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Four types of analogies are recommended as part of synectics: personal analogies, in which individu- als try to identify themselves as the problem (“If I were the problem, how would I feel, what would I like, what could satisfy me?”); direct analogies, in which individuals apply facts, technology, and com- mon experience to the problem (e.g., Brunel solved the problem of underwater construction by watching a shipworm tunneling into a tube); symbolic analo- gies, in which symbols or images are imposed on the problem (e.g., modeling the problem mathematically or diagramming the process flow); and fantasy analogies, in which individuals ask the question “In my wildest dreams, how would I wish the problem to be resolved?” (e.g., “I wish all employees would work with no supervision.”).

curved lines. Similarly, D is the only one with one curved and one straight line, and E is the only figure that is nonsymmetrical or partial. The point is, there can often be more than one problem definition, more than one right answer, and more than one perspective from which to view a problem.

Another way to elaborate definitions is to use a question checklist. This is a series of questions designed to help individuals think of alternatives to their accepted definitions. Several creative managers have shared with us some of their most fruitful ques- tions, such as:

Is there anything else? Is the reverse true? Is this a symptom of a more general problem? Who sees it differently?

Elaborate on the Definition

There are a variety of ways to enlarge, alter, or replace a problem definition once it has been specified. One way is to force yourself to generate at least two alter- native hypotheses for every problem definition; that is, specify at least two plausible definitions of the problem in addition to the one originally accepted. Think in plural rather than singular terms. Instead of asking, “What is the problem?” “What is the meaning of this?” “What will be the result?”, ask instead questions such as: “What are the problems?” “What are the meanings of this?” “What will be the results?”

Nickerson (1999) reported an oft-used acronym— SCAMPER—designed to bring to mind questions hav- ing to do with Substitution, Combination, Adaptation, Modification (Magnification/Minimization), Putting to other uses, Elimination, and Rearrangement.

As an exercise, take a minute now to think of a problem you are currently experiencing. Write it down so it is formally defined. Now manipulate that defini- tion by answering the four questions in the checklist. If you can’t think of a problem, try the exercise with this one. Select one of the three words. “I am not as attrac- tive/intelligent/creative as I would like to be.”

As an example, look at Figure 9. Select the figure that is different from all the others.

A majority of people select B first. If you did, you’re right. It is the only figure that has all straight lines. On the other hand, quite a few people pick A. If you are one of them, you’re also right. It is the only fig- ure with a continuous line and no points of disconti- nuity. Alternatively, C can also be right, with the ratio- nale that it is the only figure with two straight and two

Reverse the Definition

A third tool for improving and expanding problem def- inition is to reverse the definition of the problem. That is, turn the problem upside down, inside out, or back to front. Reverse the way in which you think of the problem. For example, consider the following problem:

Figure 9

The Five-Figure Problem

Of the five figures below, select the one that is different from all of the others.








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