TRIZ Papers
Dialectical Systems Thinking for Problem Solving and Decision Making
   Phan Dung (CSTC, Vietnam National Univ. - Hochiminh City)
    7th Intern'l Conf. on Thinking,  June 1-6, 1997, Singapore

Short preface by the Editor (T. Nakagawa) (Jul. 8, 1999):

       This paper was posted here on the request of the author as the copyright holder.
       See the TRIZ Forum page on the author's activities in Vietnam and communications with the Editor.
       A basic program of Creativity Methodologies (i.e. 60 hour course on TRIZ) taught by the author in Vietnam is also posted here.



A Paper for


Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre

June 1-6, 1997

Hosted by National Institute of Education

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore



Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Science, Director of the Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity, College of Natural Sciences, Vietnam National University - HoChiMinh City

227 Nguyen Van Cu St., Dist. 5., HoChiMinh City, Vietnam.

Tel: (848) 8 301 743.

Fax: (848) 8 354 009.


Phan Dung
ABSTRACT : One of the definitions of human life is as follows : "Life is a chain of problems to be solved and decisions to be made".

Problems can occur to any person at any time and in any place. Unfortunately, our present educational and training system mainly prepares specialists. As a result of that, these specialists having such narrow thinking may successfully solve their specialized problems but may not know how to solve other problems. Life will be happy if all problems in general can be solved well. In the opposite case life will be "the sea of torments".

The author of this paper argues that the kind of thinking we need for problem solving and decision making in any case should rely on the most generalized knowledge, isomorphic, similar or analogical properties and conclusions that are applicable to all or almost all areas of practice. In other words, this paper presents the kind of thinking based on dialectical laws, the results of systems research and some important concepts derived from different sciences such as informatics, cybernetics... This kind of thinking has been realized in TRIZ (Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) and has recently extended its applications to other non-engineering fields. Having been working for nearly 25 years in the field of creativity and innovation, the author believes that such a kind of thinking will make a significant contribution to developing productive and effective thinking tools for all people. In this paper, the author also shares some of his experience in teaching this kind of thinking at the Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity (CSTC) belonging to Vietnam National University - HoChiMinh City.


There are three areas: nature, society and thinking that should be understood and transformed by mankind in order to meet its needs during its history of evolution and development. Unfortunately, among them, thinking had received the least attention until recently. This situation has caused a great number of tragedies at personal, group, national, and even global levels.

Our present educational and training system mainly prepares specialists. As a result of that, these specialists having such a narrow thinking may successfully solve their specialized problems but may not know how to think to solve other problems. Life will be happy if problems in general can be solved well. Using a problem approach, this paper will consider some points associated with how to improve thinking for everyone.

A brief personal view of thinking and related issues will be presented in the second part of this paper. The third part will outline main ideas of TRIZ (Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving - TIPS) which can be named as inventive creativity based on the laws of dialectics and systems development. The author will share some of his experience in teaching creativity methodologies in Vietnam for last 20 years as well as the results achieved so far. A few conclusions and visions will be given in the last part of the paper.


  1. Usually, human activities originate from his (her) needs. Besides individual needs, there also exist the needs of a whole group or community or society.
  2. In search of ways how to meet their needs, people encounter problems. A problem is a situation where a solver knows the aim (in the widest meaning) but a) does not know any way to reach it, or b) does not know the optimum way to reach it among several known ways to reach it (i.e. decision making process).



    Problems can occur anywhere, at any time and to anybody. They can be classified very differently depending on chosen criteria.

  4. Many studies have shown that our brains work really actively when we have problems to solve or/and decisions to make. The thought process leading the solver from not knowing to a)knowing the way to reach his/her aim or b)knowing the optimum way to reach his/her aim among several known ways we call creative thinking. Because there are both newness: from "not knowing" to "knowing" and usefulness: at last the desired aim is reached (at least, creative for the given solver).
  5. In our opinion, a problem can be considered as successfully solved only when its solution has been accepted stably and fully by the system "practice" (complete innovation), i.e. when all acceptors (or nearly all ones), potentially needing to use the given solution in reality have used it as usual. In other words, what we need is not creativity for the sake of creativity but for the sake of the problem being solved successfully in practice, that is, for the sake of "complete innovation". Only in such case we can have a genuine development in reality.
  6. Many studies have shown that the most popular method for problem solving is the trial and error method, that is, problems have been solved by reviewing widely differing variants and most of them failed. See Fig.1.
  7. The trial and error method is quite suited to problems having a small number of possible trials. However, for problems having a great number of possible trials but at the same time among them only one or several are solutions, this method shows many disadvantages.

