Mar 5, 2010

Problem? Try Synectics

by Sarah Albrecht

Have you heard of synectics? I have just been exposed to the idea: synectics are a deliberate process for leaving logical attempts to problem-solve, enter into the realm of creativity via analogies, and re-enter the logical world with a new perspective on the original problem. Synectics could be used in for solving a social problem, a design problem, a personal problem…a writing problem. How about using synectics as a way to look at a character with new eyes?

I gave synectics a try and decided—this is cool. Two strategies exist, but I’m going to explain the one for “making the familiar strange” (again, maybe a character you’re struggling with?). The easiest way to explain the six-step process is through example. I'll illustrate with a personal one (since I'm in school my writing projects are on hold).

Step 1—State the problem: How do you help a child with anxiety who doesn’t want help?

Step 2—Create a direct analogy between the problem and something very different. For example, if the problem involves something animate, compare it to something inanimate:
How is a boy with anxiety like a _________ ? (Here I thought of different machines—combine harvester, lawn mower, blender, car, toaster—and picked the strangest comparison: toaster.)

Explore the compared object, here, the toaster: toasters get plugged in, heat up inside and smudged on the outside, have a tray on the bottom for crumbs…

Step 3: Create a personal analogy with the object of the direct analogy. How does it feel to be a toaster?

My answers: tied down and bored doing the same job, seemingly smooth on the outside but burning rage inside, stiffly controlled by coils and springs and people outside, “crumb-y”

Step 4: Create a compressed conflict, or oxymoron, with two of the words generated in the personal analogy; my combinations: controlled rage, tied-down springs, smooth rage (the list could be much bigger than this). Pick the compressed conflict that has the “truest ring of conflict.”

My answer: smooth rage

Step 5: Create another direct analogy between the compressed conflict and another “unlike” area. I compared the compressed conflict with the natural world: what in the natural world is like "smooth rage"? Ideas: guard dog, war horse, mountain lion, tornado, rooted tree in a storm, tidal wave, mudslide

My answer out of the list "smooth rage" list: rooted tree in a storm

Explore further: What happens to a tree in a storm? It is rooted; it swirls and pounds; it is cold and wet, pulled in many directions; it is held by wet, moving earth

Step 6: Reexamination of the task: How can you protect a tree in a storm? (i.e., How can you help a child with anxiety who doesn’t want help?) My answer: give the tree strong roots.

Give the tree strong roots. Yes!

After going through this exercise I truly felt like I was looking at the problem with new eyes. Now, the new question to explore is, How do you give a tree strong roots? Time for more synectics…

What do you think? Has anyone tried this with their writing? I’d love to hear how it turned out.


Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2009). Synectics. Models of Teaching, 8th Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.


  1. I've never heard of this but I think I'll check it out.

  2. WOW! Talk about thinking outside the box. Way cool.

  3. This is really awesome. Thanks for posting it! Good stuff to consider. I love thinking outside the box.

  4. Fascinating! I will be thinking about this for days! Thanks Sarah!


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