This is a compilation of techniques gathered from various sources on the Internet regarding the topic of problem solving.


1)Morphological Forced Connections
3)Mind Maps
6)Metaphorical thinking
7)Lotus Blossom
8)Neuro-Linguistic Programming
9)Assumption Smashing
10)Ask Questions
11)DO IT
12)Unconscious Problem Solving
13)Lateral Thinking
14)Six Thinking Hats
15)The Discontinuity Principle
18)Forced Analogy
19)Attribute Listing
20)Problem Reversal

Morphological Forced Connections

Morphological Forced Connections

This application of attribute listing is contained in The Universal Traveler which authors Koberg and Bagnall call 'Morphological Forced Connections'. They give the following rules for their 'foolproof invention-finding scheme' along with an example showing how their scheme works. Here it is:

* List the attributes of the situation. * Below each attribute, place as many alternates as you can think of * When completed, make many random runs through the alternates, picking up a different one from each column and assembling the combinations into entirely new forms of your original subject.

After all, inventions are often new ways of combining old bits and pieces.

Example: Improve a ball-point pen
Cylindrical Material Cap Ink Source
Faceted Metal Attached Cap No Catridge
Square Glass No Cap Permanent
Beaded Wood Retracts Paper Catridge
Sculptered Paper Cleaning Cap Catridge Made

Invention: A Cube Pen; once corner writes, leaving six faces for ads, calendars, photos, etc. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Another use of attribute listing, credited to Fritz Zwicky, is called Morphological Analysis and is an automatic method of combining parameters into new combinations for the later review of the problem solver. A selection of parameters or attributes is chosen and combinations explored. You could imagine three attributes as X, Y and Z axes.

An excellent way of implementing this method is with a computer program to enumerate the combinations and prompt the user with random combinations. Often the combinations are useful idea prompters and stepping stones to other solutions. I have such a program written in Hypercard, but the technique is not difficult.

Of additional value is to have a collection of attribute lists for plugging into your morphological analysis. Here are some of mine:

Human Ages Baby, Toddler, Pre-Schooler, Child, Adolescent,Adult,Retired
Time Units Milli-seconds, Seconds, Minutes, Hours,Morning/Afternoon/Evening, Days, Weeks, Fortnight,Month,Quarters, Years, Decades, Century
Colours Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet,Black, White, Brown, Pink, Crimson
Meals>/TD> Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, Dinner, Supper, Snack
Six Questions Who, What, When, Where, How, Why

Think of the very popular books produced by Rick Smolan (photographer) which included A Day in the Life of Australia and his more recent A Day in the Life of Cyberspace. My using morphological analysis, you could replace A Day with the list of time units, Life could be replaced with Birth/Death/Growth/Decay and the last word could be replaced with a list of your areas of interest, eg My Family, My Country, My Dog.

As you evaluate the combinations, you will encounter such combinations as: 'A Year in the Death of my employer' which could prompt you to examine the decline of your employer following your retrenchment. (I speak from experience!).




How many ideas are really original?

It is quite valid to imitate other ideas as a preparatory step to original thinking. Try what all the 'great' creators have done: imitate, imitate, imitate. After you have imitated enough, you will find your preferences shape what you are doing into a distinct style. Originality is a natural result of sincere creative pursuit.

Isaac Newton said:

'If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulder of giants'.

Just as the Beatles started out playing cover tunes, J.S. Bach went blind in his old age copying scores of other musicians (for personal study), Beethoven played on the themes of his time, and Jazz musicians insert popular melodies into the middle of bizarre atonal solos. Ideas are constantly on the move, much to the annoyance of patent copyright lawyers! Certainly, ideas may be exploited by the materially minded, just like anything else. But if you truly comprehend an idea, it is yours.

Dean Willian R. Inge said:

'What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.'

T. S. Eliot said:

The immature poet imitates; the mature poet plagiarizes.


Mind Maps


The human brain is very different from a computer. Whereas a computer works in a linear fasion, the brain works associatively as well as linearly - comparing, integrating and synthesising as it goes.

Association plays a dominant role in nearly every mental function, and words themselves are no exception. Every single word, and idea has numerous links attaching it to other ideas and concepts.

Mind maps, developed by Tony Buzan are an effective method of note-taking and useful for the generation of ideas by associations. To make a mind map, one starts in the centre of the page with the main idea, and works outward in all directions, producing a growing and organised structure composed of key words and key images. Key features are: * Organisation * Key Words * Association * Clustering * Visual Memory - Print the key words, use color, symbols, icons, 3D-effects,arrows and outlining groups of words * Outstandingness - every Mind Map needs a unique centre * Conscious involvement

Mindmaps are beginning to take on the same structure as memory itself. Once a mind map is drawn, it seldom needs to be referred to again. Mind Maps help organise information.

