William J.J.Gordon worked with creative-thinking groups and had a creative variety of other pursuits. He was concerned that people, when asked to come up with a creative new idea, would instead incrementalize. That is, they would take an available alternative and improve it bit by bit. While this might lead to marginally better alternatives the alternatives probably would not be real breakthroughs. Gordon decided that one way to avoid this problem would be simply not to tell people what they were inventing. Thus, the Gordon technique uses an initial focus on function. Rather than being told to build a better mousetrap, the group might first be told that the focus was capturing. Instead of the group being instructed to design an improved knife, the function could be given as severing.
Gordon also developed a well-known technique called synectics. Synectics means, “the joining of apparently unrelated elements.” First, very different sorts of people are put together in synectics groups in order to get a real diversity of perspectives. Second, synectics relies heavily on the use of analogies. Synectics techniques have been widely adopted by both businesses and educational institutions. Three synectics tools according to Gordon are direct analogy, personal analogy, and fantasy analogy.
Direct Analogy: This involves looking for parallel facts, knowledge, or technology in a different domain from the one being worked on. For instance, can we think of anything similar that occurs in nature?
Personal Analogy: With this approach, synectics group members try to identify psychologically with key parts of the problem. In one case, for example, the group was asked to design a mechanism that would run a shaft turning at 400 to 4000 rpm so that the power-takeoff end of the shaft would turn at a constant 400rpm. To address this question, members of the group metaphorically entered the box and tried to use their bodies to attain the required speed without undue friction.
Fantasy Analogy: Sigmund Freud saw creativity as the fulfillment of a wish or fantasy. Fantasy analogy asks how in many wildest dreams can I make this happen? Gordon gives the example of a synectics group with the task of inventing a vapourproof closure for space suits. Their solution was a spring mechanism based on the fantasy analogy of rows of trained insects clasping claws to hold shut the closure.
There is more to synectics than just the use of analogy. The technique follows a structure problem-solving sequence in which a client and other participants interact to develop a workable solution to the client’s problem. For instance, after the problem has been introduced and discussed, there is a “Springboards” stage in which the problem is opened up by asking the client to convert concerns, opinions, and desires into statements such as “I wish…” or “How to …”. Later, after an initial idea has been developed and refined, an “itemized response” stage requires the client to think of three useful aspects or advantages of the idea and to generate key concerns. Still later, after the group works to modify the suggestion to overcome these concerns, the “possible solution” is checked for elements of newness and feasibility and whether there is sufficient commitment to the solution to take additional steps. Finally, the client lists actions to be taken to implement the solution, including timing and the personnel to be used.