American Journal of Industrial and Business Management, 2013, 3, 725-739
Published Online December 2013 (
Open Access AJIBM
Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation: A
Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some
Findings in China
Runhua Tan
National Technological Innovation Methods and Tools Engineering Research Center, Hebei University of Technology, Tianjin,
Received November 6th, 2013; revised December 4th, 2013; accepted December 10th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Runhua Tan. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. In accordance of
the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copy rights © 2013 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property
Runhua Tan. All Copyright © 2013 are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
To transfer knowledg e to compan ies by training engineers is directly related to iden tifying opportunities of innovation.
This paper introduces the knowledge system of four levels and an interactive training model for innovative engineers.
Training outputs of two classes as cases are analyzed in order to find some factors to affect the training activities. Seven
stimuli to identify opportunities of innovation , which are implied in the knowledge system and the training process, are
concluded from many face-to-face discussions with the engineers joining our classes. The application of the stimuli is
also described, which should be app lied in the future training process to improve the possibility to id en tify opportun ities
of innovation for innovative engineers.
Keywords: Training Innovative Engineers; Knowledge System; Interactive Training Model; Seven Stimuli
1. Introduction
Innovation, the implementation of new ideas is viewed
by researchers as the key to both su stain ing a competitive
advantage [1] and the lifeblood or the best hope for their
future growth for companies [2]. In China, the innovation
capability to both leading domestic companies [3] and
other companies [4] is also a key factor for their survival
in facing the competition in the market. But most inno va-
tions result from a conscious, purposeful search for op-
portunities—within the co mpany and the industry as well
as in the larger social and intellectual environment [5].
Understanding the opportunities and their identification
represents one of the core intellectual questions for crea-
tivity and innovation management [6-8].
Training or external learning for companies is directly
related to identifying opportunities of innovation. Boze-
man [9] shows that training as a kind of external learning
is becoming more widely recognized for improvement of
human resources of companies. Bauernschuster et al. [10]
argue that if innovation is the weapon, education or, es-
pecially, training is the ammunition that renders it use-
ful and effective. Bao et al. [11] find that external learn-
ing increases the opportunities of innovation for Chinese
companies, which includes technical and administrative
learning, learning technical knowledge or learning ad-
ministrative knowledge.
In 2008, China government made a training plan to
transfer the knowledge of creativity and innov ation to the
companies nationwide in order to increase their innova-
tion capabilities. Our center was selected as one of the
major institutions for the training pro gram. We h ave car-
ried out several classes to train the engineers from com-
panies in the past years. The training activities are going
on now.
One of objectives of the training program is to train
many engineers for various industries and make them
become innovative. But there is no definition for an in-
novative engineer in Ch ina. In the literatu re [12], invent-
tors are classified into five categories related to the in-
novation process, namely entrepreneurs with technology,
industry-specific inventors, professional inventors,
grantsmen, and inveterate inventors. We define that an
Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China
innovative engin eer is an industry-specific inventor, who
has specific technical improvements for product designs
or processes in their workplaces. The improvements in-
clude ideations and inventions. The engineers to join the
calsses should generate new ideas and push the ideas into
inventions. The companies may form development teams
to transform the inventions into innovations. As a result,
the training becomes an activity to increase innovation
capability of the companies.
In the past five years, we have carried out 20 classes.
More than 150 companies from manufacturing, energy,
materials, food and other industries in different regions
of China joined the program. More than 500 engineers
did follow the process and have been certificated to in-
novative engineers. Most of them have applied patents
and some have developed new products which are being
sold in markets now. A number of innovations of differ-
ent types are emerging as a result of our training program.
Many discussions face to face with the engineers in
our classes show that to identify opportunities for inno-
vation is the most important step to follow the training
classes for engineers. But we should analyze what stimu-
lates them to identify an opportunity. This paper first
presents the practice of our training process for classes.
Then we make analysis for two training cases and try to
locate some factors to affect training. Third, we present
the seven stimuli for engineers to identify opportunities
of innovation, which are the main findings from our
training practices. Last, a new model of the stimuli ap-
plication is outlined.
2. Literature Review
2.1. How to Identify Opportunities for
There are many studies related to the opportunity identi-
fication for innovation. Drucker [6] gives out seven key
areas looking for innovation opportunities, and he argues
that most innovative business ideas come from methodic
analysis of these seven areas. Detienne and Chandle [8]
indicate four ways in which opportunities are identified:
active search, passive search, fortuitous discovery, and
creation of opportunities. Koen et al. [13] show that for-
mal or informal processes may be utilized for opportu-
nity identification . Toubia [14] recommends four sources
of opportunities: observational research, blue ocean
strategy [15], disruptive technology [16] and lead users.
The view of David [17] is that various tools and methods
help to identify existing opportunities: lateral thinking;
metaphoric thinking; positive thinking; association trig-
ger; capturing and interpreting dreams. Robert [18] finds
that pattern recognition is used for opportunity identify-
cation. Gregoire [19] explores that variations in the su-
perficial and structural similarities characterized new
technology-market combinations systematically influ-
ence the formation of opportunities. The studies show
that there is some ways or processes for identifying op-
portunities of innovation, but the research in this area is
going on.
2.2. Training and Identifying Opportunities
The research studies in the literatures [20,21] establish a
positive linkage between training and innovation in
companies. Vichet [22] reveals that majority of the
training participants perceive that training contributed
moderately, highly, or very highly to the company’s in-
novation. Frazis et al. [23] analyze the data obtained
from US companies and find that companies with more
innovative workplace practices have a tendency to offer
more training. Steven [24] finds that team training accel-
erates the pace of change in GE. Christian and Uschi [25]
examine some companies in German speaking countries
and find that high quality, curriculum-based training at
the workplace is positively associated with general inno-
vation, product innovation, process innovation, and pat-
ent applications, which makes the companies more inno-
vative. Izyani [26] investigates some knowledge-based
companies in Malaysia and shows that training activities
positively influence innovation of them. Shohreh et al.
