"Synectics" LO27611

From: Barry Mallis (theorgtrainer@earthlink.net)
Date: 11/30/01

Dear At,

You wrote about the loss of imagination in the education environment, with
which, alas, I mostly agree. Warm, blue cobalt color lights of care,
change possibility do glow in odd places, though.

When I was a classroom teacher some twenty years ago, a random urge to
follow my own curiosity led to warm personal discovery which changed the
life of my students.

I was walking on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, mulling my
fate, wondering about the large, old homes along the tree-lined way, when
I came across a shingle announcing SES Associates. For reasons I'll never
know, I turned up a driveway, then right down a set of steps into a
basement where presided one William Jean-Jacques Gordon, founder and
president of SES Associates, "Synectics Education Systems." Before I left
Cambridge that afternoon for the two hour trip back to Vermont, where I
was teaching at the time, my teaching life, and the learning style of my
students, was altered forever.

Bill and I developed a close working relationship. He would give me
material to use in my classrooms. I would try it. We would refine the
method. Bill was NOT a marketeer, he was an inventor with many, many
patents to his name. A scuba diver for the Brits in WWII, he was gruff,
urbane, to the point. I couldn't get away with vagueness...no, not with
Bill. Here's what I learned from him:

He believed that we learn through a process of analogies, that in fact all
discoveries are based upon analogical connections. Connection-making for
Bill was the holy grail. For my classroom of literature students, I could,
perhaps, open up their understanding by incorporating one's personal
experience into understanding--making the connection with what one knows
and what one is trying to grasp.

I practiced this method using "before" and "after" work to compare what
happened. For instance, I had my 15 year old students write an essay about
the daily school assembly, a descriptive piece, really, about what the 30
minutes seemed like to them. In most all the "before" writing, I received
laundry lists of items, descriptions of what was seen. As Andrew has so
beautifully pointed out to us, the students' hearing was surely
"intermittent" while the music played continuously before their ears and
eyes ;-). Benches, the din, boring announcements, jostling at the back.
That was before. Then I introduced my students to "synectic" thinking.

"Which are you more sure of, tomorrow or gravity? Why?" Remember, no
incorrect answers, kids. "Which is faster, blue or orange? Why?" While I
won't delve too deeply here into the progression of such
connection-promoting questions, I will say that at first the students
thought this crazy. You can well imagine why. It took no longer than one
class period to get them going, though. When I asked for the same
description of the assembly hall, but using analogy techniques, I received
incredible answers filled with insight, whimsy, color, simile. The room
was like a radio being tuned. The benches were six-legged beetles, frozen
by insecticide and leaning feet out from the walls while Abe and Rita set
the room for the coming throng. And so on.

It's peculiar for me today to deal in business consulting where I rely so
much on the language of fact in order to sort out what has to be done via
processes by people of good intention. Much of this method is left behind.
For my 17 year olds studying Russian novel from the 19th century, I
imposed this writing for essays. Upon completion of an introductory
paperback text about Russian history, I asked in class that each student
answer this question: To what thing you might find in a large home
accessories/building retail store would you compare Russia as you
understand it from your reading? Why have you chosen thus?

>From one student I would learn that Russia is like a large cast iron
frying pan, because even with so many different vegetables cooking over
the heat, somehow the contents never burn out of control, and more keeps
getting added all the time to the brew.

And another student writes that Russia is like a box of strike-anywhere
matches. At the same time that the match can illuminate, it can also

I have saved these chicken tracks all these years, because I love the
surge of imagination exhibited therein. Listen, we completed the better
part of Anna Karenina, and I asked my students this: If Anna is an
Egyptian pyramid, to what would you compare Vronsky, her lover, and
Karenin, her husband? Well, wrote one quiet student, if Anna is a pyramid,
then Karenin is like a tomb robber who enters into the depths of the
pyramid, steals the shining treasures of the ages, leaving the structure
empty and less meaningful. And Vronsky is like an archaeological
expedition who come to a rich site, but through excessive pawing and
clawing through the monument destroy it completely for all future seekers
of light.

I could go on for a long time about Bill Gordon and his creativity, his
explicit method for teaching creativity. I'll leave it at this, though.
There are sparks of creativity igniting minds like yours and others on the
planet of ours.

Best regards in this season,


Barry Mallis
The Organizational Trainer
110 Arch St., #27
Keene, NH 03431-2167 USA
voice: 603 352-5289
FAX: 603 357-2157
cell: 603 355-0635
email: theorgtrainer@earthlink.net

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <Richard@Karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.