Syneptics is the basis of creativity as every creative action is based on the conjugation of previously existing ideas or things to give life to a completely different original product. Indeed, the word syneptic has its origin in the Greek word synectikos which means “the union of different and apparently irrelevant elements”. It became part of the vocabulary of creativity specialists when William Gordon, in 1961, published the book Synectics.
Syneptic thinking, therefore, is the process of discovering the links that connect apparently unconnected elements. It's a way to mentally take things apart and reassemble them to get a new perspective that can be applied to all kinds of problems.
Companies, scientists and inventors have resorted to syneptics. This technique inspired ideas for creating the famous Pringles potato chips, magnesium-impregnated bandages, disposable diapers, Kleenex tissues and many other innovations.
What is syneptics?
The question of what syneptics is does not have a linear answer because it is a theory and a method at the same time. As a theory it has eminently operational sense, it studies the creative process and the psychological mechanisms of creative activity in order to increase the chances of success in solving problems. As a method, syneptics is a structured approach whose purpose is to offer a repeatable procedure that can increase the chances of achieving creative solutions.
The principles of syneptics
William Gordon, psychologist and co-creator of the syneptic-based approach to problem solving, developed three fundamental precepts on which he based his theory:
- People can be more creative if they understand the psychological processes behind creativity.
- In the creative process the emotional component is more important than the intellectual, and the irrational side is more important than the rational.
- To increase the chances of success in the creative process, it is necessary to understand and work together with the emotional and irrational elements.
Gordon recognized a fundamental role to metacognition in syneptics, as well as to emotional, irrational and unconscious elements in creative research. But we cannot forget that in no case are these separated from logical or convergent thinking, which is responsible for ensuring that creative ideas can be put into practice. The brightest idea will fade if we don't find a way to make it happen.
The psychological mechanisms of syneptics
From these basic theoretical principles emerged the two most interesting elements that constitute the true essence of syneptics in practice:
- Making known what is unknown.
- Alienate what you know.
Gordon himself summed it up in one sentence: "Trust in things that are strange and alienate things you trust." With this he intended to underline the importance of abstracting from the original problem, feeling comfortable with the novelty, so as to give rise to new solutions. Indeed, syneptics favors our ability to deal with complexity, uncertainty and apparent contradictions. Free our irrational thinking, unlock the creative process and let the unconscious flow.
How does he do it? Through a guided psychological process:
- Attachment / separation. It is the first state when we face a problem. We discover its existence, interact with the different elements and develop an emotional resonance, a kind of attachment to the situation. In the separation phase we must do exactly the opposite, take a psychological distance from the problem.
- Rship. At this stage we must seek different perspectives and points of view before trying to reach a solution. This way we avoid moving hastily and making a wrong decision.
- Speculation. At this stage we let our irrational mind free so that it can propose all kinds of solutions. Since this is not a new problem, it is likely that our unconscious was already working on the solution, so sometimes we just have to make sure that our rational mind does not silence it.
- Autonomy of the object. It is a question of evaluating, among all the possible solutions, the most appropriate one for the problem and for ourselves. At this stage we must allow rational and convergent thinking to take over again.
Syneptics plays with analogies because the ability to perceive similarities is one of the most important aspects of cognition. It is central to recognition, classification and learning and plays an essential role in creativity.
- Personal analogy. With this synoptic technique we intend to identify ourselves personally with the problem or its elements. The simplest way to put it into practice is to ask yourself the question: what if I were…? Thus an imaginary fusion is produced between the person, an object or a situation. This fusion allows observation from the inside. For a few moments we step out of our body and imagine that we are the object or the situation. Then we approach the problem from another point of view and we can acquire new knowledge that allows us to find a solution.
- Direct analogy. This synoptic technique is very simple because it tries to establish all kinds of comparisons between facts, knowledge, technologies, objects or organisms and others, which have some degree of similarity. It starts with simple comparisons of similar objects and progresses to more abstract concepts. The power of this technique lies in the fact that when we free our non-rational mind, we begin to generate our own analogies and discover the similarities between distant and seemingly disconnected objects or ideas.
- Symbolic analogy. This mechanism is also called "Book Title". It is a question of formulating very compressed statements, with a poetic sense, starting from a problem. The procedure consists in selecting a keyword related to the problem and asking ourselves what its essence is, and then trying to experience or feel the discovered meanings. Finally, we need to integrate the entire web of meanings and feelings into a word or two like a book title. These expressions, sometimes poetic, sometimes paradoxical, have the virtue of integrating very different realities, opening a new field of discussion and possible solutions.
- Fantastic analogy. With this mechanism, all forms of logical and rational thinking are isolated, completely freeing the imagination. Starting from a specific problem, this freedom usually leads us to the expression of disconnected thoughts and many times totally alien to common sense. This leads us to imaginary solutions that are outside the universe of the possible, but which can lead to concrete and achievable answers. It simply means not getting stuck and thinking that the ideas that come to our mind are too bizarre or impossible.
These ideas may seem a little bizarre at first, but practicing them gradually opens us up to a new and greater world of experiences and perceptions because they help us break the psychological inertia that keeps us trapped in conventional ways of thinking. And if they don't work, we can always resort to triggers.
10 triggers of syneptics to foster creativity
Sometimes, when the problem is very complex, when we are too emotionally involved or the solution does not convince us at all, it can be useful to resort to a series of triggers that aim to transform a small part of the problem to completely free the creative mind.
- Remove. Eliminate or simplify some parts of the solution or problem.
- Repeat. Duplicate parts of the solution to take it to the next level.
- Combine. It combines different perspectives, however dissimilar, to give rise to a new one.
- Add. Add elements, so that your solution is more solid or original.
- Transfer. Shift your perspective into a completely different situation and explore how the change can help you improve the solution.
- Replace. Take one element of the problem or solution and replace it with another that is more interesting to you, even if it apparently has no relation whatsoever.
- Change the scale. Imagine what would happen if you suddenly changed the size of the problem, if it became huge or very small.
- Frammenta. Take part in the problem and seek a solution. How can this solution help you solve the rest of the problem?
- Tergiversa. Let your imagination fly and imagine that you have solved the problem as if there were no obstacles. What would be the perfect solution?
- Anima. Imagine the problem is a real person. How would it behave? What solutions could it propose?