[27] confirm that there is a statistically significant rela-
tionship between participation in training courses and
numbers of innovations in food firms in rural Iran. Anja
and Igor [28] show that in-house learning is not sufficient
for generating innovation and that companies need to
supplement internal knowledg e with knowledge acquired
outside the companies. Yannis et al. [29] support that
both internal capabilities and openness towards knowl-
edge sharing among companies are important for up-
grading innovative performance.
All the studies show that training is positively relative
to the innovations in companies by new or external
knowledge which implies opportunities for innovations.
To identify the opportunities is a start-up of innovations.
2.3. The Knowledge to Be Transferred by
Many companies have organized the training programs to
uplift creative capabilities of their engineers [30]. In
these programs creativity techniques are the knowledge
to be transferred to the companies. There existed many
creativity techniques [31,32], which are divided into two
types, intuitive and logical [33]. TRIZ, theory of invent-
tive problem solving, is one of them, which is developed
by Altshuller [34] in former USSR. Several countries,
including China, have established National TRIZ Asso-
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Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China 727
ciation, the main motivation in which is transfer TRIZ to
companies. TRIZ possesses considerable advantages
over other techniques in identifying problems and offer-
ing direct solutions to them with confidence [35].
TRIZ has been transferred to many companies in the
world through training classes in the past years. Kamal et
al. [36] study the impact of TRIZ training on creativity
and innovation of engineers in companies, and indicate
that participation in TRIZ training led to short-term im-
provements in both the creative problem solving skills
and motivation to innov ate, and these are associated with
longer term improvements in their idea suggestion in the
workplace. Nakagawa [37] shows the experiences train-
ing engineers successfully to solve real unsolved prob-
lems using TRIZ in Japan. In the practice, he integrates
the TRIZ into Unified Structured Inventive Thinking
(USIT) [38] in order to make the TRIZ simpler. Jun and
Shin [39] state that TRIZ is used as an innovation tool
more aggressively in SAMSUNG than any other com-
pany in the world and the training has been carried out in
this company for years. Through a survey, Imoh et al.
[40] conclude that the application of TRIZ leads to more
effective inventive teamwork, faster ideation, foreseeing
how technical systems and technologies develop, but
there are some challenges associated with TRIZ, and
understanding TRIZ an “inordinate time requirement”.
Integrating TRIZ with other techniques, methods, and
processes shows a trend for the easy application in the
literatures. Axiomatic design (AD) is applied as a com-
plementarily of TRIZ to find contradictions [41,42].
Stratton and Mann [43] show that TOC may be used to-
gether with TRIZ to find and solve contradictions. Cas-
cini et al. [44] integrate TRIZ and optimization tools to
form a systematic design. Tan et al. [45] apply TRIZ to
the Pahl and Beitz’s model [46] to form a new concept
process model. Sun and Tan [47] connect the TRIZ with
disruptive innovation process [16] to forecast. The inte-
gration may make up for some deficiencies of TRIZ,
such as finding a problem.
Training as an external learning process has a positive
linkage with the innovation in companies. But the litera-
tures show that its process should be carefully designed
for engineers of companies to overcome the difficulties
in the study. The following factor s must be considered in
our training program in order to gain better results.
1) Select appropriate engineers from the companies to
join the classes.
2) Design a knowledge system to be transferred to the
companies, in which TRIZ is the core.
3) Design a training process to help the engineers to
overcome the difficulties in the study.
4) Try to find stimuli for opportunity identification of
innovation in order to improve the quality for training
program nationwide.
3. Practice to Train Engineers into
Innovative Ones in China
The objects for engineers to join our training classes are
as follows:
1) Learn the new knowledge related to creativity, in-
vention and innovations.
2) Identify new or unsolved problems in their work-
3) Generate new ideas from solving the problems in
order to improve designs, processes, or develop new
products that are new in the companies or in the markets.
4) Transform the new ideas into inventions whose vi-
abilities are proofed.
5) Push the team members to put the inventions into
innovations in their co mpanies.
As Figure 1 shows the activities during, before and
after a training class. The engineers to join a class from
different companies or one company should be selected
at first place. Then there will be the training activities:
lecturing, identifying problems, discussing, generating
ideas and making inventions. The last step is the activity
after training in which the inventions may be transformed
into innovations.
3.1. Selection of the Engineers to Join the Classes
The engineers to join the classes should identify new
problems or unsolved problems in their workplaces,
where the engineers work. There are diverse workplaces
for engineers who work at different stages of the innova-
tion in a company.
Figure 2 shows an entire innovation process in a
manufacturing company typically in China. The process
is divided into three stages: fuzzy front end (FFE), new
product development (NPD), and commercialization [48].
The fuzzy front end is considered as the first stage of the
innovation process and cov ers the sub-processes include-
ing from the opportunity identification, opportunity
analysis, idea generation, idea selection, and concept
definition [48]. The outputs of FFE are the ideas evalu-
ated and as the input of NPD. In the NPD stage, the ideas
from FFE are transformed into products. There are two
sub-processes in NPD, design and manufacturing. In the
design process there are four sub-processes, namely de-
sign specification, conceptual design, embodiment design,
and detailed design [46]. In the manufacturing process,
the first is to design the process and then actual manu-
facturing. The commercialization is the last stage, in
which the products are put into markets. The environ-
ments for fuzzy front end, new product development,
ommercialization and the sub-processes are the work- c
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Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China
Open Access AJIBM
Team members in company I
New knowledge
Knowledge New or unsolved
New ideas
Inventions Innovations
Training activities Activities after training
Engineers in a class
Engineers selected
Activities before training
Figure 1. Activities during, before and after training.
