

(Concept: trap the day heat on plant or other storage.)

Functional resources

plants are heated from the earth, water and compost. (Concept: increase the output … fresh manure is 140 degrees in the middle of the pile.)

Informational resources

dew point, sunrise time, sunset time, wind velocity, wind direction.

Time resources

warm day and cool night, rate of temperature change.

Space resources

acres of land, atmosphere, elevation barn. (Concept: drain off the cold, block the heat rise.)

Analogic Thoughts

Author’s note: I continue to be amazed by the generation of concepts simply by listing the different resources.

Put on a winter coat (cover everything).

Have a hot air barrier.

Develop new plant varieties that are frost-hardy. (Developing later leafing plant varieties are not practical because of the short growing season.)

Problem Modeling

  • A model created by linking events can be used to establish an exhaustive set of problem statements. The identified links fall into four categories: provides a desired event,
  • hinders a desired event,
  • causes an undesired event,
  • eliminates, reduces or prevents an undesired event.

For example, Sun downcauses Lower air temperature. This is an undesirable effect, which is indicated by the shaded box. The irregular line indicates the causal relationship.

Each node will yield at least two problem statements. These problem statements are generated by an understanding of the opportunities for improvements that are present in the relationship between any two events.

Six problem statements are associated with the node Lower air temperature. The problem statements and concepts stimulated by the problem statement are:

  1. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Increase in ground temperature), that eliminates, reduces or prevents [the] (Lower air temperature), and does not require [the] (Sun up). This way should not be influenced by [the] (Decrease in ground temperature).
  2. Concept: place a sheet of plastic over trees and have a light bulb a little higher than the bottom of the plastic.

  3. Find a way to do without [the] (Increase in ground temperature) for elimination, reduction or prevention of [the] (Lower air temperature).

From this second problem statement are generated the following: Concept: smoke pots, warm water canals, drain cold air to a lower elevation, move warm air from lower pond, divert moving water from above the pond to plant area.

One location is next to a small river that flows year round. During the spring, there is plenty of water for developing a canal system such as those several hundred years ago in the Andes Mountains of South America. One Andean system has parallel canals less than a meter wide and three or four meters apart. The rising cloud caused by the low dew point creates a huge surface area releasing sufficient energy to keep the air near the plants above freezing. This also provides a super-effect of lengthening the growing season. This system would work well in New Hampshire in the spring, but would be risky in the fall because the water flow was unreliable.

  1. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Sun down), that does not cause [the] (Lower air temperature).

Concept: retractable insulation.

  1. Find a way to increase the effectiveness of eliminating [the] (Lower air temperature) by using [the] (Increase in ground temperature).

Concept: raise the ground temperature higher by adding heat sinks trapping day sunlight. Place fresh manure between the trunk and the drip line. Water poured on the pile will stimulate decomposition and heat transfer.

  1. Find an alternative way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Lower air temperature).

Concept: greenhouse.

Masamobu Fukaoka, the author of One Straw Revolution, offered the ultimate solution: Move to a warmer climate. Actually, the answer was like a Zen master would offer when he said, “The first mistake of mankind was to wear clothes.” Moving is always a possibility, but frost damage is a periodic problem as far south as Florida.

  1. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Decrease in ground temperature), under the condition of [the] (Lower air temperature).

Concept: insulate.

Having generated a number of broad concepts, the engineering and feasibility of each concept must be considered. For instance, if water canals are used, the rate of flow and surface area must be determined for different slopes and areas.

There are 32 problem statements generated by all the functions in Figure 1. The complete list is given at the end of the paper. Ideation International’s IWB software was used to generate this list. The concepts generated by looking at these problem statements fell into three major areas:

  • out of our scope (increasing the length of a day)
  • immediate solutions (cover the plants)
  • long-range solutions (increasing storage capacity by using phase changes or building canals or genetic engineering to increase the plant’s resistance to frost).

The concept of using solar reflectors came from the problem statement:

Find a way to enhance [the] (Sun up).

