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Synectics: How William J. J. Gordon Revolutionized Creative Problem Solving

William J. J. Gordon Synectics: A Creative Problem Solving Methodology

Have you ever wondered how to solve a complex problem that seems to have no obvious solution? Or how to generate original ideas that are both novel and useful? Or how to collaborate effectively with others in a creative process?

William J. J. Gordon Synectics T

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If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might be interested in learning about synectics, a problem solving methodology that stimulates thought processes of which the subject may be unaware.

Synectics was developed by William J. J. Gordon, an inventor and psychologist who co-created this approach with George M. Prince while working in the Invention Design Group of Arthur D. Little in the 1950s.

In this article, we will explore what synectics is, how it works, and why it can help you to be more creative and effective in your personal and professional life.

The History of Synectics

Synectics has been described by its creator, William J. J. Gordon, as the joining together of different and apparently irrelevant elements (Gordon, 1961, p.5). The term Synectics, from the Greek syn and ektos, refers to the fusion of diverse ideas (Nolan, 2003, p. 25).

Gordon and Prince developed synectics as a result of their work at Arthur D. Little, a consulting firm that specialized in innovation and technology. They were part of a team that was hired by various clients to invent new products or services or improve existing ones.

To do this, they used a method called brainstorming, which was popularized by Alex Osborn in his book Applied Imagination. Brainstorming involved generating as many ideas as possible without criticism or evaluation.

However, Gordon and Prince noticed that brainstorming had some limitations. For example, it often produced superficial or conventional ideas, it did not address the emotional aspects of creativity, and it did not foster a sense of ownership or commitment among the participants.

Therefore, they decided to study the creative process more closely and find out what made some people more inventive than others. They tape-recorded and analyzed hundreds of invention sessions, both successful and unsuccessful, and experimented with different ways of facilitating and enhancing creativity.

They discovered that the most creative ideas came from combining seemingly unrelated or contradictory elements, using metaphors and analogies, and involving emotions and irrationality. They also found that the creative process was not linear or logical, but rather cyclical and dynamic, involving both divergent and convergent thinking.

Based on these findings, they developed a new methodology that they called synectics, which aimed to make the creative process more conscious, deliberate, and collaborative. They also founded a company called Synectics Inc., which offered training and consulting services in synectics to various organizations and individuals.

The Theory of Synectics

Synectics is based on 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 important element in creativity is embracing the seemingly irrelevant. Emotion is emphasized over intellect and the irrational over the rational. Through understanding the emotional and irrational elements of a problem or idea, a group can be more successful at solving a problem.

The Role of Emotion and Irrationality

Synectics recognizes that creativity is not only a cognitive process, but also an emotional one. Emotions play a vital role in motivating, inspiring, and energizing the creative process. They also help to overcome fears, inhibitions, and resistance that might block creativity.

Synectics also acknowledges that creativity is not always rational or logical. Sometimes, the most creative ideas come from breaking the rules, challenging the norms, or defying the expectations. Irrationality can help to generate unexpected or surprising connections, associations, or combinations that might lead to new insights or solutions.

The Role of Metaphor and Analogy

Synectics considers metaphor and analogy as powerful tools for creativity. Metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one is the other. For example, "life is a journey" or "time is money". Analogy is a form of reasoning that compares two things that have some similarities but also some differences. For example, "the heart is like a pump" or "the brain is like a computer".

Metaphor and analogy help to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. They help to see things from a different perspective, to find similarities in dissimilarities, and to create new meanings or associations. They also help to bridge the gap between the abstract and the concrete, between the known and the unknown, and between the problem and the solution.

The Role of Creative Behaviour

Synectics emphasizes the importance of creative behaviour in reducing inhibitions and releasing the inherent creativity of everyone. Creative behaviour refers to the way people act or communicate in a creative process. It includes both verbal and non-verbal behaviours that support or hinder creativity.

Synectics identifies four types of creative behaviour:

  • Exploratory behaviour: This involves asking questions, seeking information, expressing curiosity, being open-minded, being flexible, being playful, being adventurous, etc.

  • Supportive behaviour: This involves listening actively, giving feedback, showing appreciation, encouraging others, building on ideas, being cooperative, being respectful, being empathetic, etc.

  • Challenging behaviour: This involves questioning assumptions, testing hypotheses, seeking alternatives, being critical, being analytical, being objective, being realistic, etc.

  • Integrative behaviour: This involves synthesizing information, finding patterns, making connections, creating solutions, being decisive,



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