Liberating Structures – TRIZ

You know the feeling that facilitated sessions have all been done before? Are you desperate for something fresh to solve a problem, engage others in creating something different, or spark creativity and innovation? Well, one of my favourite big ideas might be just the thing. It is, in fact, a collection of smaller ideas, and it’s called Liberating Structures.

Liberating Structures is a series of facilitation, workshop and problem-solving/innovation techniques. It has developed a significant practitioner fanbase, along with an app and a book – and it is a free online resource (

Think Wikipedia for facilitators.

Among the amazing techniques it outlines is TRIZ, which is drawn from a Soviet engineering technique (it translates as ‘theory of inventive problem-solving’). TRIZ helps you solve problems by first creating the least-wanted solution – think of it as the opposite of positivity-based appreciative inquiry.

Creating a nightmare solution to your business problem might sound pointless – but something really clever happens. There’s huge energy in ‘creative destruction’: many problems are hard to solve, so lifting people’s energy by using a technique like this is fun and makes for vibrant discussions. What would the most wasteful journey through a customer service loop look like, for instance?

Second, it brings realization: some of your worst-case scenario already exists, be it poor processes, lame technology solutions or bad attitudes. Confronting these poisonous elements can bring home how badly we are doing and where we can make things better.

Third, TRIZ shows that stopping the rot is the first point of attack. Before falling into vague clichés (“we need to communicate better”) and thinking they are a solution, it is better to tackle systemic (and even minor) fractures that cause major problems. Finally, the TRIZ ‘confessional’ is quite cathartic, and removes the feeling of helplessness.

When people are liberated to think about how bad things are, they can focus more clearly on solutions. Liberating Structures is packed with great ideas – and TRIZ is among the finest.

–– Perry Timms is founder and chief energy officer of PTHR, a consultancy aiming to create better business for a better world. He is a TEDx speaker, top-selling author, and three-time member of HR Magazine’s ‘Most Influential Thinkers’ list