Any and all combinations of the generated (and yet-to-be generated) concepts offer possible solutions. Some concepts are already used in agriculture, but some are new to the field. Note that we have already seen some interesting solution concepts, but we have yet to start formal TRIZ analysis. However, most, if not all, of these concepts would have no effect on fruit and nut trees.

The concepts generated thus far would simply be considered Level 1 solutions or good engineering. These types of solutions represent 32% of the world patent fund in 1974.

Gasanov et al. would suggestion that we next consider looking at the contradictions contained in the problem. The 40 Principles and separation principles used to deal with these contradictions would yield concepts that use Level 2 inventiveness.

In our example, to use the previous concepts for solving the problem with the trees would lead to the physical contradiction that the trees must be short (close to mist, insulation, radiated heat etc. for warmth) and tall (old enough to bear fruit). Separation in space suggests that the tree is tall from the ground but short from the heat source. The same physical contradiction could be related to the fact that a small tree is easy to cover but a large tree bears fruit.

(Concept: use dwarf trees.)

Separation in time suggests that small trees be planted in a large greenhouse. Of course, this presents secondary problems, such as the need for bees for apple tree pollination.

One answer to the size contradiction of the trees would be the use of cloches. A cloche is a light-permeable container used to cover plants. The cloche allows growth while it prevents freezing). However, there is also a large/small contradiction associated with this solution. The small is ease to handle, but the large is necessary to cover a tree. The related technical contradiction is: If the cloche covers the tree, then it is difficult to remove.

None of the separation principles applied to the problem helped in finding a solution.

Moving forward to look for a Level 3 solution, we begin to apply Su-field analysis and the 76 Standard Solutions. A form of 76 standard solutions exists within Invention Machine’s software. While looking at examples for Structural Change by Redistribution in Space, we found an example of ice crystals peeling potatoes. Analogic thinking kicked in and we envisioned a fine mesh cloth being easily draped over the tree, and then some device like a snow-making machine being used to form an insulating shell around the tree. Several problems exist:

  • if it is cold enough to form snow the leaves would already be damaged
  • the covering could be very heavy
  • if it becomes a heat barrier, it would melt.

This quickly led to the idea of spraying plastic instead of snow. But now removal again becomes a problem. Also, it is best if the cloche has no contact with the tree.

A Su-field model of our system shows the cold air as S2 and the air against the leaves as S1 with the thermal field Fth (cold). The effect is undesirable.

image90.jpg (5470 bytes)

Figure 2

One of the Standard Solutions is to place a substance S3 between S1 and S2. The relatively free resource of pond water as a spray is a possibility. This same Standard Solution can be used to reduce dehydration by coating the leaves with a material that allows for O2 and CO2 exchange, but not the movement of water.

As can be seen by this process, the decision-maker quickly has more options and option combinations than they care to consider. The use of AHP is an excellent means of ranking the concepts and combinations. AHP is the preferred method of ranking subjective alternatives. In AHP, the criteria’s importance are always subjective unless the criteria are measurable and of the same unit of measure.

The measure for Ideality can be used to provide the criteria necessary for applying AHP to rank the options. An example of this is: Reduced risk of frost damage (RR) is a benefit, installation effort (IE) is a cost and damage to the environment (DE) is a harm. The three components can be used as the criteria for the paired comparisons that AHP uses to produce the ratio data necessary for calculating products and ratios.

The first step is to rank the criteria. An approximation to the eigen vectors is used. The cells in the intersection between rows and columns are used to indicate how much more or less the row is preferred when compared to the column.




















A nine-point scale is used in AHP. In the above table, RR is 5 times as important as IE. Therefore, IE is 1/5 as important as RR. (See Saaty’s books for more information.)

























The columns are normalized as decimals. The columns would all be identical if the rankings were consistent. However, the real world is not consistent. There is a test for consistency which is an aid to deciding if the inconsistency is acceptable.

Alternative concepts are ranked for each criterion. The criteria are all measurable and available from an organization like the US Department of Agriculture. Using this example, AHP could be used to rank concepts for any of the subjective criteria.

