What is Synectics? An innovative approach to problem-solving

What is Synectics?

Synectics is a problem-solving methodology that stimulates thought processes of which the subject may be unaware. This method was developed by George M. Prince (April 5, 1918 – June 9, 2009) and William J.J. Gordon, originating in the Arthur D. Little Invention Design Unit in the 1950s.

History of Synectics

The process was derived from tape-recording (initially audio, later video) meetings, analysis of the results and experiments with alternative ways of dealing with the obstacles to success in the meeting. "Success" was defined as getting a creative solution that the group was committed to implement.

The name Synectics comes from the Greek and means "the joining together of different and irrelevant elements.” 

Gordon and Prince named both their practice and their new company Synectics, which can cause confusion as people not part of the company are trained and use the practice. While the name was trademarked, it has become a standard word for describing creative problem-solving in groups.

The Synectics theory

Synectics is a way to approach creativity and to problem-solve rationally. "Traditionally, the creative process has been considered after the fact... The Synectics study has attempted to research the creative process in vivo, while it is going on.”

According to Gordon, Synectics research has three main assumptions:

  • The creative process can be described and taught;
  • Invention processes in arts and sciences are analogous and are driven by the same "psychic" processes;
  • Individual and group creativity are analogous.

With these assumptions in mind, Synectics believes that people can be better at being creative if they understand how creativity works.

One essential element in creativity is embracing the seemingly irrelevant. Emotion is emphasised over intellect and the irrational over the rational. By understanding the emotional and irrational elements of a problem or idea, a group can be more successful at solving a problem.

Prince emphasised the importance of creative behaviour in reducing inhibitions and releasing the inherent creativity of everyone. He and his colleagues developed specific practices and meeting structures which help people to ensure that their constructive intentions are experienced positively by one another. The use of the creative behaviour tools extends the application of Synectics to many situations beyond invention sessions (particularly constructive resolution of conflict).

Gordon emphasised the importance of "'metaphorical process' to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar". He expressed his central principle as: "Trust things that are alien and alienate things that are trusted." This encourages, on the one hand, fundamental problem-analysis and, on the other hand, the alienation of the original problem through the creation of analogies. It is thus possible for new and surprising solutions to emerge.

As an invention tool, Synectics invented a technique called "spring-boarding" for getting creative beginning ideas. For the development of beginning ideas, the method incorporates brainstorming and deepens and widens it with metaphor; it also adds a vital evaluation process for Idea Development, which takes innovative embryonic ideas that are attractive but not yet feasible and builds them into new courses of action which have the commitment of the people who will implement them.

Synectics is more demanding of the subject than brainstorming, as the steps involved imply that the process is more complicated and requires more time and effort. The success of the Synectics methodology depends highly on the skill of a trained facilitator.

The Mandatory Training Group

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What is synectics - An innovative approach to problem-solving -

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