Synectics is one of several techniques used to enhance brainstorming by taking a more active role and introducing metaphor and structure into the process. It is unclear at what level of specificity this should be formulated as a pattern.
In Synectics, an expert states a problem (Problem as Given) then each person in the group is encouraged to restate the problem in a way that is interesting to them (Problem as Understood). Next each person does an immediate dump of the solutions they have already thought of. Those are recorded.
Next, the facilitator asks people to do something akin to brainstorming (quantity is good; build on each other's ideas; no criticism) but the facilitator intentionally injects metaphor in various forms. E.g., take the problem of "work life balance" -- a synectics facilitator might ask, "So, what are some examples of balance that occur in nature?" People then give examples: "predator/prey relations", "Climatic control" etc. Then, the facilitator may pick one of those: "Okay, what are some mechanisms in predator prey balances?" Can you capture that as a two word book title? Can you use a personal metaphor? What would it feel like if you were a teeter-totter and on one side were work and on the other side were life. What is a totally silly and outrageous idea? Etc.
Some aspects of Synectics include:
Spectrum Policy: every idea has some aspect that is good.
Problem as Stated:
Problem as Understood: don't insist that everyone be working on exactly the same definition of the problem.Encouraging each person to have their own version of the "Problem as Understood." This probably results in higher motivation as well as more diversity. It also avoids the possibly divisive and generally useless and always time-consuming process of trying to "agree" on a precise definition of the problem before working on it.
Quick suggestions: It's worthwhile to ask for immediate suggestions at the outset and then work on more creative approaches.
Metaphors: Personal Metaphor -- "becoming" some aspect of the problem.
Book Title: Summarize the idea in a two-word book title.
Organic to Inorganic: Move among various worlds or realms to look for metaphors.
Abstract up and project down: Restate the problem in more abstract terms and then try to project down to another concrete domain.
E.g., How can the ABC company increase sales? ---> How can an entity get more of what it wants? ---> From the field of farming, how can farmers increase their crop yields?
Suggestions: Genetic Engineering of Crops.
Use of pesticides.
Rotate the crops.
Use Organic methods.
Choose good land to start with.
Now, let's take one of these, "Rotate the Crops" and try to apply it to the IBM sales domain. "Well, crops each have slightly different soil needs so growing the same crop in the same field will ultimately deplete the soil of certain nutrients. Also, pests will come to be immune to whatever pesticides are used if the same crop is grown in the same place.
In terms of ABC sales, we might map this as follows: "Each product fulfills certain customer needs. By concentrating on the same product with the same customer, those needs will eventually be satiated and other unmet customer needs are not being considered. Also, if we keep going after the same customer with the same type solution, it will be easy for our competition to target us. While if we kept coming up with solutions that met a different aspect of our customer's needs, it would be hard for competition to target our approach."
Another aspect of synectics is the very active role of the facilitator who not only encourages ideas but also specifically introduces the several kinds of metaphor listed above in order to encourage creative thinking.
Another set of techniques can be traced to the work of Edward deBono including the "Six Hats" technique.
The six hats...
Blue -- metacontrol; where are we in the process?
Black -- critical thinking; what might go wrong? What are the obstacles?
Green -- possibilities;
Red -- Feelings
Yellow -- optimistic; what are the benefits?
White -- Facts and information.
The main idea is that by focusing at different times on different types of thinking, people will end up with a much more complete view of an idea or situation than if they simply try to "think about it from various angles." In addition, it helps keep people from ascribing characteristics to individuals when the individuals are simply using different processes and keeps people form working at cross purposes. For example, in a typical non-hat meeting you might have:
John: "Well, I think this plan could easily result in a larger customer base."
Bill: "It's much to expensive."
John: "Bill, all you think about is money in the short-term."
Bill: "Well, that's better than being implausibly optimistic about everything."
Instead, using the "Hat's" concept, we might have:
Moderator: "I'd like us to list all the pluses of this idea first for the next four hours. Then, we will list all the challenges and risks. (Or, you might ask people to label their comments with "Yellow Hat" versus "Black Hat" or simply "Pros" and "Cons.")
John: "Well, I think this plan could easily expand our customer base."
Bill: "That's a good point. And, we could provide a more complete solution than our competitors."
John: "Right, so then they might come to us in the first place so they wouldn't have to switch horses in midstream."
Bill: "Exactly. And, we could save money by coordinating the service plan across all those business units."
Moderator: "Okay, now, let's examine some of the challenges and risks associated with this plan.
John: "The change itself would be expensive at first."
Bill: "Right and at first it might confuse our customers."
John: "The sales person's job would get more complex. Their might be resistance to change."
Bill: "We would need a new advertising campaign."
Van Oech's FOUR HATS:
Another writer on creativity suggests that during the course of problem solving, you need to put on four successive hats. Perhaps you might like this scheme better.
At the initial stages of problem solving, you need to be like an Explorer, seeking facts, viewpoints, feelings, etc. The "hat" here is an explorer's pitch helmet.
Later, you need to be more like an Artist -- creatively recombining things. The hat here is the artist's beret.
Still later, you need to be more like a Judge --- a critic, deciding which ideas are worth pursuing. The hat to illustrate this is the old style Judge's whig.
Finally, you need to be a Warrior --- making your idea happen. The hat here is the Viking Warrior's horned helmet.
The main point is to make clear what the goals of a particular session, partition, time segment or whatever are so that people are not simply talking past each other.
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