For demonstration purposes only, two concepts that could be implemented immediately are shown: a sprinkler system (SS) and use of the water from a stream to feed canals (WC) in the garden. The weighted average across each criterion for each concept becomes the basis for ranking the concepts.


















The first row shows the preference of each option for the criteria Reduced Risk. The water in the canal is considered four times as effective as the sprinkler. This is converted to the decimal equivalent.

The weighted average is the sum of the products of the importance of each criterion times the preference for each criterion.




















The sprinkler system is the best immediate solution, with a score of .55 compared to .45 for the water canal system. Several of the other concepts will be used in future planning, but these solutions require the more extensive work of felling trees, new planting and construction of a larger pond. Also, study into the characteristics of a natural microclimate and how to enhance this resource is scheduled.

The Ideality equation used to perform AHP is conceptually similar to engineering’s signal-to-noise ratio. Taguchi’s Robust Design uses a signal-to-noise ratio to select the system parameters, which result in system performance that is insensitive to uncontrolled sources of variation. Taguchi’s signal-to-noise ration has useful energy in the numerator and wasted energy in the denominator. Also reflected in the denominator is system variance about the desired target. This metric is an important consideration during the transition from creating solution concepts using TRIZ to actually engineering these solutions for the real world, since in the real world there are uncontrolled sources of variation.

For this paper, some of the immediately identified uncontrolled sources of variation are:

  • plant sensitivity to frost
  • time duration of below freezing temperatures
  • degrees below freezing
  • heat sink quality of soil.

Bear in mind for future study that two TRIZ concepts that appear to be equally feasible can be very different when comparison includes quality of performance metrics such as performance variation. Also within the scope of this discussion, remember that minimizing crop damage is ongoing project. Therefore, additional concepts may be created by the time of the oral presentation.

Weakness in Application of Ideal Design

To understand the current evolution of a product design it is recommended that the TRIZ practitioner look at the super-system, system and sub-system. This investigation should also look at the past present and future of each of these systems. Only by

looking in all directions can the likelihood of an unintentional consequence be minimized.

Problem solvers and specialists can become so focused that they loose sight of the larger picture. Cities and the nation have become concerned with air pollution. Automobiles have been identified as a major contributor to air pollution. MBTE has been added to gasoline to improve combustion and reduce air pollution. Most organizations were very happy with the results.

After two years of use governmental units are banning the use because only two parts per million are sufficient to make water undrinkable because of smell and taste, not to mention carcinogenic effects.

MBTE is extremely water-soluble. Many wells and ground water have already been contaminated by storage tank leaks and gasoline spills.

The author was so intent with solving the frost problem that water pollution from the moving water flowing through the manure fertilized plants and not been considered initially.

The Ideality equation needs to include the complete life cycle of a product and it’s constituants parts. The impact of the manufacturing process must be considered as well as recycling and chemicals leaching into the air, water and life in general.This is a significant challenge for all design professionals and society. Greater profits are possible by thinking GREEN.

A petroleum-based electric generating facility was violating pollution requirements because of selenium. Cattails are known for their ability to filter water. Ponds were built and the selenium level in the cattails became high. Cotton growers need selenium to enhance cotton growth. The cattails by grinding and selling to cotton farmers became a small profit center. This is a fine example of use of resources from Permaculture and the problem formulation generic statement of finding a way to benefit from a harmful event.


Though several interesting concepts were created using the TRIZ methodology, the concept most appropriate for a short-term solution is the traditional sprinkling of plants to reduce frost damage. Other concepts will require extensive modification to the existing system and will be implemented in the future.


As expected, the TRIZ methodology does provide breakthrough thinking for agricultural applications. However, TRIZ is only one aspect of a design process. During the interaction with subject matter experts, identification of sources of variation should be requested. These sources of variation should then be included in the problem formulation process. By considering the super-system and longer time horizon negative environmental impacts can be reduced.


The Altshuller Institute is having its first TRIZ Conference March 7-9 in Novi, Michigan. For information visit the web page or contact us via e-mail

We are looking for TRIZ solutions and concepts to agricultural and plant growth problems to publish on our web page. This web page will be public domain for use by anyone in the world to enhance plant growth and agriculture.