Generati o
Specification Manufacturing Commercialization
Process Design
Fuzzy Front end New Product Development Commercialization
Workplace for design engineers
Workplace for entrepreneurs / chief engineer/ R&D engineers
Workplace for
Process engineers
Figure 2. An innovation process and workplaces for engineers in a manufacturing company.
3.2. The Knowledge System for Traini ng
places, where the engineers are supposed to find new or
unsolved problems. Training is a process to transfer external knowledge into
companies. The knowledge to be transferred with the
knowledge existed in companies will inspire the engi-
neers to generate new ideas in workplaces [56]. A key
attribute of a new idea is novelty, which is the first
statement of something not previously known or demon-
strated. That a selected idea is embodied in a tangible yet
provisional form–a proof of its viability is an invention
worth a key attribute of feasibility [57]. That inventions
will be further refined and reach some final form with
commercial intent, such as a functional device or service,
are innovations with the key attribute of utility, in addi-
tion to the novelty and feasibility. Transferring external
knowledge into companies, as a result of training, is an
object of our training classes.
Figure 2 also shows that the engineers at different
stages have corresponding responsibilities. The job for
design engineers is to make design specification, con-
ceptual design, embodiment design and detailed design.
The process engineer will design the process for manu-
facturing, control the quality, test for the products, etc.
Chief engineer/R & D engineers may generate new ideas
in fuzzy front end and solve difficult problems in design,
manufacturing or marketing. The entrepreneurs may pay
more attention to all the activities happen in the innova-
tion process. Ideation [49,50] in fuzzy front end, con-
ceptual design [51,52] and embodiment design [2,53],
process design [54,55] in NPD are key activities in the
innovation process. The engineers related to these active-
ties which are the core for innovation processes should
be selected to join our classes. In practice, there are in-
deed some entrepreneurs working in middle or small
companies joining our classes. So we should also con-
sider their needs for the classes.
Figure 3 shows the knowledge system for training,
which will be transferred to the companies. This system
is divided into two parts, the knowledge of four levels
and application cases. The four levels are basic concepts,
basic methods, systematic methods and computer-aided
innovation (CAI). The first level knowledge is about the
definitions, such as creation, invention and innovation,
well structured and ill structured problems [58,59], rou-
ine and inventive problems [60], process of innovation
The companies to join the classes should also be se-
lected. They must have strong demands for innovation
and will assist the engineers to join the classes for the
whole training process. t
Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China 729
Systematic methods:
Method for incremental innovation, method for
radical innovation, Method for disruptive
Basic concepts:
Definition of creation, invention and innovation,
Process of innovation, Problems and solutions,
Routine and inventive
roblems, etc..
Basic methods:
Methods in TRIZ (contr adiction solving, standard
solution, effect, technical evolution, etc.),
Creativit y enhanced techn iques, Funct ion analys is
and conceptual design, etc.
Compute r-aided innovation (CAI):
Coputer aided innovation process and methods,
Introduction of CAI tools in the world,
Fuzzy front end:
Opportunity identification,
Process design:
Development for new
Improvement for existing
Embodiment design:
Development for new
Improvement for existing
Conceptual design:
Development for new working
Improvement for existing
working pri nc i ple.
Knowledge levels
Application Cases
Figure 3. Knowledge system for transfer in the training process.
[61,62], etc. The second level is the basic methods, such
as the methods in TRIZ [63,64]: contradiction solving,
standard solution, effect, technical evolution, and some
other creativity techniques. Th e third level is the system-
atic methods, such as a method for incremental innova-
tion, radical innovation [65], disruptive innovation
[47,66,67], patent round innovation [68], analogy-based
design [69], etc. The fourth level is about the com-
puter-aided innovation, including CAI tools and applica-
tion process [45,70,71]. In the training process we pre-
sent many cases which show the applications of the
knowledge step by step in different level as the applica-
tion cases. It is a significant training activity that the en-
gineers imitate the processes in those cases.
3.3. A Training Process Model
New or external knowledge should be transferred into a
company which is integrated with th e knowled ge existed
in the company in order to support th e process of innov a-
tion. The knowledge system in Figure 3 is new to Chi-
nese companies and should be transferred into them.
These knowledge must also be integrated with the
knowledge existed in these Chinese companies. The
training process should be designed to satisfy the need
for knowledge transfer and integration.
TRIZ is the core in the knowledge system in Figure 3.
The training processes for TRIZ in companies have been
studied for years. Rantanen and Domb [72] have devel-
oped a flowchart or a model for TRIZ training in a com-
pany. Jun and Shin [39] have also developed a flow chart
for training TRIZ in Samsung. These flowcharts show
that the TRIZ experts outside the organization should
carry out a TRIZ pilot project to show that it is powerful
for innovation in a company. This process is no t suitable
for the situations faced in China. We have no time to
carry out a pilot project for every company to test TRIZ
because the local governments push many companies to
join a training class at the same time. Before the begin-
ning of the training, most of the companies do not know
what TRIZ is. A new model for this situation is needed in
We put forward an interactive model for training in-
novative engineers, as in Figure 4. There are four main
parts, an innovation process, a training process, an inter-
face between the two parts, and the companies to join the
program. The innovation process includes fuzzy front
end, new product development and commercialization.
