SYNECTICS: A CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING TECHNIQUE
Wilson, S. H., Greer, J. F., & Johnson, R. M. (1973). Synectics, a Creative Problem-Solving Technique for the Gifted. Gifted Child Quarterly, 17(4), 260-267.
Only a few years ago, it was commonly thought that creative thinking, the production of new ideas, inventions, and the like had to be left to chance. Indeed, many people still think so. Yet, I do not see how any well-informed person can still hold this view. The amazing record of inventions, achievements amassed through creative problem solving methods (Osborn, 1957), synectics (Gordon, 1961), and bionics (Small, 1962) should convince even the most stubborn skeptics. Experiments involving these deliberate methods of improving creativity have also been rather convincing (Maltzman, 1960; Parnes, 1960; Torrance, 1961).
In my own classes and seminars, I have consistently found that these deliberate methods can be taught from the primary grades through the graduate school with the effect that students improve their ability to develop original and useful solutions to problems. In my opinion, the evidence is strong that creativity does not have to be left to chance (Torrance, 1962 ).
The intent of the writers is to explore the synectics problem-solving method as a procedure which teachers might use with gifted children, thereby deliberately stimulating latent creativity. While other creative problem-solving methods may also be effective, (brainstorming, morphological analysis, value engineering, value analysis, bionics, hypothetical situations, attribute listing, scenario and alternative futures, fundamental design method) the synectics method appears to be one which can be modified as a powerful tool for use with gifted children.
The word “synectics” is a derivative of the Greek word, synecticos, and refers to the joining together of unrelated elements. The concept of synecticos becomes a creative problem-solving technique through the efforts of W. J. J. Gordon. Though Gordon stresses problem-solving in industry and management, there is the possibility of developing educational experiences related to synectic techniques. A synectics session referred to by Gordon as an “excursion” is a group problem-solving activity wherein persons are stimulated to think creatively under a loosely structured system. The process, in brief, begins with a problem introduced by a leader who conducts an "excursion" of the group through a series of steps which attempt to determine a solution to the problem. This procedure deliberately stimulates creative thinking rather than leaving it to chance (Gordon, 1961).
Specifically related to educational methodology, synectics provides a minimal structure wherein "structured freedom" can be realized in the planning and execution of a creative learning experience. Such a procedure is of benefit in a technological society where complex problems arise requiring efficient and economical solutions. Obviously, our society is one in which invention and problem-solving will play an increasingly extensive role. Gardner Murphy (1958) stated:
'And it is not only human to invent oneself out of one world into another; it is also human to keep moving toward a destination which is not set within man’s present nature but keeps changing as the nature of his environment changes.'
Synectics provides ample opportunity for students to exercise the skills needed to invent the new world of the future. The coming years will require people in industry, government, medicine, education, and related fields, who are capable of generating new ideas. To produce the necessary personnel for a technological and changing society, our educational methods must change to meet new demands. Certainly as Torrance points out, areas involving creative thinking can no longer be left to chance. The world simply cannot afford such a luxury. Teachers of the future will find compelling reasons to investigate methods such as synectics to maximize the output of creative potential. Industry will demand it. Survival will demand it. Keeping pace with the requirements of a rapidly changing world where traditional methods fall glaringly short will of necessity bring about the adoption of many such new teaching techniques.
Warren G. Bennis (1969) in his fascinating article, “The Temporary Society”, in which he speculates concerning future changes has this to say:
‘Fantasy, imagination and creativity will be legitimate in ways that today seem strange...People will be more intellectually committed to their jobs and will probably require more involvement, participation and autonomy... Professional specialists can hardly be called organization men...They are not good company men; they are uncommitted except to the challenging environments where they can ’play with problems’ ... The key word will be ’temporary.’
There will be adaptive, readily changing temporary systems. These will be task forces organized around problems to be solved by groups of relative strangers with diverse professional skills. With the evidence mounting that the future will be one of increasing, not decreasing technology, it seems both reasonable and necessary to give as many educational opportunities as possible to prepare bright students for their roles as leaders. Bennis points out that problems will be solved, not singly by individuals, but by task forces of specialized persons who gather for the purpose of solving problems, then disperse, and move to other problems and other task forces. Synectics provides actual “in class” experience on a simulated task force. In the synectic excursion, the gifted student comes into direct and explicit contact with a type of activity he may find himself performing not too many years from now. Therefore, problem-solving practice through synectics can be meaningful.
Aside from the fact that the synectics technique is relevant to the future, it provides the innovative teacher with a profitable, productive, and exciting method for immediate use. The classroom becomes alive with creative thought. Imaginations soar. Children reach into their experiences and delight themselves with the relevance of their own knowledge. They learn to listen, to challenge, to think, and to lead. They learn that problems can be solved through cooperative efforts. They learn social skills in an intellectual setting. They learn respect for ideas. They learn language skills. They learn to complete tasks and to make suggestions concerning future endeavors. In addition to being relevant, profitable, and exciting, the synectics method is in accordance with research findings on creativity. Speaking of the components of creative thinking, Guilford (1957) emphasized the importance of divergent thinking processes:
‘Divergent thinking ... [is] characterized ... as being less goal bound. There is freedom to go off in different directions ...rejecting the old solution and striking out in some new direction is necessary, and the resourceful organism will more probably succeed.’
Synectics provides ample opportunity for divergent thinking and creates a situation wherein a person may have to reject his ideas regardless of however fond he is of them and strike off in a new direction. To be able to put aside strong convictions requires flexibility. Flexibility in creative thinking entails the rearrangement of previous knowledge in such a manner that a more useful construct emerges. Along this line, Getzels and Jackson (1959) defined creative thought as ‘goal directed, easily flexible, manipulation of knowledge in a wide variety of novel or original ways.’ Through the experience of knowledge manipulation, the synectics excursion takes the participant ito areas of unfamiliarity. In relation to creativity, Mooney (1954) emphasized the importance of the “extension of experiencing” whereby the participants press beyond what seemed to be insurmountable limits. Consequently, the exploration of unfamiliar regions of thought produces a setting in which creative combinations may emerge. At its very basis, synectics makes “the strange familiar” and “the familiar strange” (Gordon, 1961). Furthermore, synectics is a process encompassing other major aspects of creativity. Creativity involve incubation (Wallas, 1926), accumulation (Murphy, 1947), searching and moments of creative insight (DeHaan and Havighurst, 1957). A successful synectics experience is based on the foregoing aspects of creativity; and, of greatest significance for an “in class” - procedure, the entire process is under the guidance of a leader and is not left to chance. There is the direct stimulation of the creative processes in a controlled situation by a deliberate method (Torrance, 1962). According to Leuba (1958), stimulation is directly related to creative functions. It is Leuba’s theory that the creative individuals are those with a maximum of curiosity, those who seek stimulation and develop a maximum of autonomous interests and activity because of the stimulation they find in the process. Synectics is a means for structurally producing stimulation necessary for creative output in a problem-solving situation.
Although synectics is basically a group process, the success of the group rests entirely upon the ability of the individuals to independently reach self-discovery and self-realization along the lines of Maslow (1968) and Rogers (1961), for it is through the stimulation of the group that each participant reaches into the store of his experiences to come forth with a new and creative idea.
There can be no greater proof of the value of a teaching procedure than actual in-class direct experience. Fortunately, the synectics method is not difficult to learn or to use in class. W. J. J. Gordon’s Synectics (1961)provides an introduction and framework for interested teachers who may find making innovation adaptations an exciting challenge.
Synectics: a creative problem solving technique.
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SYNECTICS: A CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING TECHNIQUE