Since, many concepts are created using the TRIZ methodology and have not been confirmed it is important to identify which concepts have been validated and which are still concepts. This is important for some individual in a crisis looking for a solution but finding a concept.

Clearly state the problem, concept, its actual performance and impact upon the environment. We have not yet created a formal structure for submitting contributions to this public domain page for plants and agriculture.

Complete list of problem statements

  1. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Increase in ground temperature), that eliminates, reduces or prevents [the] (Lower air temperature), and does not require [the] (Sun up). This way should not be influenced by [the] (Decrease in ground temperature).
  2. Find a way to enhance [the] (Increase in ground temperature).
  3. Find a way to protect [the] (Increase in ground temperature) from the harmful influence of [the] (Decrease in ground temperature).
  4. Find a way to do without [the] (Increase in ground temperature) for elimination, reduction or prevention of [the] (Lower air temperature).
  5. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Sun up), that provides or enhances [the] (Increase in ground temperature).
  6. Find a way to enhance [the] (Sun up).
  7. Find a way to do without [the] (Sun up) for obtaining [the] (Increase in ground temperature).
  8. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Sun down), that does not cause [the] (Lower air temperature).
  9. Find a way to enhance [the] (Sun down).
  10. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Cold front).
  11. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Early spring), that provides or enhances [the] (Buds open early).
  12. Find a way to enhance [the] (Early spring).
  13. Find a way to do without [the] (Early spring) for obtaining [the] (Buds open early).
  14. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Buds open early), that provides or enhances [the] (Longer growing season), but does not cause [the] (Frozen leaves), and does not require [the] (Early spring).
  15. Find a way to enhance [the] (Buds open early).
  16. Find a way to resolve the contradiction: [the] (Buds open early) should exist to obtain [the] (Longer growing season), and should not exist in order to avoid [the] (Frozen leaves).
  17. Find a way to do without [the] (Buds open early) for obtaining [the] (Longer growing season).
  18. Find a way to increase the effectiveness of eliminating [the] (Lower air temperature) by using [the] (Increase in ground temperature).
  19. Find an alternative way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Lower air temperature).
  20. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Air currents), that eliminates, reduces or prevents [the] (Frozen leaves).
  21. Find a way to enhance [the] (Air currents).
  22. Find a way to do without [the] (Air currents) for elimination, reduction or prevention of [the] (Frozen leaves).
  23. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Dead Leaves), under the condition of [the] (Frozen leaves).
  24. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Longer growing season), that provides or enhances [the] (Higher crop yield), and does not require [the] (Buds open early).
  25. Find a way to enhance [the] (Longer growing season).
  26. Find a way to do without [the] (Longer growing season) for obtaining [the] (Higher crop yield).
  27. Find an alternative way to obtain [the] (Higher crop yield), that does not require [the] (Longer growing season), under condition of [the] (Frozen leaves).
  28. Find a way to enhance [the] (Higher crop yield).
  29. Find a way to protect [the] (Higher crop yield) from the harmful influence of [the] (Frozen leaves).
  30. Find a way to increase the effectiveness of eliminating [the] (Frozen leaves) by using [the] (Air currents).
  31. Find an alternative way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Frozen leaves).
  32. Find a way to eliminate, reduce or prevent [the] (Decrease in ground temperature), under the condition of [the] (Lower air temperature).


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Dr. John Terninko

John has consulted and taught QFD and Taguchi philosophy to North American, Central American and European corporations for 14 years. He has been teaching and consulting in the TRIZ methodology for the three years, and has received the 1985 Taguchi Award for promotion and application. John has integrated his diverse experience (in electrical engineering, operations research, organizational development, teaching, and management consultation) to develop an approach to design and management that makes full use of the synergy between QFD, TRIZ and Taguchi’s Robust Design. John is a principal with Responsible Management, Inc., a cofounder and director of the QFD Institute, a cofounder and director of the QFD Network, and a cofounder and director of the Altshuller Institute for TRIZ Studies.