The training process are seven steps which are selecting
companies, selecting engineers, training stage-1, finding
problems, training stage-2, finding solutions and sum-
ming up. in the middle of the two parts is an interface,
which includes oppo rtunities and so lutions fo r innovatio n,
also the contained problems. The companies selected to
join the class may be one or more. A class lasts 6 to 15
months accordingly.
Step 1: Selecting companies
The companies to join th e class are selected. Some in-
stitution of a local government, or an organizer, is re-
ponsible for the organization and selection of the com- s
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Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
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Governments, Training institutions, Mass-companies
ew product development
Fuzzy front end
- Up
Problems Training
Stage-2 Finding
Opportunities Problems Solutions
Figure 4. An interactive training model for innovative engineers in China.
panies to join the class for a region. For example, the
Productivity Promotion Center of Guangdong (PPCG),
which is an institution supported by Guangdong Science
and Technology Department in Guangdong province,
was responsible for the selection of the 19 companies
from the province to join the first training class held from
August of 2010 to March of 2011 .
Step 2: Selecting engineers
The companies selected make recommendation for a
list of engineers to join the class and the organizer of a
class is responsible for the final selectio n of the engineers.
We make suggestions that the engineers with bachelor
degrees should have almost ten years work experiences
and with master or doctor degree may be unrestricted.
Step 3: Training stage-1
Our teacher team gives lessons to the engineers. In this
stage, the major knowledge is the lev el one and two, that
are basic concepts, basic methods. The most methods in
TRIZ, such as contradiction solving, standard solution,
effects and technological evolution etc will be taught.
Many cases applying these methods are also demon-
strated. The knowledg e transferred in this stage will pro-
vide a background to identify opportunities, problems
and solving them for engineers.
Step 4: Finding a probl em
Every engineer join ing the class must fin d an inv entiv e
problem from the innovation process or the workplace of
the companies for innovative activities. The problems are
implied in opportunities found. An engineer needs to
understand the theories or methods in depth and to con-
nect them to the situations of workplaces and identify an
opportunity and a problem implied.
Step 5: Training stage-2
Again, our teacher team gives lessons to the engineers
for the level three and four knowledge, which are sys-
tematic methods and CAI. The major methods in this
stage are extended methods of TRIZ. Such as anticipa-
tory failure determination (AFD) [73] is a methods to be
trained, which is an app lication of I-TRIZ to risk an alysis
and prediction developed by Ideation International Inc in
USA. Some cases applying these methods are also dem-
onstrated. The knowledge transferred in this stage will
provide a background to solving problems for engineers.
Step 6: Solving problem
In this phase, every engineer must develop at least one
accessible technical solution for the problem in a few
months, at the same time they should work. At the be-
ginning, the solutions are ideas. After that ideas should
be transformed into inventions, which may be a new de-
sign prototype, new process in the form of a patent ap-
plication, or a new concept accepted by the company.
Step 7: Summing up
Summing Up is the last phase, in which the final oral
examination is made and engineers will present their
results with slides. Members of a committee specific in
charge of the examination make discussions with them.
An evaluation is made and a certificate is presented to
some qualified engineers who are innovative.
Finding a problem or an obstacle in the innovation
process in step 4 is a key activity to follow the training
process for an engineer. If he or she does find a problem
the knowledge system studied in step 3 and 5 are very
useful for them to so lving it and to get the solutions. Th e
solutions are returned to th e innovation process, in which
the obstacle is eliminated. If an engineer cannot find a
problem he or she will be sifted out in the middle of the
training proces s.
In the past five years, we have carried out 20 classes
for more than 150 companies nationwide. More than 500
engineers did follow our training process shown in Fig-
ure 4 and have been certificated as innovative engineers.
Most of the engineers who finished the processes did
have applied patents and some of them have been devel-
oped to new products which are being sold in markets
now. Several innovations in companies are introduced as
a result of our training program.
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Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China 731
4. Analysis of the Training Outcomes
Every engineer who finishes the training process does
have one or more inventions. Some of the inventions
have been developed to innovations in companies. The
first step in the process for an engineer is to identify an
opportunity for innovation. More than half of the engi-
neers joining the classes do pass successfully the step.
The major factors for them to identify opportunities
should be studied for the future training activities.
4.1. Case 1: GD-1
GD-1 was the first training class organized by Guang-
dong Science and Tech nology Depa rtment in Guan gdong
province from August of 2010 to March of 2011, which
is the organization of local government for the develop-
ment of sciences and technologies. Our center carried out
the training process.
75 engineers were selected from 19 companies in
Guangdong province, including BYD, BROAD-OCEAN
and GAC et al. 52 passed the final examination. 30 of
them were certificated as Innovative Engineers Level 2,
while the others were Level 1. 23 engineers did not fol-
low the training process and dropped out in the middle.
All the 52 engineers found out 52 inventive problems
from the innovation processes of 17 different companies
and solved them at last. As a result, 52 inventions were
formed, in which 36 had patent applications, which were
22 patents for inventions and 14 patents for utility mod-
els. They have been sent to SIPO (State Intellectual
Property Office of the PRC) and all application numbers
have been got the end of the class. Problems in different
stages and the methods to solve them for this class are
shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5(a) is the relationship between the numbers of
the problems and innovation stages or sub-processes. The
most problems, which are 18, are found from manufac-
turing. The least problems, which are 4, are in fuzzy front
end. The problems from design process are total 30, in
which the problems to the conceptual design, embodi-
ment design and detailed design are 10, 15, and 5 respec-
tively. Figure 5(b) shows the relationship between the
numbers of the problems and the methods to solve them.