Because of the large amount of association involved, they can be very creative, tending to generate new ideas and associations that have not been thought of before. Every item in a map is in effect, a centre of another map.

The creative potential of a mind map is useful in brainstorming sessions. You only need to start with the basic problem as the centre, and generate associations and ideas from it in order to arrive at a large number of different possible approaches. By presenting your thoughts and perceptions in a spatial manner and by using colour and pictures, a better overview is gained and new connections can be made visible.

Mind maps are a way of representing associated thoughts with symbols rather than with extraneous words something like organic chemistry. The mind forms associations almost instantaneously, and 'mapping' allows you to write your ideas quicker than expressing them using only words or phrases.

More information is available in a Mind Mapping FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Document. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Notes from Books by Tony Buzan

* 'Use Both Sides of your Brain' Plume 1989 * Chapter 6 - Mind Maps Introduction * Chapter 7 - Mind Maps - The Laws * Chapter 8 - Mind Maps - advanced methods and uses * Chapter 9 - The Mind Map organic study technique (MMOST)

* The Mind Map Book - How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximise Your Brain's Untapped Potential * The Mind Map Book * The disadvantages of standard notes * Mind maps use pictures. * Harnessing the full range of your cortical skills * Summary of the Mind Map Laws * The mnemonic mind map as a mirror of creativity. * Creative Thinking Mind Maps * Computer Mind Mapping

* The Book of Genius (Details coming soon)

Mind Mapping Software

The Software section of this web site contains details of several programs for Mindmapping. Programs for mind-mapping include... * Axon Idea Processor * Inspiration * Mind Maps Plus * Mind Mapper * Mindmap from emagic

Other Mind Map Web Sites

* Tony Buzan's Web Site * World Wide Brain Club * Buzan at Cityscape * Mind Mapper Software * Joyce Wycoff's page on MindMapping * * Jan W.A. Lanzing's Concept Mapping Homepage. * Mind Mapping Sitein Germany (the contents are in German). Produced by Maria Beyer - Mind Mapping trainer, and seminar leader.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Some templates developed by Charles Cave to use as starting points for mind mapping a problem. Feel free to send me your mind maps for inclusion on this page! GIFs, JPEGS or Windows Bitmaps are preferred.

* The six questions * The five senses

* Life planning - spiritual, physical, etc...




Storyboards go back to the very beginnings of cinema, with Sergei Eisenstein using the technique. In the world of animation, Walt Disney and his staff developed a Story Board system in 1928. Disney wanted to achieve full animation and for this, he needed to produce an enormous number of drawings. Managing the thousands of drawings and the progress of a project was nearly impossible, so Disney had his artists pin up their drawings on the studio walls. This way, progress could be checked, and scenes added and discarded with ease.

Story-Boarding is a popular management told to faciliate the creative-thinking process and can be likened to taking your thoughts and the thoughts of others and spreading them out on a wall as you work on a project or solve a problem.

When you put ideas up on Story Boards, you begin to see interconnections, how one idea relates to another, and how all the pieces come together. Once the ideas start flowing, those working with the Story Board will become immersed in the problem. People will 'hitch-hike' onto other ideas. To implement a Story Board solution you can use a cork board or similar surface to allow pinning up index cards. Software programs are now available such as Corkboard (Macintosh).

Start with a topic card, and under the topic card, place header cards containing general points, categories, considerations, etc that will come up. Under the header cards you will put sub-heading cards ('subbers') containing the ideas that fall under each header; they're the details ideas generated in the creative-thinking session, ideas that develop or support the headers.

Story Boarding works well in group sessions and there are four major types of Story Boards (according to Mike Vance in his 'Creative Thinking' cassette program): Planning, Ideas, Communication and Organisation boards. During a story-boarding session, consider all ideas relevant, no matter how impractical they appear. Think positively, hold all criticism until later, and hitchhike on other's ideas. Creative Thinking sessions are held separately from Critical Thinking sessions.

Leonardo da Vinci used to put ideas up on the wall and examine the layout.

Story-Boards give total immersion in a problem as you can see how everything fits together.



The term Synectics from the Greek word synectikos which means 'bringing forth together' or 'bringing different things into unified connection.'

Since creativity involves the coordination of things into new structures, every creative thought or action draws on synectic thinking. Creative behaviour occurs in the process of becoming aware of problems, deficiencies, gaps in knowledge, missing elements, disharmonies, bringing together in new relationships available information; identifying the missing elements; searching for solutions, making guesses, or formulating hypotheses. - E Paul Torrance

Creativity is the marvellous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition - Max Ernst

A man becomes creative, whether he is an artist or scientist, when he finds a new unity in the variety of nature. He does so by finding a likeness between things which were not thought alike before - Jacob Bronowski Buckminster Fuller summed up the essence of Synectics when he said all things regardless of their dissimilarity can somehow be linked together, either in a physical, psychological or symbolic way.