  8. There are two kinds of problems faced by mankind during its history of evolution and development: to cognize and to transform the reality (in the widest meaning). Because of its complication people could not cognize and transform the whole reality at once, only one time they had to divide the reality into different specialized fields based on common properties or/and functions inherent in each field in order to solve problems easier. Another reason for specialization is socio-economic one. Society needs such solvers which should be prepared rapidly and economically in order to get benefits as soon as possible. Thus, the process of specialization began and became stronger and deeper, and it has contributed to explanation why our educational and training system mainly prepares specialists, see Fig.2.

  10. Specialization and preparing specialists had many advantages if the following assumptions would be valid for ever:
  1. The reality can be divided into different fields objectively.
  2. Divided fields do not change with a time
  3. Connections and interactions between divided fields can be neglected
  4. The whole can be considered as an arithmetical sum of components. Then, a specialist can easily and confidently work in the given field all his/her life.
  1. The contemporary challenges faced by us such as fast change, increasing complexity, diversity and competition, on the one hand, have shown that the above assumptions have losed their force. On the other hand, these chalenges have leaded to an increasing amount of problems (including totally new kinds of problems).



    In order to meet partly these challenges, the educational and training system began preparing generalists having some knowledge of several fields who may coordinate with specialists and thus, compensate for specialization's disadvantages in solving cross-disciplinary problems, see Fig.3.


  3. According to the American philosopher R.B.Perry, a specialist can be defined as a person who knows more and more with a time about lesser and lesser and at last he/she will become knowing almost all things about nothing. On the contrary, a generalist is defined as a person who knows less and less with a time about greater and greater and at last he/she will become knowing nothing about all things, seeFig.4.


    So, in our opinion if the educational and training system continues preparing specialists and generalists in traditional way, like before and now, then we cannot cope with future problems because of the old set of paradigms.

  5. In fact, the reality is in unity and interactions between its components and changes quantitatively and qualitatively with a time. First of all, thinking, on the one hand, should obey the inherent universal attributes and development laws of the reality. On the other hand, thinking should put forward ideas for further cognizing and transforming the reality which are based on these universal attributes and laws, taking into account specific points of concrete problems, see Fig.5.


  7. If accepting that where both newness and usefulness exist at the same time, there exists creativity, then creativity and innovation are associated with development and vice versa. Creativity and innovation can happen at the place where subjective psychology of human being is absent. For example, the evolution and development of biological systems had been creativity and innovation but human psychology did not take part in this process then.
  8. Luckily, in comparison with our ancestors, now we have a very great amount of information about many kinds of evolution and development in biology, society, cosmology, scientific and technological knowledge and so forth. If before, this information to great extent has been processed fragmentarily in accordance with specialized fields, then now, we should reprocess the whole information about the reality from angles of development. In a such way, because of unity of the reality we can reveal the most generalized laws of development or at least, isomorphic, similar or analogical laws of development which can serve as an directing mechanism in creative thinking (thinking for problem solving and decision making). Thanks to this mechanism the solver can eliminate a considerable number of barren trials not coinciding with the laws of development, see Fig.6.

In the ideal case, if directing mechanism can be built very exactly the solver can use only one trial leading to the solution, see Fig.7. The essence of the issue is that only those people who grasp these objective laws of development and manage the psychology along them can achieve a high efficiency in creativity and innovation
Below we will present briefly main ideas of TRIZ ((Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving - TIPS) which has been built on the basis of dialectics as philosophy of development and laws of systems development. III. TRIZ (TIPS)

TRIZ was created by Genrik Saulovich Altshuller in the Soviet Union (now CIS), starting in 1946. The following figure illustrates the sources, on which TRIZ has been constructed.

