Friday, March 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.

Reference:

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

4 comments:

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

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

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

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

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.