In 1949, Genrich Altshuller, an idealistic Soviet naval patent inspector, sent a paper he had co-authored to the Soviet premier. In it, he outlined a method of product innovation that he believed would help the Soviet Union rebuild after the twin disasters of Stalin’s first “Pogrom” and World War II. Stalin thanked the aspiring naval officer by sentencing him to 25 years in an Arctic labor camp.
Altshuller and his Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, or TRIZ (pronounced “trees”) as it’s more commonly known by its Russian acronym, could easily have perished in the gulag. But he kept himself and many of his companions alive by partaking nightly of an intellectual feast, learning everything from art history to physics from his fellow prisoners.