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.

William Gordon set forth three fundamental precepts of synectic theory: * Creative output increases when people become aware of the psychological processes that control their behaviour * the emotional component of creative behaviour is more important than the intellectual component; the irrational is more important than the intellectual component * the emotional and irrational components must be understood and used as 'precision: tools in order to increase creative output.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Three Lessons

1. The Synectic Attitude

* Synectics encourages the ability to live with complexity and apparent contradiction * Synectics stimulates creative thinking * Synectics mobilises both sides of the brain, the right brain (the dreamer), and the left brain (the reasoner) * Synectics provides a free-thinking state of consciousness

In a free-thinking state, analogies between perceptions, concepts, or even systems and abstractions tend to occur repeatedly. - Silvano Arieti

Creativity demands flexibility and imaginativeness but also tightly organised thought processes, matched by a high degree of emotional and psychological freedom. - R. L. Razik

2. The Synectic Trigger Mechanisms

* Synectic Trigger mechanisms catalyse new thoughts, ideas and inventions * Synectic Theory is based on disruptive thinking - similar to the PO operation of Edward de Bono

The creative process is a matter of continually separating and bringing together, bringing together and separating, in many dimensions - affective, conceptual, perceptual, volitional and physical - Albert Rothenberg

3. The Synectic Ways of Working

* Synectics is based on the fusion of opposites * Synectics is based on analogical thinking * Synectics is Synergistic. Its action produces a result which is greater than the sum of its parts.

The world is totally connected. Whatever explanation we invent at any moment is a partial connection, and its richness derives from the richness of such connections as we are able to make. - Jacob Bronowsku

The Synectic Pinball Machine

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.

Let's get started!

Ideas are not born in a vacuum. First of all, you must identify the problem you have and write it down. Next, you must gather information about it to mix in with the information already stored in the brain.

Now do something. 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. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Design Synectics - Stimulating Creativity in Design Nicholas Roukes, Published by Davis Publications 1988. Synectics by W.J.Gordon (possibly out of print) The Practice of Creativity by Gordon Prince. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The Axon Idea processor contains a set of Synectics questions as part of its checklist system.

MacSynectics is a Hypercard stack (for Apple Macintosh) of trigger questions allowing the user to be presented with questions at random, and to record the ideas generated during the session. Go to the Hypercard Software section.


Metaphorical thinking

Metaphorical thinking

People tend to think of the mind as analogous to current technology. Over the last few centuries, the mind has been likened to a steam engine, telephone exchange, and recently, a computer. The mind is more than a computer!

A metaphor is a soft thinking technique connecting two different universes of meaning. Examples: Food chain, flow of time, fiscal watchdog. The key to metaphorical thinking is Similarity. The human mind tends to look for similarities. A road map is a model or metaphor of reality and useful for explaining thing, the Dolby Sound system is like a sonic laundry.

Excessive logical thinking can stifle the creative process, so use metaphors as way of thinking differently about something. Make and look for metaphors in your thinking, and be aware of the metaphors you use. Metaphors are wonderful, so long as we remember that they don't constitute a means of proof, as by definition a metaphor must break down at some point.

Imaging within another sensory or conceptual frame can help, eg. the visual images of spring which inspired Vivaldi's 'Prima Vera', the dream that led to Berlioz's 'Symphonie Fantastique,' the art exhibition which Mussorsgy illustrated in 'Pictures at an Exhibition,' and so on.


Lotus Blossom

This exercise involves starting with a central theme or problem and working outward, using ever-widening circles or 'petals.' Central themes lead to ideas that themselves become central themes, and so forth. The unfolding themes trigger new ideas and new themes.

1. Copy the diagram above [by clicking on the image above for a larger image, or downloading an Excel 4 spreadsheet]

2. Write your central theme or problem in the diagram's center.

Think of related ideas or applications and write them in the surrounding circles (those labelled A through H). For instance, one company's central theme was 'establishing a creative climate.' They surrounded this statement in the central box with: 'offer idea contests,' 'create a stimulating environment,' 'have creative-thinking meetings,' 'generate ways to 'get out of your box',' 'create a positive attitude,' 'establish a creative-idea committee,' 'make work fun,' and 'expand the meaning of work.'

4. Use the ideas written in circles ADH as central themes for the surrounding boxes. So, if you had written 'create a stimulating environment' in circle A, you would copy it into the circle labeled A directly below, where it would become the central theme for a new box, and so on.