Dialectics, in our view, is the science of the most common laws of natural, social and mental development. Creativity is associated with a development, so TRIZ has selected dialectical laws as its philosophic foundation. Development from the viewpoint of dialectics, can be understood as follows:

Supposing at first the system was at some level of development where there was unity of opposites. This unity does not exist for ever. Because of a struggle (interaction) between the contrary sides, the initial unity is broken and a contradiction arises. The contradiction is resolved so that the system turns to a new level of development (new unity). In the long run, another contradiction will emerge and will be resolved again so that the system will turn to a newer level of development... and so on without ending. Western readers may be interested to learn that there is some similarity between dialectics and the Taoist philosophy of the Orient.

TRIZ identifies three kinds of contradiction in problem solving process: 1)Administrative, 2)Technical and 3) Physical contradiction. In fact, to solve a problem is to reveal and to resolve these contradictions.

Mankind has to study objects and solve problems that are getting more and more complex. It is necessary to have an approach that permits study not only the components and the dependences, actions and influences between them, but also the qualitative change of the whole in relation to these components. Creativity in general and inventive creativity in particular are very complicated concepts. For that reason the systems approach is consistently used in TRIZ. Another advantage of systems research is to help researchers in revealing isomorphic, analogical properties, conclusions, even laws between systems belonging differing fields.

Although creativity appears in all fields of human activities, inventiveness may be, the only field where patent information (information on inventions) containing creativity information is structured in special patterns, classified for easily searching and stored concentratedly, completely, particularly and truly. These characteristics of patent information facilitate research work in order to reveal the objective development laws of technical systems which produce inventions, in order to build techniques (principles), methods, methodology, theory in inventive creativity.

In reality, TRIZ has been formed on the basis of careful analysis of over 1.5 million patents and fundamental inventions taken from technological fields all over the world, taking the similarities on development between these fields and other fields, (for example biology, scientific and technological knowledge) into account.

TRIZ takes into account present psychology, but from its viewpoint human psychology has concretely historical character and is not unchangeable. Thus, TRIZ also has the purpose of reconstructing the old psychology and creating a new psychology which will work in accordance with systems thinking, directed by objective development laws.

TRIZ structure is shown on fig.9.

The objective laws of development of technical systems serve as the base of TRIZ. At the present eight such laws have been found. In the future the number may increase.

In TRIZ there is a technique called substance-field analysis (vepol analysis in Russian) which helps the solver to differentiate familiar (standard) and unfamiliar (non standard) problems. The standard problem concept has the meaning only for one who learned TRIZ. Then, the solver can use standard rules from information store for solving inventive standard problems. For the time being there is a system of 76 standard rules in TRIZ.

In order to grasp TRIZ the participant in the studying process must solve hundreds of instructional problems, taken from patent information. The solutions to these problems factually become the participant's "capital" which can be used in reality when he (or she) meets analogous problems.

The information store of TRIZ includes a knowledge-base which collects strong scientific effects often found in the field of inventive creativity and for making inventions at higher creativity levels. Presently, TRIZ has selected 50 geometrical, over 100 chemical, over 300 physical and a few biological effects.

The information store of TRIZ also contains the system of techniques helping the solver to overcome technical and physical contradictions. The system involves 40 basic principles and 11 transformers.

If the given problem is not standard (unfamiliar), then the solver should use ARIZ (Algorithm of Inventive Problem Solving). ARIZ is a logical, directed and planned programme composed of many steps which aims at rationally organizing the process of inventive problem solving. ARIZ is an algorithm for human being so ARIZfs steps were built not only on the basis of objective laws of evolution and development of technical systems, but also considering the elements of psychology and imagination. ARIZ is directly supported by the information store of TRIZ

In July 1989 an International TRIZ Association was formed in the former Soviet Union with its President - Mr. G.S. Altshuller, and the Journal of TRIZ was issued in 1990.

At present hundreds of corporations in CIS, former socialist countries, USA, Israel and Finland are actively using TRIZ, and hundreds of thousands of innovations have been created.