The method for solving contradictions is mostly used by
42 engineers. Standard solutions and trimming are used 3
times respectively. Four methods, ideal final result, re-
sources, AFD (anticipate possible failures) and technol-
ogy evolution (evolution lines), are applied once.
Most companies to join the class are belonging to
manufacturing industry. The problems found by engi-
neers are mainly in manufacturing, embodiment design
and conceptual design. The major methods to solve these
problems are contradiction solving, trimming and stan-
dard solution of TRIZ. Figure 5 shows that to find con-
tradictions in manufacturing processes, embodiment de-
sign or conceptual design process, is certainly an oppor-
tunity of innovation for engineers.
4.2. Case 2: LF-1
LF-1 was the first training class organized from July of
2012 to January of 2013 by Hebei Science and Technol-
ogy Department in Langfang, a city between Beijing and
Tianjin. Our center carried out the training pr oce ss.
41 engineers were selected from 17 companies in
Langfang to join the class. 22 passed the final examina-
tion and certificated as Innovative Engineers. 19 engi-
neers did not follow the training process and dropped out
in the middle. All the 22 engineers found 22 inventive
problems from the innovation processes of different
companies and solved them at last.
Figure 6 shows the results. 10 problems are found
from conceptual design process in Figure 6(a), while the
only 1 occurs in detailed design process. The problem
numbers from design processes are 17. This also illus-
trates that there are the most opportunities for innov ation
from designs processes. Figure 6(b) presents that the
methods for solving contradictions are also mostly used
by 10 engineers. S-field analyses and standard solutions
are used 6 times. Ideal final result and trimming are ap-
plied twice.
The companies in this class are from different field,
such as geology. Most problems are found in conceptual
and embodiment design. The contradiction solving and
standard solutions are still the major methods to solve
problems. To find problems in design stages is also an
opportunity of innovatio n for engineers.
4.3. Major Factors for Successful Training
The training activities for trainers mainly include giving
lectures, discussions of all possible opportunities and
problems, making suggestions and debating, etc. Discus-
sions can be carried out in classrooms, in workplaces, by
e-mail, on telephones, and by text massages etc. From
several years training activities we summarize that 4 fac-
tors are major for successful training, which are the ex-
periences in workplace for engineers, the knowledge
system to be transferred, the pressure and responsibility
for engineers, the stimuli for identifying opportunities of
Factor 1: The experiences in workplace for engi-
Figures 5(a) and 6(a) show that the inventive prob-
lems are directly related innovation stages or sub-proc-
esses. The experience in workplaces is the first factor for
ngineers to identify an opportunity and find the prob- e
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Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
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(a)Number and stage relation
Fuzzy front
(b) Method and number relation
Ideal final
Figure 5. Relations between problems and stages or methods from GD-1.
(a) Number and stage relation
Fuzzy front
(b) Method and number relation
Ideal final
Figure 6. Case2: analysis of inventions from LF-1.
Factor 4: Stimuli for identifying opportunities of
lems. Several years work in one or similar workplaces
make the engineers to understand the situation in depth.
They know that there are certainly some problems be-
cause of chaotic situation . They estimate that something
should be changed.
How to define a problem from a chaotic situation of a
workplace is the most important step to follow our
classes. Why do the engineers not define a problem for
a long time in the workplaces? For many discussions
with engineers face to face we find that the stimuli for
opportunity identification are an important factor. The
stimuli are contained in the knowledge system that is
transferred to the engineers in our training. Such as, Fig-
ures 5(b) and 6(b) show that engineers frequently apply
the method of contradiction solving. They try to find a
contradiction which is an inventive problem in workplace.
So to find a contradiction is a stimulus for identifying
opportunity of innovation. We need to identify other
stimuli for the future application in the training classes.
Factor 2: the knowledge system to be transferred to
the engineers
Why have some changes not happened for a long time?
One reason is that the engineers lack the suitable knowl-
edge to push the change to happen. So the knowledge
system to be transferred to the engineers by training
should be carefully design ed in th e creativity and innova-
tion domain. We select TRIZ as the core knowledge and
others as periphery one. The core and periphery knowl-
edge need to be integrated and developed carefully in
order to be accepted easily by the engineers.
Factor 3: the pressure and responsibility for engi-
neers 5. Seven Stimuli for Identifying
The engineers to join our classes are selected as excel-
lent ones from companies. They all have pressure and
responsibility to follow the train ing pro cess. The pressure
makes the engineers in tension states. They must concen-
trate all the vigor on study and research activities during
the training process. The responsibility makes the engi-
neers consider seriously what kind of problems should be
found and solved for innovation of the companies.
The engineers selected to join our classes do have in-
depth experience and long-term focus in product or
process designs in different workplaces, which are the
playground for creativity and innovation in the domain.
But stimuli are also needed for them to identify opportu-
nities for innovation. The knowledge system shown in
Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China 733
Figure 3 and the training process in Figure 4 imply
some stimuli. We find that there are seven sti muli, which
excite the engineers to identify opportunities of innova-
tion in our classes.
Stimuli 1: Be close to an Ideal System
Any system, whether it is a technology, product or
process, is in evolution to the direction of ideality. One
way to define ideality is the ideal system, which occupies
no space, has no weight, requires no labor or mainte-
nance, etc. The ideal system delivers benefit without
harm and solves its own problems. The current state of
any system is not an ideal system, but it is final state for
the system evolution. So an innovative engineer’s job is
to push a system to b e close to the ideal system at least a
little step. The step will result in an innovative solution
for a product or a process. Making an imaginary ideal
system and considering how to be close to the system for
an innovative eng ineer is opportunities for innovation.