5. Try to think of eight new ideas involving the new central theme, and write them in the squares surrounding it. Use the idea stimulators to help you generate ideas. Fill out as many boxes as you can.

6. Continue the process until you've completed as much of the diagram as you can.

7. Evaluate your ideas. One of the ideas a company adopted was to provide a special room for creative thinking. They stocked it with books on creativity, videos, educational toys and games, beanbags, modeling clay, and so on. It was decorated with pictures of the employees as babies, as a reminder that we are all born innocent and creative.

An unemploued marketing executive used the lotus exercise to generate ideas he needed to land a job. His central theme was 'job'. One of the ideas surrounding this central box was 'create a resume.' 'Resume' then became a new central theme and, using the idea stimulators, he came up with a number of variations on the idea of a resume. For example, he took out ads in several papers with the bold headline, '$50,000 Reward.' The fine print underneath explained that an employer could save $50,000 by not paying a headhunter to find a person with his marketing talents. When interested employers called the number listed in the ad, they heard a recording of his resume. He received forty-five job offers


Neuro-Linguistic Programming

NLP Techniques

Practitioners of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a.k.a. the 'science of subjective experience', have produced a number of techniques that can be used to describe the strategies used by highly effective people.

Essentially, experts are carefully studied and analyzed (or modeled in NLP parlance) as a way to make conscious and unpack the mental strategies they used to get expert results. Once the strategies are decoded, they are the available for others to enhance their own expertise. Milton Erickson, the well known hypnotherapist, and Virginia Satir, one of the world's best known family therapist were among those who were modeled by NLP practitioners.

Interestingly, it appears that people can be modeled even after they have died! A case in point: Robert Dilts (one of the creators of NLP) recently modeled Walt Disney. He studied his writings, observed films of him doing his work and interviewed people that worked with him. From this he extracted the Disney Creativity Model, which will be briefly described below.

The basis strategy for modeling people is to either observe them while performing or to have them mentally go back to a time when they were performing extremely well, and to have them describe (while reliving a particular moment of great human performance) the thought patterns, physiology and context that supported the performance

The modeler might also choose to elicit a strategy that lead to poor performance or a failure to get the same results as a 'counter model.' This is done to provide a contrast that clearly points out the distinctions between the two states of 'success' and 'failure'. NLP provides a set of linguistic and observational tools that ensure useful descriptions and models.

Walt Disney

Dilts concluded that Walt Disney moved through three distinct states when he produce his work. Dilt's called them Dreamer, Realist and Critic. Each of these three stages have a distinct physiology and thought patterns and can be consciously employed by individuals who want to improve their creative performance.

It is beyond the scope and mandate of this FAQ to elaborate any further on Dilt's work. If you want more information, consult his books: 'Tools for Dreamers' and 'Skills for the Future'. Details are in FAQ Part 1.


NLP techniques are also useful to help you remember, at an instant, what psychological state you must be in to be creative. NLP practitioners can 'anchor' a particular state in which you are most creative. In fact, you anchor these state yourself. Many people have to be in a certain room, or standing or walking, or in some particular context in order to be creative. The context is the anchor that reminds you mind/body to be creative.

A Demo on using NLP As An Aid to Creativity

The next time you find yourself creative, e.g. you are noticing it easy to generate a lot of ideas or you finding it easy to elaborate on an idea, notice the position of your body and observe the context in which you are operating Record as much as you can about how you 'made yourself' creative. You can then use that information (the more details the better) to set the state for being creative in the future, i.e. put yourself in a matching body posture and in a similar particular context as before.

Another technique is to make a tape recording of everything that is going on in your mind and body when you are being creative. If you're with someone else, have them tell you everything they noticed you doing. (Tell them to focus on behaviors, not interpretations of the behavior, e.g. the observation 'you were smiling' is not as useful as 'the corners of you mouth were turning upwards'). Then, listen carefully to their report and use that information to recreate the context the next time you want to be creative.

A Caution And An Invitation

Keep in mind, the suggested activities outlined in the last two paragraphs do not, in any way, do justice to the sophistication of NLP techniques. If you're interested in NLP as a way to enhance your creative potential, read, talk with those who know a lot about NLP, and find a good trainer.

Other NLP Resources Web site.

NLP FAQ and Resources The home of the alt.psychology.nlp newsgroup.

. NLP and DHE Neuro-linguistic programming and design human engineering.


Assumption Smashing

Assumption Smashing

A useful technique of generating ideas is to list the assumptions of the problem, and then explore what happens as you drop each of these assumptions individually or in combination.