TRIZ is continuing to develop and is being applied to other areas, such as engineering value analysis used for improvement of current products and their cost reduction, process improvement, management, economics, research, science, failure prediction, education (especially in educating children to think creatively). Inventing machine systems, created through combining TRIZ and personal computing won the golden medal at the world exhibition EXPO'90 organised by UNIDO. In recent years, there have been some new studies aiming at constructing greater theories based on TRIZ such as the Theory of Development of Technical Systems (Russian acronym TRTS); a General Theory of Strong Thinking (OTSM) and a Theory of Development of Creative Personalities (TRTL).


After I graduated from the Soviet academic and research Institute of Inventive Creativity in 1973, with encouragement of Mr. G.S.Altshuller and the experiences based on my use of creativity methodologies, I had an intention to introduce and disseminate them in Vietnam.

In 1977 the first course on creativity methodologies in the whole Vietnam was conducted by the current author for students from differing departments of HoChiMinh City University. In April 1991, after some courses on creativity methodologies for students and large public audiences had proved to be successful, the administration of HoChiMinh City University permitted me to establish the Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity (CSTC).

By June 1997, we worked with more than 4000 participants (96 courses in all, including the basic and intermediate levels), among them high school and university students, workers, dressmakers, sport trainers, artists, pharmacists, physicians, engineers, lawyers, managers, scientists and so forth from all economic and social sectors. Their ages range from 15 to 72, education level from year 9 to Ph.D.,Professors.

Below I will outline some of our experiences derived from our activities.

