Problem Solving Strategies: The Synetics Approach - Coach The Mind
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Problem Solving Strategies: The Synetics Approach

Problem Solving Strategies

Problem Solving Strategies: The Synetics Approach

The term Synectics from the Greek word synectikos which means "bringing forth together" or "bringing different things into unified connection" and since creativity involves the coordination of things into new structures, every creative thought or action draws on synectic thinking.

Synectic thinking is the process of discovering the links that unite seemingly disconnected elements. It is a way of mentally taking things apart and putting them together to furnish new insight for all types of problems. It is a creative problem solving technique which uses analogies. This technique has been developed by Gordon and Prince.

The synectics method distinguishes two phases:

  • Making the strange familiar
  • Making the familiar strange (see Roozenburg and Eekels, 1995)


It can also be described as a body of knowledge and a series of techniques designed to induce imaginative problem-solving or creative activities. Techniques include deliberate efforts in right-brain thinking and positive supportive behaviour.

What is its purpose?


  • Encourages the ability to live with complexity and apparent contradiction
  • Stimulates creative thinking
  • Mobilises both sides of the brain, the right brain (the dreamer), and the left brain (the reasoner)
  • Provides a free-thinking state of consciousness
  • Synectic Trigger mechanisms catalyze new thoughts, ideas and inventions
  • Synectic Theory is based on disruptive thinking

How do you do it?

Synectic thinking is like a mental pinball game. Stimulus input bounced against the scoring bumbers (the Trigger Questions) is transformed. Ordinary perceptions are turned into extraordinary ones; the familiar or prosaic is made strange. Synectic play is the creative mind at work.

  • First of all, you must identify the problem you have and write it down.
  • Next, you must gather information about it (you could use ‘Fishbone’ to do this) to mix in with the information already stored in the brain.
  • Take creative action by using the trigger questions to transform your ideas and information into something new. These questions are tools for transformational thinking and may lead you to some great discoveries.

Trigger Questions for Synectics


  • Remove certain parts or elements
  • Compress or make it smaller
  • What can be reduced or disposed of?
  • What rules can you break?
  • How to simplify?
  • How to abstract, stylise or abbreviate?


  • Extend or expand
  • Develop your reference subject
  • Augment, advance or annex it
  • Magnify, make it bigger
  • What else can be added to your idea, image, object, material?


  • Move subject into a new situation
  • Adapt, transpose, relocate, dislocate
  • Adapt subject to a different frame of reference
  • Move subject out of its normal environment
  • Transpose to a different historical, social, geographical setting
  • Adapt a bird wing model to design a bridge
  • How subject can be converted, translated, transfigured?


  • Sympathize with subject
  • Put yourself in its shoes
  • What if subject has human qualities?
  • Relate to subject emotionally, subjectively


  • Mobilize the visual and psychological tensions
  • Control the pictorial movements and forces
  • Apply factors of repetition and progression
  • What human qualities subject has?


  • Overlap, place over, cover, overlay
  • Superimpose dissimilar images or ideas
  • Overlay elements to produce new images, ideas, meanings
  • Superimpose elements from different perspectives, disciplines, time
  • Combine sensory perceptions such as sound and color
  • Superimpose several views to show different moments in time


  • Make subject bigger or smaller
  • Change time scale – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years
  • Change proportion, relative size, ratios, dimensions


  • Exchange, switch or replace
  • What other idea, image, or material can you substitute?
  • What alternate or supplementary plan can be employed?


  • Separate, divide, split, dissect
  • Take your subject or idea apart
  • Chop up, disassemble it
  • What devices can divide it into smaller increments?
  • How to make it appear discontinuous?


  • Separate, set apart, crop, detach
  • Take only part of your subject
  • "Crop" your ideas with a "mental" viewfinder
  • What element can you detach or focus on?


  • Twist subject out of its true shape, proportion or meaning
  • Make imagined or actual distortions
  • Misshape it, yet produce unique metaphoric/aesthetic quality
  • Make it longer, wider, fatter, narrower
  • Melt, crush, bury, crack, tear, torture, spill something on it


  • Camouflage, conceal, deceive, encrypt
  • Hide, mask, "implant" subject into another frame of reference
  • Conceal by mimicry, like chameleons and moths
  • Create a latent image that communicate subconsciously


  • Contradict the subject’s original function
  • Contradict visually and intellectually, yet remain structurally integrated
  • Contradict laws of nature such as gravity, time, human functions
  • Contradict normal procedures, social conventions, rituals
  • Contradict optical and perceptual harmony (eg. illusions)
  • Deny, reverse


  • Ridicule, mimic, mock, burlesque or caricature
  • Make fun of your subject, roast it
  • Transform it into a joke, limerick or pun
  • Make zany, ludicrous or comic references
  • Make a humourous cartoon drawing of the problem


  • Fictionalise, "bend" the truth, falsify, fantasize
  • Use subject as a theme to present ersatz information
  • Interprete information differently to mislead or confuse


  • Draw associations
  • Seek similarities between things that are different
  • Compare with elements from different domains, disciplines
  • What can I compare my subject to?
  • Make logical or illogical associations


  • Cross-fertilise – wed subject with an improbable mate
  • What would you get if you crossed a _____ with a ______?
  • Cross-fertilise colour, form and structure
  • Cross-fertilise organic and inorganic elements
  • Cross-fertilise ideas and perceptions


  • Transform, convert, transmutate
  • Depict your subject in a state of change
  • Change colour, configuration
  • Make structural progressions
  • Make aging (cocoon-to-butterfly) transformation
  • Make "Jekyll and Hyde" transmutations


  • A visual symbol stands for something other than what it is
  • Design an icon for your idea
  • How can your subject be imbued with symbolic qualities?
  • Public symbols are cliché, well-known and understood
  • Private symbols are cryptic, have special meaning to its originator
  • Works of art are often integrations of both public and private symbols
  • Turn your subject into a symbol (public or private)


  • Build a myth around your subject
  • Transform your subject into an iconic object


  • Fantasize your subject
  • Trigger surreal, preposterous, outlandish, bizarre thoughts
  • topple mental and sensory expectations
  • How far out can you extend your imagination?
  • What if automobiles were made of bricks?
  • What if alligators played pool?
  • What if insects grew larger than humans?
  • What if night and day occurred simultaneously?


  • Repeat a shape, colour, form, image, or idea
  • Reiterate, echo, restate or duplicate your reference subject in some way
  • Control the factors of occurrence, repercussion, sequence and progression


  • Bring things together
  • Connect, arrange, link, unify, mix, merge, rearrange
  • Combine ideas, materials and techniques
  • Bring together dissimilar things to produce synergistic integrations
  • What else can you connect to your subject?
  • Connect different sensory modes, frames of reference, disciplines
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