For example, I used to work in the Customer Service division of a software company. When customers purchase software, they are encouraged to purchase support agreements for a cost of 15% of the software value. The revenue from this maintenance funds the support personnel who answer telephones.

The assumptions of this situation are:

* Customers purchase maintenance agreements * Customers pay 15% of the software's worth for support * Support is a product and should therefore be sold * The software vendor provides helpful, timely support

Now think about the situations as each attribute is dropped.

What happens if support is free? - Maybe the software price should be increased and the support given away, creating the impression of free support. Don't support the product - Don't offer support. The vendor doesn't have to support it, so doesn't have to employ support staff. If anyone rings for help, tell them to buzz off! This could lead to customers forming their own support groups (user groups) or turning to other areas such as the Internet, bulletin boards, newsletters, independent support specialists and so on.

Even more assumptions could be dropped. What if the vendor gave away the software. You are most likely reading this file with Netscape Naviagor or Microsoft Explorer. Did you buy that software? How do you think Netscape makes money if most people don't pay for the browser? --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Free form assumption dropping

Assumption dropping is a great way to relax and think of crazy ideas. How would you answer these questions? * What if gravity stopped for one minute every day? * What would you do if you didn't have to sleep? * Describe your working week if you only had to go to work (or school) for one day a week? Or one month of the year?

More examples can be found in a document on Escape Thinking.


Ask Questions

Ask 'Why' a problem is occuring and then ask 'Why' four more times.

For example...

1. Why has the machine stopped?
A fuse blew because of an overload

2. Why was there an overload?
There wasn't enough lubrication for the bearings

3. Why wasn't there enough lubrication?
The pump wasn't pumping enough

4. Why wasn't lubricant being pumped?
The pump shaft was vibrating as a result of abrasion

5. Why was there abrasion?
There was no filter, allowing chips of material into the pump.

Installation of a filter solves the problem.

The Six Universal Questions

Idea Generators should be aware of a simple universal truth. There are only six questions that one human can ask another:





This technique is fully described in the book The Art of Creative Thinking by Robert W. Olson and published by Perennial Library (ISBN 0-06-097051-0) 1980.

The name is based on the following abbreviation:

The pattern of the DO IT process emphasises the need to Define problems, Open yourself to many possible solutions, Identify the best solution and then Transform it into action effectively.

The ten DO IT catalysts, designed to help us creatively define, open, identify and transform, are...

* Define

* Mind Focus
* Mind Grip
* Mind Stretch

* Open

* Mind Prompt
* Mind Surprise
* Mind Free
* Mind Synthesise

* Identify

* Mind Integrate
* Mind Strengthen
* Mind Synergise

* Transform

The DO IT Process and Catalysts

The DO IT catalysts may be used effectively separately for quick problem solving, or together as a process when very importatn or difficult problems are to be solved. They are designed to accelerate and strengthen your natural creative problem-solving ability and to stimulate a large number of good, diverse ideas for solutions to your problems.

Write down a statement of the problem!

Define the problem carefully to make sure you are solving the real problem and to help engage your unconscius and conscious minds to the problem.

Mind Focus 1) Ask why the problem exists. This may lead to a broader statement of the problem.
2) Try to subdivide the problem into smaller problems. This may lead to a narrower restatement of the problem.
Mind Grip Write down at least three two-word statements of the problem objective. Select the combination of words which best represents the precise problem you want to solve. Use this to write a new, more optimal and effective restatement of the problem.
Mind Stretch List the goals, objectives and/or criteria which the solution of the problem is to satisfy. (Think of the obstacles which must be overcome.) Then stretch each goal, objective or criterion and write down any ideas which are stimulated.
Write down the most optimal statement of the problem

Open yourself to consider many diverse solution ideas. Delay judgment on ideas generated until the Identify step. First, list any ideas which are on your mind. Then....

Mind Prompt Ask other people with diverse backgrounds, knowledge and intelligence for solutions to your problem. Use their solutions as prompters for your own ideas.
Mind Surprise List ridiculous, laughable ideas. Use them to trigger more reasonably, possible usable solutions to your problem.
Mind Free Stimulate fresh ideas by forcing similarities between your problem and things wich aren't logically related to your problem.

1 - Write down the name of a physical object, picture, plant or animal.

2 - List its characteristics in detail.

3 - Use the listed characteristics to stimulate insights into and ideas for the solution to your problem.
Mind Synthesise Circle the best of ideas generated so far during the Define and Open steps

Identify the best solution to your problem and modify it until you are ready to transform your idea into action.