  1. There are many financial and other difficulties in Vietnam; everywhere money is needed. It is not easy to hope for funding from the state to perform our activities. We must first rely mainly on our forces, energy and enthusiasm to bravely enter a market. In other words, our Center has been working from the very beginning up to now as a self-supporting enterprise. We think, now the market has accepted us and our creativity methodologies program. Thus, we have been able to balance all our expenses during the process of growth of the Center.
  2. The most important resource for every country is its human resource, and creativity is a human beingfs fundamental resource, so our creativity methodologies program should serve a great number of people. So we have built our program not associated with any deeply specialized knowledge of sciences or technologies for the public at large.
  3. According to a Vietnamese cultural tradition everybody should learn not for money but first of all for becoming a human being, that is, education and training provide students with not only knowledge but also helping them to be good people for their families and society. So our creativity methodologies program is carried out not for the sake of creativity only but we also concentrate our attention on ethic side of a creative personality.
  4. Our creativity methodologies program has the purpose to help participants become using creativity tools in daily works and life. We have been convinced that only appropriate emotion can promote a human being to act in reality. So our program involves also examples, stories, exercises that may inspire such a emotion inside participants.
  5. Our program emphasizes active participation and self-discovery. The participants make full use of self-study materials, instructor presentation, individual and group exercises and case studies. Throughout the program the participants have the opportunity to apply their newly gained knowledge, tools and skills in problem solving and decision making process. Audio and video equipment are used during the program.
  6. Vietnam today has an income of 200 USD per capita. It is important for us to understand that if we want to spread creativity methodologies widely in our country, we should set a cheap fee for the course. Indeed, now the cost of the basic course lasting 60 hours and including textbooks is equivalent to 15 USD per participant. In spite of that we have a great satisfaction because we have such a strong desire to promote a development process in Vietnam.
  7. Participants are very busy and diverse, so we cannot teach them for a long time and in one constant place. So we organize our courses at different times of the day, including evening courses. The Center also offers on-site training courses in and out of HoChiMinh City on request. Practically, we conducted some courses in Hanoi and Cantho.
  8. Creativity methodologies is a new subject in Vietnam. Most people have not known about it, so we should foster its widest dissemination. In this connection, we provide introductory lectures, seminars, addresses on radio and on TV, schools, institutions, hospitals, companies, plants ... (many times free of charge) to describe the advantages of creativity methodologies. In addition to that, dozens newspaper articles, written by correspondents about our creativity methodologies program, our Centerfs activities and successes of past participants helped very much in this aspect.
  9. Because of systems inertia in general and psychological inertia in particular a far new subject like creatology could be too difficultly accepted by people at the command of administration. In our case, creativity methodologies courses had been taught for the first period of time only to creativity lovers. After these courses have proved to be successful, they became compulsory for all students of the given institution. Thus, now, our courses have been integrated in the general program for all graduate students at several colleges of Vietnam National University - HoChiMinh City.
  10. For the present our research is focused not only on improving teaching and training methods, perfecting our creativity methodologies program where we have combined gWesternh, gEasternh creativity methodologies and our culture but on elaborating on some topics to contribute to the development of this discipline in the world. By the way, I would like to say some words more about our program, although we teach at the same time the "Western" methodologies and TRIZ but we have devoted much time to TRIZ because of its very powerful advantages. Of the number of creativity methodologies that I have studied and used in work and daily life I like TRIZ best. But I suppose that to cope with the variety of this world, creativity methodologies need to be varied and it is necessary to let users have the right to select.
  11. At the end of the courses, the general agreement of the participants was that the new discipline is very useful and necessary to all kinds of people. They also proposed that the course should be integrated in the general program of education for the whole country in order to develop the creative potentials of all people. Below there are some of my and their thoughts about TRIZ.
In spite of the obtained results, there are many points we would like to make better, for example : V. CONCLUSIONS AND VISIONS
  1. If before, thinking was considered as the human beingfs natural instrument for problem solving, then now, there are growing needs and orders which require us to cognize and transform it in order to create more effective problem solving methodologies than the trial and error method and its modifications. The emerging discipline - creatology - recognizing that creative thinking can be understood, nurtured, improved and controlled by the use of tools and making a lot of necessary efforts in these directions may be accepted as the greatest but most overdue paradigm shift and revolution of the present century. Creatology will exert great impact on development in the 21st century at large.
  2. We are only at the first stages of the information age but here many questions have arisen, for example, how to find relevant information in the information ocean, how to handle (process) information streams effectively, how to use information to produce new outlooks, concepts, ideas and knowledge needed for scientific and technological revolution. Without craetology we cannot answer such questions.
  3. The contemporary challenges faced by us such as fast change, increasing complexity, diiversity and competition lead to an increasing amount of problems at all levels. If "necessity is the mother of the invention" then there has been good stimulus for developing creatology. And in its turn, creatology with creative problem solving and decision making tools will convert these chalenges into opportunities.
  4. Creativity is the fundamental human resource, like other resources, in order to exploit it much we should invent appropriate, productive and effective tools. "Tools" in creatology are creativity techniques (principles), methods, methodologies... that in their turn will have enormous influence on the whole user's awareness, attitude and responsibility. We can be optimistic with creatology because differing from other resources as ore, coal, oil and so on, creativity increases with utilization - it is endless resource.
  5. There have been many studies on new skills for the future workforce which is the key strategic variable of economic development. Among enumerated skills in these studies we can read : creative thinking. So the education in the broadest meaning we need is creative education which educates all people in creativity - the utmost humaneness. But such creative education in the future, difffering from the old education should arm all people with productive and effective mental tools for successfully solving problems in general, not only in specialized fields, because human beings are not workers only. In other words, such creative education will prepare solvers who can solve successfully any problem they encounter in their lives to satisfy their just needs and thus to satisfy social needs of development. In this connection, from my point of view, TRIZ is one of the best potential candidates for that.
  6. We may dream of the time when will be a movement to eradicate "the illiteracy in mastering and using creativity tools for problem solving" for every person, then, everyone, indeed, will be the real owner of his/her life and innovator making an active contribution to the common social progress. By the way, I remember William Drummond's observation: "He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; he who dares not is a slave" and I want to add "He/she who knows how to think (to solve problem and to make decision) is a free and happy man/woman". Creativity methodologies are often used to improve and perfect external systems, but in fact they can also be used and need to be used by human being to improve and perfect his/her internal world. Thus, the quality of life for people is also enhanced.

For detailed information on the points presented in this paper, please consult the following articles, books and journals:

In English

Phan Dung (1994) Introducing Creativity Methodologies into Vietnam. Creativity and Innovation Management, 4, 240 - 242.

