Genrikh Altshuller grew up in the remarkable city of Baku, Azerbaijan, in the former USSR. Baku was a cultural ecotone where European, Islamic and Asian cultures met. It is probably significant that TRIZ, which encompasses both Eastern and Western thought modalities, originated within such a diverse east-west climate. At age fourteen, Altshuller was awarded his first Soviet patent for an underwater breathing device.
Over one dozen patented inventions - and one engineering degree - later, Altshuller found himself working as a consultant in the Caspian Sea Naval Patent Office. Part of Altshuller's job was to organize the patents and assist inventors in filling out all the pertinent innovation details. He searched for a simple, scientific way of classifying inventions by their degree of inventiveness. After correlating thousands of patents he discovered that there were only five distinct levels of inventiveness, and several of these did not represent actual "inventions" but merely alterations or extensions of already existing ones.
Altshuller's analysis revealed that all technical systems evolve along natural and predictable patters, or lines of evolution. In addition, it soon became evident that all industries utilized the same underlying innovative principles; therefore, these principles could be generalized for universal application and innovation could be learned. It could be taught.
Altshuller, along with dozens of coinvestigators, continued developing and teaching TRIZ throughout his life, eventually applying it to non-technical fields. Even when Stalin rewarded Altshuller with imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp, Altshuller continued his work. He formed a "University for One" where persecuted intellectuals, authors, and college professors taught him their subjects of expertise. He amassed an unprecedented knowledge base while motivating his teachers to survive the camp hardships. After Stalin's death, Altshuller was released. Unable to openly teach TRIZ, he began writing science fiction.