Mind Integrate Review your goals, objectives and/or criteria then trust your own gut-level feeling to select the best idea from the already circled ideas.
Mind Strengthen List the negative aspects of your idea. Be vicious! Try to positive the negatives. Then modify the solution to reduce the negative aspects.
Mind Energise Exaggerate the worst and best potential consequence which might result from the implementation of your solution. Modify your solution to minimise bad consequences and maximise good consequencxes. Proceed to the transformation step if you are sufficiently energised.

Carefully write down a statement of your final solution idea

Transform your solution idea into action. Use the DO IT process and catalysts again to help creatively solve the problem which you now have of 'How to transform your solution idea into action.'

Important Note: When time allows, take advantage of incubation (unconscious thinking) and research processes (find out what ideas have already been tried).

Most of our everyday personal and professional problems are solved in a few minutes or instantly. Therefore you will probably find it advantageous to use only one or a few of the catalysts at a time.


Unconscious Problem Solving

Unconscious Problem Solving

This method relies on the unconscious mind to be continually processing the various sensory inputs stored in short-term and long-term memory.

Using your unconscious to solve problems is a process of listening and a readiness to record ideas as they percolate into your conscious mind.

Some of the greatest thinkers were great relaxers. Einstein was a daydreamer and spent much of his relaxation time sailing on a lake. Ralph Waldo Emerson enjoyed fishing.

It's all very well to work hard on a problem under the stressful pressure of deadlines, but the opposite condition of relaxation and not working on a problem is very valuable.

A practical application of this technique is to saturate yourself in the problem and then take a break. Write down the problem on a writing pad and leave it by your bedside. The next morning, take that pad and start writing down your ideas. Aim to write three full pages of anything that comes to mind. Explore your dreams.

We all dream, and we all dream a lot more than we think we do. As you get into bed, say out loud: 'Tonight I am going to dream about ....' (including a brief description of the problem). When you wake up, lie and bed and think some more about the problem.

The important thing is not to try too hard. Go with the flow. Incubate.


Lateral Thinking

Lateral Thinking

Edward de Bono writes in 'Serious Creativity', how he became interested in the sort of thinking that computers could not do: creative and perceptual thinking. The entry in the Concise Oxford Dictionary reads: 'seeking to solve problems by unorthodox or apparently illogical methods.

Lateral thinking is about moving sideways when working on a problem to try different perceptions, different concepts and different points of entry. The term covers a variety of methods including provocations to get us out of the usual line of thought. Lateral thinking is cutting across patterns in a self-organising system, and has very much to do with perception.

For example: Granny is sitting knitting and three year old Susan is upsetting Granny by playing with the wool. One parent suggests putting Susan into the playpen. The other parent suggests it might be a better idea to put Granny in the playpen to protect her from Susan. A lateral answer!

The term 'Lateral thinking' can be used in two senses: * Specific: A set of systematic techniques used for changing concepts and perceptions, and generating new ones.

* General: Exploring multiple possibilities and approaches instead of pursuing a single approach.

Coming soon to this page will be a summary of de Bono's fundamental principles, and a nutshell guide of techniques.


Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A summary by Sylvie Labelle

Early in the 1980s Dr. de Bono invented the Six Thinking Hats method. The method is a framework for thinking and can incorporate lateral thinking. Valuable judgmental thinking has its place in the system but is not allowed to dominate as in normal thinking. Dr. de Bono organized a network of authorized trainers to introduce the Six Thinking Hats. Advanced Practical Thinking (APTT), of Des Moines, Iowa USA, licenses the training in all parts of the world except Canada (and now, Europe). APTT organizes the trainers and supplies the only training materials written and authorized by Dr. de Bono.

Organizations such as Prudential Insurance, IBM, Federal Express, British Airways, Polaroid, Pepsico, DuPont, and Nippon Telephone and Telegraph, possibly the world's largest company, use Six Thinking Hats.

The six hats represent six modes of thinking and are directions to think rather than labels for thinking. That is, the hats are used proactively rather than reactively.

The method promotes fuller input from more people. In de Bono's words it 'separates ego from performance'. Everyone is able to contribute to the exploration without denting egos as they are just using the yellow hat or whatever hat. The six hats system encourages performance rather than ego defense. People can contribute under any hat even though they initially support the opposite view.

The key point is that a hat is a direction to think rather than a label for thinking. The key theoretical reasons to use the Six Thinking Hats are to: * encourage Parallel Thinking * encourage full-spectrum thinking * separate ego from performance

The published book Six Thinking Hats (de Bono, 1985) is readily available and explains the system, although there have been some additions and changes to the execution of the method. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The following is an excerpt from John Culvenor and Dennis Else Engineering Creative Design, 1995)

White Hat on the Hats

There are six metaphorical hats and the thinker can put on or take off one of these hats to indicate the type of thinking being used. This putting on and taking off is essential. The hats must never be used to categorize individuals, even though their behavior may seem to invite this. When done in group, everybody wear the same hat at the same time.

