Innovation and creativity: Synectics and other methods

Creativity is very important in innovation processes.  However, it should be addressed with discipline and a clear goal: the resolution of a specific problem. To that end, I present 3 other techniques that help to organize the processes of generation of ideas.

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In our article “Brainstorming and Six Thinking Hats: Creativity to innovate” we explain 2 of the most famous creative methods (Read this article).

Creative Methods

Synectics

It is a creative problem-solving technique developed by William J. J. Gordon.  “It tries to make conscious the unconscious mechanisms of creativity” (1). This technique emphasizes metaphor, imagery, emotion and energy.

According to Vincent Nolan in an article for Synectics World, Synectics widens and deepens the process of suspending judgement in a variety of ways:

  • It extends suspending judgement to the description of the problem. Thus, the problem owner's perception is accepted without challenge or questioning.
  • It encourages alternative perceptions of the problem to be expressed, without challenge.
  • It encourages to 'listen for ideas' by paying attention to apparently irrelevant thoughts and images,, to be used as clues to new ideas.
  • It actively encourages absurd ideas.
  • It uses excursions to reproduce the phenomenon of getting a new idea from nowhere (while shaving or sleeping).

Its implementation

The goal is to find new courses of action to be implemented. Its implementation is ensured as the person involved in its execution will choose them.

In order to achieve it, two clear strategies are used:

  1. Making the strange familiar
  2. Making the familiar strange

Making the strange familiar is a purely analytical strategy. Where:

  • The problem and its ramifications are examined in order to adapt it to the day-to-day world, analyzing the breakdown of its parts.
  • It makes use of the generalization to identify significant aspects and the essential characteristic of the problem.
  • Models or analogies are sought to take it to a similar or familiar ground.

Making the familiar strange to distort the day-to-day world and get a new view of reality. This will alter our perceptions. Several techniques are used to this end:

Personal Analogy involves the identification of the person with the elements of the problem. First person is used and the feelings and sensations of the object are showed. Questions can be: if I were…? How would I feel?

Direct Analogy makes comparisons between two facts, concepts, objects or organisms that are similar. Analogies with nature are usually made. For example: How would ants solve this problem?

Fantasy Analogy tries to look for an unreal situation with impossible imaginary solutions. However, it can produce specific and achievable answers.

Symbolic Analogy or book’s title makes a compressed description of the problem which is full of meaning. Metaphors are used. It is necessary to find a word related to the problem to ask about its essence and meanings. Then, it is integrated into one or two words like a book’s title.

Games with words, meanings and definitions establish associations from words-stimuli linked to the problem.

Games to render laws ineffective try to alter a scientific law or concept, to see its consequences and to boost creative ideas.

In a Synectics session, the group shall be made up of 5 to 7 persons, with a wide range of skills and knowledge, besides being creative. It is integrated by a leader, an expert and the participants. The sessions should last approximately 2 hours.

It is used in the field of advertising, product design, research and technology. It can work both individually and in group. However, a good group work has more advantages.

Morphological Analysis

This method developed by Fritz Zwicky tries to solve problems through the analysis and breakdown of their parts.  It isolates each element of the problem to make combinations among them, see their feasibility and explore all the possibilities.

It is just a generation of ideas based on a matrix.

The Morphological Analysis has 3 stages:

During the Analysis the object is studied from all its components and variants. That is to say, the physical parts, processes, functions, etc. of a product can be analyzed. The important thing is to see it from all perspectives. Alfredo Muñoz Adánes (2) explains it with a chair that can be broken down from a functional point of view: seat pan, legs and back.

The Combination stage focuses on mixing the elements that have been previously broken down. For example, the chairs’ components such as the legs, have variations such as height, material and shape, and at the same time, these also have variations such as wood, plastic, etc. These variables are combined with each other successively until finishing the combinations. This group is called morphological product.

During the Morphological Search combinations are studied. These may be randomly or by a matrix (all combinations are listed and each one of them is studied). Choosing one way or another will depend on the number of elements and variables.

The Delphi Method

It is a method that was developed by Rand Corporation, and it is an analysis and problem-solving method rather than a creative one. It presents a problem to a group of subject matter experts in order to provide solutions.

It is a group work, but without the participants working together, knowing each other or communicating with each other. Everything is done through a coordinator. The group is made up of a coordinator and the experts.

The coordinator communicates with each expert by email, phone or other means. His/her main task is to collect the answers, summarize them, cluster them and send them to the others. In addition to filtering and seeking consensus among the alternatives proposed by the experts.

This method is mainly used for trend analysis and market prediction. It is also used in the fields of health care and education.

It is not just about the Method

There are more techniques that help to solve problems creatively such as the Synapse, the List of Attributes, Triz or the Nominal group. 

It isn’t only about the technique used but to know how to take advantage of them and integrate them to achieve successful innovations.

Notes:
  1. Métodos creativos para organizaciones – Alfredo Muñoz Adánes, Ediciones Pirámide. Page 34.
  2. Métodos creativos para organizaciones – Alfredo Muñoz Adánes, Ediciones Pirámide. Page 86.
References and Links:
  1. Métodos creativos para organizaciones – Alfredo Muñoz Adánes, 2006, Ediciones Pirámide.
  2. Técnicas de creatividad en Innovación y creatividad by Wiki EOI.
  3. Synectics as a Creative Problem Solving (CPS) System by Vincent Nolan in Synectics World

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