Phan Dung (1995) TRIZ: Inventive Creativity Based on The Laws Of Systems Development. Creativity and Innovation Management, 1, 19 - 30.

Phan Dung (1996) Systems Inertia In Creativity and Innovation. Lecture presented at the fifth European Conference on Creativity and Innovation, Vaals, the Netherlands, April 28 - May 2, 1996

Phan Dung (1996) Creatology: A Science for the 21st Century. Keynote paper presented at the International Symposium and Seminar: "Education: The Foundation for Human Resource and Quality of Life Development", Chiang Mai, Thailand, August 26 - 30, 1996

Phan Dung (1996) The Renewal in Creative Thinking Process for Problem Solving and Decision Making. Keynote paper presented at the sixth National Seminar on Educational Management and Leadership, Genting Highlands, Malaysia December 9 - 12, 1996.

Phan Dung (1996) Creativity Methodologies (the summary of the course) for English speaking participants.

In Russian


Altshuller, G.S. (1969, 1973) Algorithm Izobretenia, Moskovski Rabotri, Moskva.

Seliuski, A.B., Slugin, G.I. (1977) Vdokhnovenie Po Zakazu, Karelia, Petrozavodsk.

Altshuller, G.S. (1979) Tvortrestvo Kak Totrnaia Nauka, Sovietskoe Radio, Moskva (If I am not mistaken, this book was translated into English and published by Publishing House Gordon and Breach in the USA)

Altshuller, G.S. ., Seliuski, A.B. (1980) Krilia Dlia Ikara, Karelia, Petrozavodsk

Jukov, R.F., Petrov, V.M (1980). Sovremennie Metodi Nautrno - Tekhnitreskogo Tvortrestva, Leningrad.

Altshuller, G.S. (1984, 1987) I Tut Poiavilsia Izobretatel, Detskaia Literatura, Moskva

Altshuller, G.S., Zlotin, B.L., Filatov, V.I. (1985) Professia - Poisk Novogo, Kartia Moldoveniaske, Kishiniov.

Altshuller, G.S. (1986, 1991) Naiti Ideii, Sibirskoe Otdelenie 'Nauka', Novosibirsk.

Petrovitr, N.T, Tsurikov, V.M. (1986) Putch K Izobreteniu, Molodaia Gvardia, Moskva.

Ivanov, G.I. (1987)... I Natrinaite Izobretatch, Vostotrnoe - Sibirskoe Knijnoe Izdatelstvo, Irkutsk

Sbornik (collection) (1987) Derzkie Formuli Tvortrestva, Karelia, Petrozavodsk.

Sbornik (collection) (1988) Nitch V Labirinte, Karelia, Petrozavodsk.

Zlotin, B.L., Zusman, A.V. (1988) Mesiats Pod Zvezdami Fantazii, Lumina, Kishiniov.

Sbornik (collection) (1989) Pravila Igri Bez Pravil, Karelia, Petrozavodsk.

Altshuller, G.S., Zlotin, B.L., Zusman, A.V., Filatov, V.I. (1989) Poisk Novikh Idei : Ot Ozarenia K Tekhnologii, Kartia Moldoveniaske, Kishiniov.

Salaamatov, Iu.P. (1990) Kak Statch Izobretatelem, Prosveshenie, Moskva.

Zlotin, B.L., Zusman, A.V. (1990) Izobretatel Prishiol Na Urok, Lamina, Kishiniov.

Sbornik (collection) (1991) Kak Statch Eretikom, Karelia, Petrozavodsk.

Sbornik (collection) (1991) Shans Na Prikliutrenie, Karelia, Petrozavodsk

Zlotin, B.L., Zusman, A.V. (1990) Reshenie Issledovatelskikh Zadatr, Kishiniov.

Vikentiev, I.L., Kaikov, I.K. (1992) Lestnistsa Idei, Novosibirsk.


Rubric 'Technologia I Psikhologia Tvortrestva' in Journal 'Tekhnika I Nauka' from 1979 to 1984

Journal TRIZ from 1990



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