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Creative Problem Solving: Synectics

Is this where it all began; where creative techniques were formalised to help resolve problems?

This is the 1940s and 1950s. W.J.J. Gordon and G.M. Prince develop what comes to be called ‘Synectics’.

It benefits from having a trained facilitator, though once you know what you’re doing you can do it alone.

The Techniques Library offers a brief outline, for more refer to Nolan (1989)


Who owns the problem and does this person have the authority to do something about it?

Consider the scope of the problem, the number and quality of solutions required and set realistic expectations.


  • Refine the problem as a springboard
  • Generate other springboard


  • A springboard ‘owner’ justifies their work.
  • Ideas are generated to make it work.
  • Understanding is checked
  • List the solution and only then attach the problems these could resolve.
  • Recyle or end.


Gordon, W.J.J. (1961) Synectics, New York, Harper and Row

Prince, G.M. (1970) The Practice of Creativity, New York, Collier Books.

VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of structured problem solving, “nd ed., Van Nostrand Reinhold. Technique 4.57, pp. 182-95

Based on: Nolan, V. (1989) The Innovator’s Handbook, London, Sphere Book.

B822 Techniques Library: Using ‘Crazy’ Ideas


Ken Dodd

Ideas that could get you fired if suggested or are laugh out loud funny; so there’s a risk. (Techniques Library 2010)

Developed by Rickards (1974) as ‘Wildest Idea’ and de Bono (1982) as ‘Intermediate impossible’.

Why beneficial?

  • They break down assumptions.
  • The humour can energize a group and trigger more ideas (including some unthought of that might work)

Use these techniques:

  • brainstorming
  • Free Association
  • excursion

Treat it seriously to see where it takes you

Don’t get stuck on a non-starter (but aren’t they all implicitly a non-starter if they are going to get you fired or ar laughable?)


Rickards, T. (1974) Problem-solving Through Creative Analysis, Essex, UK, Gower Press.

de Bono, E. (1982) Later thinking for Management, Pelican Books.

VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed. Van Nostranran Reinhold. Technique 4.61. p. 202

B822 Techniques Library: Super Heroes


Thor by Image by xploitme (creative commons)

I like this technique as an ice-breaker, its fun element and its potential to crack a few problems open and offer a solution or two.

This is a fantasy based version of ‘Rolestorming’ and comes from Grossman and Catlin (1985).

Simple. You pretend to be a ficticious super hero and use their super hero characteristics to trigger ideas. There is the Marvel model, but I rather like the more down to earth traits of the characters in ‘Being Human’ or ‘Misfits’.

Come prepared with:

A set of super heroes their characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Is there a set of Top Trump cards that does this?

Bring along some props. (This is starting to sound like one of those ‘Murder Mystery’ Games.

Once in character and having introduced yourself in this role we set the narrative going.

  • A good warming up exercise.
  • Implicit is the ability to break the normal bounds/chains.
  • Wish fulfilment can be revealing
  • It will generate ideas.

Not perhaps for a financial or employment review session, but could be used for soft and social issues, from planning a social event to solving a communications problem that requires some creative input.


Grossman, S. and Catling, K (1985) Super Heroes, presentatiopn at the 31st Annual Creative Problem Solving Institute, Buffalo, N.Y. The Creative Education Foundation.

VanGundy (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed., Van Nostrand Reinhold. Technique 4.56, pp. 180-2

B822 Techniques Library: Visualing a goal

The power of your wish makes the wish come true.

From Gawain (1982)

1) Set your goal.

Start on something easy, achieve it, and develop confidence in the techniques.

2) Create a clear idea or picture

Think of it in the present tense as something that already exists

3) Focus on it often

Integrate it into your life by thinking about it often.

4) Give it positive energy

Use affirmations. Suspend any doubts or disbelief. (This sounds like Zen. Did Steve Jobs get any of this on his trips to India in the 1970s?)