Case 1: A new switching power supply
Golden Field Industrial, Located in Dongguan,
Guangzhou, China, is a company producing computer
gadgets and accessories - PC case, switching power
supply, multimedia speakers, mouse and keyboard, etc.
Four engineers in this company joined the first training
class conducted in Guangzhou from August, 2010 to
March, 2011. One of the engineers has gotten a patent for
a new switching power supply which reduces the power
loss to zero in the standby mode for computer gadgets.
The new supply will help computers to save energy
which is meaningful for industries, offices, families. The
opportunity for this new technology is stimulated by
Stimuli 1.
In the standby mode for a computer the power loss is
from 0.4 W to 6 W. This is a huge energy loss for the
whole China or the world. The opportunity for a
producer of computer peripherals is to develop an energy
saving supply, which is a small step to the d irection of an
ideal system. Being stimulated the engineer does develop
a new supply to reduce the loss to zero.
Stimuli 2: Use unexpected resources
A resource is anything in and around a system that is
not being used to its maximum potential. Substances,
fields, functions, information, time and space are all pos-
sible resources. Some resources are explicit but others
are tacit. One of the key concepts in TRIZ is that the
strongest solutions transform the unwanted or even
harmful elements in a system into useful resources. The
suitable application of any resource might lead to dis-
covery of an opportunity for innov ation.
Engineers working in a company for several years may
be familiar with the surroundings and all the resources
but they are not used to applying some resources in in-
novation process especially tacit once. When they stud-
ied the different viewpoints for resources and some ap-
plication cases, some resources are unexpected treasure
and may stimulate some opportunities for them.
Case 2: Fresh keeping wolfberries
Qinghaiqing, a company located in Qinghai province,
China, produces wolfberry and buckthorn based products.
Three engineers in this company joined the first training
class conducted in Xining, Qinghai, from January, 2011
to May, 2012. One of the engineers has gotten a patent
for a fresh keeping technology for wolfberries and also a
new product for the company. The people outside Qing-
hai, such as Shanghai or Beijing, can taste the fresh
wolfberry produced in Qinghai in the near future. The
wolfberries are traditionally dried, packed and trans-
ported to different places to be sold. Fresh wolfberries
are not only tasted good but also full of nutrition. The
new product has made the company to have competitive
ability in this market. The opportunity for this new tech-
nology is stimulated by Stimuli 2.
There is a kind of resources called evolutionary re-
sources, including the knowledge developed in the given
area, or other areas, sociology, marketing and psychol-
ogy etc. According to the concept of the evolutionary
resources, the storing technologies in low temperature,
the storing film, and the storing technologies using con-
trolled air in other areas may be resources for storing the
fresh wolfberries. But resources need integrating into
new system for the specific application. This is stimula-
tion for the engineer to identify an opportunity for de-
velopment of a new technology and new product for
fresh keeping wolfberries.
Stimuli 3: Find a contradiction
In TRIZ, contradiction is one of the core concepts,
which is used to formulate problems and guide towards
innovative ideas. A contradiction arises when two mutu-
ally conflicting demands are put on in the same syste m or
a situation. This happens quite often in product design
and manufacturing processes. To evolve a system or
technology further contradictions should be resolved.
TRIZ offers 40 inventive principles, a matrix and 39 pa-
rameters to solve contradictions. Using these principles
engineers may come up breakthrough solutions but not
compromises, or trade-offs. The solutions always result
in an incremental innovation .
The engineers in china have studied the concept of
universality of contradiction in their educations from
middle schools to universities. But Chinese way of deal-
ing with contradictions is seeking a “middle way” that is
retaining basic elements of opposing perspectives. In our
class we pay more attention to find and solve contradict-
tions in the specific process for innovation. Solving a
contradiction means to elimin ate it but not to find a mid-
dle way. Most of the engineers could use this stimulus
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Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China
more easily for opportunity identification.
Case 3: A new processing method for chestnuts
Liyuan, a company located in Tangshan, Hebei prov-
ince, China, produces chestnuts, cereals and other agri-
cultural by-products, by industrial deep processing methods.
One engineer in this company joined the training class
conducted in Baoding, Hebei province, from May, 2011
to January, 2012. The engineer has gotten a patent for a
new processing method of chestnuts which have a con-
stant mouth feel. The opportunity for this new technol-
ogy is stimulated by Stimuli 3.
Some consumers complain that the sweetness level of
the chestnuts produced in this company is lower and the
hardness level is higher. In the past several years the
company has not made improvements for the product to
meet the needs. The engineer made an analysis and found
that there were two contradictions for the quality prob-
lems of the product. The matrix and inventive principles
were applied to solve the contradictions. At last a new
processing method was formed and the experiment for
the improved chestnuts showed that the processing was
right. An improved product has been put into the market.
The Stimuli 3 inspired the engineer to make this innova-
tion happe n.
Stimuli 4: Trim some elements
A product consists of several elements and links
among them. An element is defined as a physically dis-
tinct portion of the product that could not be divided fur-
ther for analysis. A link is kind of relationship between
two elements, which is an action. Two elements and a
link between them make up a function under TRIZ con-
cept. All the functions for the product form the function
model which is a function net. There are four kinds of
actions which are useful, harmful, excessive and inade-
quate. If one of harmful, excessive or inadequate actions
is identified the link and the two elements are a problem-
atic function. There may be one or more problematic
functions in the function model for an existing product.
One or some problematic functions should be eliminated
for the improvement of the product performance.
Trimming in TRIZ is a kind of operation to cut off
some elements relating to the problematic functions by
some rules. Basic principle of trimming is simplification
for an existing product which reduces the cost, size,
weight, or simplifies the operations that make the prod-
ucts easy to be used. As a result, trimming is an opportu-
nity of innovation for innovative engineers.
