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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.

Problem Solving in business

‘The way in which a problem (and our attempts to manage it) is perceived and described will inevitably constrain our thinking and action with respect to it.’ (Henry et al. 2010:47)

N.B. Preferred personal style, experience, the culture you work in and the type of situation you are facing.

Activity 4.1. Free Association ideas. Gordon (1961)

Fig. 4.1. The Buffalo Creative problem-solving method

Synectics. Vincent Nolan (1989) The Innovator’s Handbook.

Open up a problem, don’t define it.

N.B. How well you chose to overcome the challenges it raises.

REF: Friend and Hickling.

‘Simply using an electronic medium does not remove non-rational factors, nor the need for skilful communication or facilitation’. (2010:57)

  • Precepts
  • Techniques
  • Method
  • Framework

‘If a technique is a separate dish, and a method is a menu for a complete meal, then a ‘framework’ is the broad concept behind a given menu – the difference between creating a menu for a ‘fast-food snack’ a ‘family celebration’, or a ‘slimmer’s lunch’, a ‘romantic dinner’, or whatever’. (2010:59)

Problem solving as:

  • Answering
  • Searching
  • Cultivation
  • Mapping
  • Debate
  • Reperception

Binary Judgements for actions. Nolan (1989)


Friend, J and Hickling, A (1997) Planning under Pressure (2nd edn)( Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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

Isaksen, S.G. and Treffinger, D.J. (1985) Creative Problem Solving: The Basic COurse, Buffalo: Bearly LTD.

Nolan, V (1989) The Innovators’ Handbook

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