5) Continue ’til you have achieved your goal

6) Appreciate it when you get there


Adapted from: Gawain, S 91982) Creative Visualization, New York, Bantam Boks, pp. 16-18

Creative Problem Solving Technique Library ‘Free Association’

Serial association – to travel

Centred association – to delve

Let go, from silly to rude, unconventional and conventional

More from VanGundy (1988)

Creative Problem Solving: Selling your ideas

B822 Techniques Library ‘Factors in ‘Selling’ ideas


  • Timing
  • Audience
  • Idea champion


Use simple language

Use a clear statement of the need for the idea. Describe the problem your idea will solve and explain why it needs to be solved.

  • Present both pros and cons
  • Provide evidence
  • Stress key points
  • Anticipate questions
  • Be persistent

Based on: VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed., Van Norstrand Reinhold. Technique p. 285

Creative Problem Solving Technique Library ‘Fishbone’

Continuing through the B822 ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’ Technique Library handbook.

I’ve put book marks into some 30 of out 150 problem solving techniques, approaches or games. As the opportunity arises I’ll come back and give some of these a go.

Prof. Kaoru Ishikawa

‘It can encourage development of a comprehensive and balanced picture, involving everyone, keeping eveyone on track, discouraging partial or premature solutions, and showing the relative importance and inter-relationships between different parts of a problem’.

Fig. 1 From SmartDraw. REFERENCE Adapted from: Marjao, S. (1988) The Creative Gap, London, Longman, pp. 133-7

Creative Problem Solving Technique Library ‘Highlighting’

A screening technique for generating a shortlist of good ideas for triggering discussion.

  • A clustering technique.
  • Identifying hotspots.


Firestein, R.L. and Treffinger, D.J. (1983) ‘Ownership and converging: Essential ingredients of Creative Problem Solving’, Journal of Creative Behaviour, 17 (1), 32-8

Creative Problem Solving Technique Library ‘Fresh Eye’ and Networking

Don’t get stuck in a specific way of doing things.

Get people with no idea of what the problem is about to take a look.

Encourage or permit niave ideas.

Makes me think of Clancy in ‘Being There’.

Use the WWW. (Ask in Linkedin, Quora etc:)

More from VanGundy (1988)

Creative Problem Solving Technique Library ‘Implementation Checklists’

Implementation Checklists (VanGundy, 1988)

  • Resources
  • Motivation
  • Resistance
  • Procedures
  • Structures
  • Policies
  • Risk
  • Power
  • Clashes
  • Climate

Implementation Checklist (Isaksen et al., 1994)

  1. Relative advantage
  2. Compatibility
  3. Complexity
  4. Trialability
  5. Observability

This I can use

Implementation checklist (Isaksen et al., 1994)


  • a. Does your plan demonstrably improve on what’s currently done?
  • b. What advantages/benefits might there be to accepting it?
  • c. Who may gain from it?
  • d. How will adopting it reward others or me?
  • e. How to emphasise its benefits to all?


  • a. Does it show consistency with current practice/thinking?
  • b. Can it be shown to meet a particular group’s needs?
  • c. What group(s) would endorse it, its goals and actions?
  • d. Can it be named/packaged more favourably?


  • a. Is it easy to understand?
  • b. Can it be explained clearly to different people?
  • c. Does it take long to communicate to others?
  • d. How might it be clarified, made simple, easier to understand?
  • e. Can I demonstrate the new/object’s ease of use?


  • a. How to reduce uncertainty concerning its new elements?
  • b. How can the adopted try out sections before deciding to use it all?
  • c. How to encourage adopters to try part of it?
  • d. If it needs full adoption, but they insist on partial trials, what then?
  • e. How to change it to make it more easily tried?


  • a. How easy is it for an adopter to find/obtain it? Is it visible?
  • b. Can it be made more visible? How?
  • c. How to make it easier to understand?
  • d. How to best communicate it?
  • e. Are there reasons for not making it visible now?


  • a. What other resources could help? How best to use them?
  • b. What important obstacle are there? How to overcome them?
  • c. How to deal with challenges/opportunities it creates?
  • d. What might initiate action? And the next steps?
  • e. How to build feedback into it to allow future improvements?


Isaksen, S.G., Dorval, K.B . and Treffinger, D.J. (1994) Creative Approaches to Problem Solving, Dubuque, Iowa, Kendall/Hunt p.305-9

VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd. ef., Van Nostrand Reinhold, pp. 255-6

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