Case 4: A new structured motor
Broad-Ocean, a company of Guangzhou, China, is a
producer of micro-motors. Two engineers in this
company joined the first training class conducted in
Guangzhou from August, 2010 to March, 2011. One of
the engineers has gotten a patent for a new structural
design for the one-way asynchronous motor produced in
this company. The efficiency assembling process for one
motor is improved and the cost is reduced by the new
design. The opportunity for this engineer is stimulated by
Stimuli 4.
In the traditional design the rotating magnetic field in
one-way asynchronous motor is produced by a capacity
connected outside the shell of the motor. The module of
the capacity is located to the shell by screws that lead to
some harmful results. That the module may fall off in the
operation is a clear weakness. According to the basic
idea of the Stimuli 4, the capacity should be trimmed off.
This is an opportunity for the engineer. The engineer did
take advantage of the opportunity to develop a new
structure that the capacity is not outside the shell. New
products using the structure have been put out.
Stimuli 5: Anticipate possible failures
To anticipate possible failures for products or proc-
esses are certainly a kind of opportunities for innovation.
Anticipatory failure determination (AFD) may be applied
for this purpose, which is an application of TRIZ to risk
analysis and prediction. There are two templates, AFD-1
and AFD-2, for applications. AFD-1, failure analysis,
applies to find the cause of a failure that has already oc-
curred but is not yet understood. AFD-2, failure predict-
tion, is to identify possible failures that have not yet oc-
curred for a new system design or for any system in
which negative effects or drawbacks have not yet mani-
fested themselves. The basic concepts and methods of
TRIZ, such as resources and contradictions solving, may
be used in the process of AFD. The application of AFD
for both existing and being designed products is an op-
portunity of innovation for the engineers in the classes.
Case 5: New currency recognition modules
GRGBanking, a company located in Guangzhou, is a
provider of currency recognition and cash processing
solutions in the market. Automatic Teller Machine (ATM)
is a major kind of product in this company. More than 20
engineers in this company jo ined our two training classes
from August, 2010 to December, 2012. One of the engi-
neers has gotten several patents for different currency
recognition objects in ATM. The new ATMs using the
patents have been operated in several cities. The oppor-
tunity for this engineer is stimu lated by Stimuli 5.
One challenge for the company is to recognize the
counterfeit cash in or out ATM in high precision. Preci-
sions for recognition used to be a problem in this com-
pany. The engineer applied the AFD-1 and AFD-2 to
identify the root causes of old designs and put forward
new principles and formed new modules for ATM. The
AFD stimulated the engineer to find problems and solu-
Stimuli 6: Add another purpose function
Open Access AJIBM
Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China 735
A function for a product is what does. There are two
kinds of functions, purpose and operation. The purpose
function is a description of a users’ intention or the pur-
pose of a design, and the operation function is a descrip-
tion of the intended operation of the design. Users can
understand the usefulness of the purpose function for an
existing product. That is the reason why users buy this
product. Maybe some users hope to buy products with
more purpose functions. Multi-function is an evolution
trend for some products. So to add another purpose func-
tion is an opportunity for innovative engineers.
Case 6: New structured headstock and tailstock of
Tangshan Railway Vehicle (TRC) located in Tangshan,
Hebei province, China, produces electric multiple units
(EMU), passenger coaches, etc. We organized a class for
this company from May, 2012 to December, 2012. At
first 60 engineers in different workplaces were joined the
class and 28 engineers followed the whole training proc-
ess. One engineer has gotten a few patents for the new
structured headstocks and tailstocks of EMU. The op-
portunity for the new technologies is stimulated by Stim-
uli 6.
The headstock and the tailstock in an EMU are of the
same structure. The headstock in one runn ing direction is
the tailstock for the reveres running. The air dynamics
for the headstock and the tailstock are different because
of the state change for running condition. The air resis-
tances are not in optimal condition for the same struc-
tures for both sides. Adding a function to reduce resis-
tance for headstock an d tailstock is an opportunity fo r th e
new design of EMU. Stimuli 6 makes the engineer to
design new dynamic structures for headstock and tail-
stock to adapted different conditions. The new technolo-
gies reduce energy loss when the EMU is running. The
inventions of the engineer are quite important for the
company, also for the industry.
Stimuli 7: Change behaviors
A behavior for a product is how does. Behaviors can
be regarded as actions or physical state transitions among
the elements of a product; or it can be regarded as the
physical interactions including the input actions and
output actions to or from elements. These actions can be
both the intended and unintended, such as side-effects. If
one or some physical state transitions are substituted by
new ones the performance of the product may be better.
This will result in a kind of invention and innovation. So
to change some behaviors for selected products is an op-
portunity for innovative engineers.
Case 7: A new testing instrument for solar cell
Qinghai Tianpu Solar Energy Company, located in
Qinghai province, China, is a producer of photovoltaic
products for west China. Three engineers in this
company joined the first training class conducted in
Xining, Qianhai, from January, 2011 to May, 2012. One
of the engineers has developed a new product, a testing
instrument for solar cell modules for the company. The
opportunity for this new product is the application of
changing behaviors.