White Hat thinking

This covers facts, figures, information needs and gaps. 'I think we need some white hat thinking at this point...' means Let's drop the arguments and proposals, and look at the data base.'

Red Hat thinking

This covers intuition, feelings and emotions. The red hat allows the thinker to put forward an intuition without any ned to justify it. 'Putting on my red hat, I think this is a terrible proposal.' Ususally feelings and intuition can only be introduced into a discussion if they are supported by logic. Usually the feeling is genuine but the logic is spurious.The red hat gives full permission to a thinker to put forward his or her feelings on the subject at the moment.

Black Hat thinking

This is the hat of judgment and caution. It is a most valuable hat. It is not in any sense an inferior or negative hat. The rior or negative hat. The black hat is used to point out why a suggestion does not fit the facts, the available experience, the system in use, or the policy that is being followed. The black hat must always be logical.

Yellow Hat thinking

This is the logical positive. Why something will work and why it will offer benefits. It can be used in looking forward to the results of some proposed action, but can also be used to find something of value in what has already happened.

Green Hat thinking

This is the hat of creativity, alternatives, proposals, what is interesting, provocations and changes.

Blue Hat thinking

This is the overview or process control hat. It looks not at the subject itself but at the 'thinking' about the subject. 'Putting on my blue hat, I feel we should do some more green hat thinking at this point.' In technical terms, the blue hat is concerned with meta-cognition. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This was an excerpt from Edward de Bono's 'Why Do Quality Efforts Lose Their Fizz?' Quality is No Longer Enough, The Journal for Quality and Participation, September 1991


The Discontinuity Principle

The Discontinuity Principle

The more you are used to something, the less stimulating it is for our thinking.

When you disrupt your thought patterns, those ideas that create the greatest stimulus to our thinking do so because they force us to make new connections in order to comprehend the situation. Roger van Oech calls this a 'Whack on the Side of the Head', and Edward de Bono coined a new word, PO, which stands for 'Provocative Operation'.

Try programming interruptions into your day. Change working hours, get to work a different way, listen to a different radio station, read some magazines or books you wouldn't normally read, try a different recipe, watch a TV program or film you wouldn't normally watch.

Provocative ideas are often stepping stones that get us thinking about other ideas.

Abutting ideas next to each other, such that their friction creates new thought-paths a technique that flourishes in the east (haiku poetry and Zen koans) but causes discomfort in Western thinking.




Alex Osborn in his pioneering book Applied Imagination talks about 'Questions as spurs to ideation', and outlines about 75 idea-spurring questions in his book.

The simplest set of questions comes from the six basic questions described in the Ask Questions section of the Creativity Web.

* Why is it necessary?
* Where should it be done?
* When should it be done?
* Who should do it?
* What should be done?
* How should it be done?

The What other uses? is a good question for by adding uses we can often add value. By piling up alternatives by way of other uses, a still better use is likely to come to light.

Osborn went on with the following questions:

* Adapt?
* Modify?
* Substitute?
* Magnify/Maximise?
* Minimise/Eliminate?
* Rearrange?
* Reversal?
* Combine?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thinkertoys

Michael Michalko, in his book Thinkertoys describes the rearrangement of the above questions (by Bob Eberle) into the mnemonic SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Reverse).

Start applying these questions to your problems and see what ideas come forth.




The term Brainstorming has become a commonly used word in the English language as a generic term for creative thinking. The basis of brainstorming is a generating ideas in a group situation based on the principle of suspending judgment - a principle which scientific research has proved to be highly productive in individual effort as well as group effort. The generation phase is separate from the judgment phase of thinking.

In Michael Morgan's book Creative Workforce Innovation he gives the following guidelines:

Brainstorming is a process that works best with a group of people when you follow the following four rules.

* Have a well-defined and clearly stated problem
* Have someone assigned to write down all the ideas as they occur
* Have the right number of people in the group

* Have someone in charge to help enforce the following guidelines:
* Suspend judgment
* Every idea is accepted and recorded
* Encourage people to build on the ideas of others
* Encourage way-out and odd ideas

In Serious Creativity, Edward de Bono describes brainstorming as a traditional approach to do deliberate creative thinking with the consequence that people think creative thinking can only be done in groups. The whole idea of brainstorming is that other people's remarks would act to stimulate your own ideas in a sort of chain reaction of ideas.

Groups are not at all necessary for deliberate creative thinking, and Serious Creativity describes techniques for individuals to use to produce ideas. In a group you have to listen to others and you may spend time repeating your own ideas so they get sufficient attention. Thinking as a group using brainstorming can certainly produce ideas, but individual thinking using techniques such as those described by de Bono should be employed.

de Bono believes that individuals are much better at generating ideas and fresh directions. Once the idea has been born then a group may be better able to develop the idea and take it in more directions than can the originator.