The voltage, current, and peak power for a solar cell
module should be tested by instruments for evaluating
the performance. The instruments existing in the market
now are used in house of module producers. But the
modules are operated in open countries, which are out-
side the workshops of the producers. The existing in-
struments are not suitable to some customers’ new needs
for operations in some locations. Changing the behaviors
of the existing instruments is an opportunity for devel-
opment of a new one which can serve better in different
locations. The LabVIEW and Matlab are used and the
reliability is increased in the new design. The new prod-
uct has been developed and tested successfully in this
6. Possibility in Applying the Stimuli
The stimuli are concluded from the knowledge system in
Figure 3 with the help of training practices. One stimu-
lus may or may not be used in a stage of innovation. Ta-
ble 1 shows the possibility of the application for every
stimulus in different stages or sub-processes of innova-
tion. There are three types of possibilities, high, middle
or low. High or low possibility means that the result to
find an opportunity could happen or almost could not
happen. Middle possibility is between high and low.
The table also shows the following features:
1) Every stimulus may be used to identify opportuni-
ties in fuzzy front end.
2) Every stimulus may be used to identify opportuni-
ties in conceptual d esign.
3) To find a contradiction is an important activity in
opportunity identification for fuzzy front end and new
product development.
There is no any symbol in the right commercializatio n
column of the table. In practice we find that a few entre-
preneurs, chief engineers or R&D engineers do find op-
portunities in commercialization stage. But we have not
concluded one or two stimuli for them to use. This will
be a research topic in the future.
Figure 7 is a process model for applying the 7 stimuli.
First, the engineer selects one or more stimuli and then
applies them to a stage, such as fuzzy front end. If an
opportunity is identified the engineers find the implied
problems. There are two possible paths to manage the
problems which are called self-circled or passing on. In
he first path, the engineers solve the problems in their t
Open Access AJIBM
Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China
Open Access AJIBM
Table 1. Possibility between stimuli and opportunities for innovation.
New Product Development
Possibility Phases
Front End Conceptual designEmbodiment designDetailed designManufacturing Commercialization
Be close to an Ideal System
Use unexpected resources
Find a contradiction
Trim some components
Anticipate possible failures
Add another purpose f un c ti o n
Change behaviors
High Middle Low.
Fuzzy front Conceptual Embodiment DetailedCommercialization
Stimuli 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Problem transferred
Figure 7. A process applying the stimuli.
workplace. In the second the problems are passed on
other engineers who are working in relevant workplaces.
The second path shows that some problems in one stage
or a sub-process should be solved in another stage or
sub-process. 7 stimuli are not many enough to make a
difficult process of being chosen one by one for engi-
Now we have added the 7 stimuli as new knowledge in
the training stage-1 and stage-2 of Figure 4. We hope
that they will assist the engineers to join the classes to
identify opportunities a little easier.
7. Discussions
An interactive model is developed in this study for train -
ing innovative engineers for a variety of companies in
China. The specific feature for this model is that the en-
gineers must find and solve inventive problems in their
workplaces during the training process. The solutions
from the problems are new ideas which are improved to
form some inventions. Experiences show that engineers
and their companies make high evaluation about the
training proces s.
To organize the companies and engineers to join the
classes are the job of local governments but the lectur ing
and other activities are the job of our center. The advan-
tages of two sides are brought into play. This is feasible
model for transferring creativity and innovation knowl-
edge to companies in Chin a.
The knowledge system transferred in the training
process is specially organized at four levels, which are
basic concepts, basic methods, systematic methods and
computer-aided innovation. TRIZ is selected as the core
knowledge and the others dealing with creativity and
innovation are supplementary in this system. TRIZ is
strong in solving difficulties or inventive problems but
other techniques are needed to find problems and inte-
grated into an innovation processes. The integration of
two kinds of knowledge forms a whole knowledge sys-
tem from finding to solving a problem for an innovation
process. The knowledge system is different from only
TRIZ and is a key factor for successful training.
From many discussions face to face with the engineers
in the training process, 7 stimuli are found, which excite
them to identify opportunities for innovation in our
classes. The knowledge system of four levels is p regnant
with all the stimuli. The stimuli are directly related with
fuzzy front end, new product design and manufacturing.
That the engineers apply them one by one to workplaces
may help them to id entify opportun ities and the prob lems
The knowledge system is an open system, to which
new relevant knowledge could be enriched. The classes
Seven Stimuli to Identify Opportunities of Innovation:
A Practice of Training Innovative Engineers and Some Findings in China 737
are organized in more and more provinces in China and
the experiences are accumulated. Some new stimuli may
be concluded and should be added to the stimulus set of
this study.
It needs our attention whether the stimuli may excite
the engineers to identify opportunities in the stage of
The stimuli are suitable for adding to the interactive
training process for engineers. But for a long term con-
sideration they should be applied in the process of crea-
tivity and innovation management for companies. We are
trying to make experiences in one or two companies now
in this direction and hope to have some results in the fu-
8. Conclusions
The practices show that improving the innovation capa-
bility is possible through training engineers in China.
More than half of the engineers having joined our classes
do pass the training process though some engineers drop
out in the middle.
TRIZ, which is the core technique in knowledge sys-
tem with four levels, is particularly useful for the engi-
neers to make inventions. Because learning TRIZ is not
easy, the training process should be developed carefully.
The interactive training model for training innovative
engineers in this study is a possible selection.
The knowledge to be transferred and the process used
imply some stimuli to identify opportunities of innova-
tion, in which problems are contained. Seven stimuli are
concluded by many face to face discussions with the en-
gineers to join our training classes. A possible process to
apply them is also described.
There will also be some researches for future work,
such as adding new knowledge to the system, finding
new stimuli and applying them into commercializatio n in
companies for a long term management.
9. Acknowledgements
The research is supported in part by the Chinese Natural
Science Foundation (Grant No. 51275153) and by the
National Innovation Project (Grant No. 2011M010200).
No part of this paper represents the views and opinions
of any of the sponsors mention e d above.
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