Forced Analogy

Forced Analogy

Forced analogy is a very useful and fun-filled method of generating ideas. The idea is to compare the problem with something else that has little or nothing in common and gaining new insights as a result.

You can force a relationship between almost anything, and get new insights - companies and whales, management systems and telephone networks, or your relationship and a pencil.

Forcing relationships is one of the most powerful ways to develop ways to develop new insights and new solutions. A useful way of developing the relationships is to have a selection of objects or cards with pictures to help you generate ideas. Choose an object or card at random and see what relationships you can force.

Use mind-mapping or a matrix to record the attributes and then explore aspects of the problem at hand. -----------------------------------

Corporation as a matchbox

Robert Olson in his book The Art of Creative Thinking describes the problem of examining a corporate organisation structure by comparing it to a matchbox.

Matchbox Attributes Corporation
Striking surface on two sides The protection an organisation needs against strikes
Six Sides Six essential organisational divisions
Sliding centre section The heart of the organisation should be slidable or flexible.
Made of cardboard Inexpensive method of structure - disposable

Marriage as a pencil

Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Artist Within shows the example of a pencil used to examine aspects of a marriage.

Pencil Marriage
Gold Ring Remember promises
Blue Ring Clean the tub. I share depression too often with family
Yellow Too timid. Harold needs to know my true feelings.
Flat side Dull daily routine. Change activities
Six sides 6 things to do: Budget, Take a class, Improve discipline, be more assertive, start now!, improve communications.
Eraser Rub him out! Forgive and forget past mistakes.
Money Spend too much. Need a budget. Take a job.
Superior I feel inferior to my husband.
Wood shaft Feel closed in. Need other interests. Am I getting shafted?
Lead Get the lead out! Do It! if I press any harder I will break.
Write Send a note telling Harold that I love him.


Attribute Listing

Attribute Listing

Notes from 'Creating Workforce Innovation' by Michael Morgan - published by Business and Professional Pubolshing 1993

Attribute listing is a great technique for ensuring all possible aspects of a problem have been examined. Attribute listing is breaking the problem down into smaller and smaller bits and seeing what you discover when you do.

Let's say you are in the business of making torches. You are under pressure from your competition and need to improve the quality of your product. By breaking the torch down into its component parts - casing, switch, battery, bulb and the weight - the attributes of each one - you can develop a list of ideas to improve each one.

Attribute Listing - Improving a torch
SwitchOn/OffOn/Off low beam

Attribute listing is a very useful technique for quality improvement of complicated products, procedures for services. It is a good technique to use in conjunction with some other creative techniques, especially idea-generating ones like brainstorming. This allows you to focus on one specific part of a product or process before generating a whole lot of ideas.


Problem Reversal

Problem Reversal

From 'What a Great Idea' by Charles Thompson.

The world is full of opposites. Of course, any attribute, concept or idea is meaningless without its opposite.

Lao-tzu wrote Tao-te Ching which stresses the need for the successful leader to see opposites all around: The wise leader knows how to be creative. In order to lead, the leader learns to follow. In order to prosper, the leader learns to live simply. In both cases, it is the interaction that is creative.

All behaviour consists of opposites...Learn to see things backwards, inside out, and upside down.

The method

* State your problem in reverse. Change a positive statement into a negative one.
* Try to define what something is not.
* Figure out what everybody else is not doing.
* Use the 'What If' Compass
* Change the direction or location of your perspective
* Flip-flop results
* Turn defeat into victory or victory into defeat

1. Make the statement negative

For example, if you are dealing with Customer Service issues, list all the ways you could make customer service bad. You will be pleasantly surprised at some of the ideas you will come up with.

2. Doing What Everybody Else Doesn't

For example, Apple Computer did what IBM didn't, Japan made small, fuel-efficient cars.

3. The 'What-If Compass'

The author has a list of pairs of opposing actions which can be applied to the problem. Just ask yourself 'What if I ........' and plug in each one of the opposites. A small sample:-
* Stretch it/Shrink It
* Freeze it/Melt it
* Personalise it/De-personalise it
* ...

4. Change the direction or location of your perspective

Physical change of perspective, Manage by Walking around, or doing something different.

5. Flip-flop results

If you want to increase sales, think about decreasing them. What would you have to do?

6. Turn defeat into victory or victory into defeat

If something turns out bad, think about the positive aspects of the situation. If I lost all of the files off this computer, what good would come out of it? Maybe I would spend more time with my family?! Who knows!