W.J.J. Gordon and Synectics LO29500

From: Barry Mallis (theorgtrainer@earthlink.net)
Date: 11/13/02

Replying to LO29479 --


You asked me if I... "have perhaps any explanation by Gordon [him]self how
he understands the structure and process of "synectics" paradoxes?"

I did a preliminary search of boxes, and found my instructor's copy of
"The New Art of the Possible" published by Tony Poze and Bill Gordon in
1980 (Porpoise Books, Cambridge. The manual is a guide to the SES
problem-solving course, and does contain information which might shed some
light on Bill's thinking, albeit indirectly.

Bill and Tony's thinking evolved over time, even in the period when I knew
them and worked with them not only to train in the business environment,
but to bring explicit creativity to the classroom where I was teaching
(literature and writing).

On several occasions during my work with him over a dozen years ago, Bill
stated to me, as I have written here, that every idea -- EVERY idea --
contains within it a paradox. Now, as a holder of over 200 patents, Bill
naturally gravitated toward entrepreneurial problems solving. He realized
that without probing deeper philosophical realms, he could make paradox a
jumping-off point for creative problem solving. When someone is stumped,
and needs a creative, new idea, Synectics is the answer. A significant
group of people facing any given problem will often become
"solution-vectored", looking for a solution and not for Paradoxes,
Analogues etc. A group can hit upon a new idea then work backwards through
the steps Bill outlines.

Bill believed that most of the time our problem-solving process is hidden.
The thinking steps are subconscious, and so unavailable for manipulation
or control. He made the steps conscious, purposeful. The four steps are:

 1) Paradox to state the vexing core of the problem. Example: the
beginning golfer who, the harder he tries to hit the ball, misses the ball
 2) Analogue to provide a context from which to consider the problem.
Example: something is like something else -- a pig is like an in-sink
disposal machine.
 3) Unique Activity to help you understand how the Analogue functions.
Example: how something works that makes it unique -- a skunk has a unique
method of protection.
 4) Equivalent to enable you to apply the new context to the problem.
Example: establishing relationships such as, a mother is to her daughter
as a father is to his son; or smell is to a skunk as quills are to a

Bill based his work on the fact that all problems are solved by making
analogical connections. His office shelves were chocked full of history
volumes and biographies of inventors. Here are some examples:

Einstein's recurring image of a man in a falling elevator led to his
general theory of relativity. (If the man dropped a ball while in an
elevator, did the elevator's floor rise to meet the ball or was the ball
pulled to the floor by some outside force?)

Brunel's method of building tunnels was based on how a shipworm makes its
way through wood by removing material ahead of it and pushing it out the
read through its body.

Hitler's political gatherings lacked pep. What to do about it? He adapted
the concept of cheerleading and 'fight songs' from American college
football games.

Edison, opposed to all theories in the field, identified the basic
principle behind the invention of a practical electric light: the greater
the resistance in the incandescent wire, the more effective the light.

Newton observed (re: his discovery of the inverse-square law) that the
closer two objects came -- planets, for instance -- the force between them
became greater. This was a Paradox, since the common view at the time was
that the force increased the further apart two things were pulled.

Relating Synectics to Freud, Hegel and Aristotle, Bill wrote that
Synectics' view of the conscious parallels Freud's, but is more
operational, leaving less to chance. In like manner, Freud is
non-operational about the creative subconscious although most interesting
about its motivating factors -- especially in an historical context.

Hegel's dialectic is paralleled in the four "Box Steps" (the steps I
described above) as follows: Thesis= Paradox of the problem; Antithesis=
Analogue; and Synthesis= (Unique Activity/Equivalent) New Idea.

Aristotle claimed that all genius depends on metaphorical skill. Q.E.D.

I believe I may have already written to this group of my introduction of
this material into my literature and writing classes. I'll repeat just one
such anecdote.

Upon completing their reading of Anna Karenina, my students were asked the
following question which I easily devised: "If Anna is like an Egyptian
pyramid, to what would you compare her husband, Karenin, and her lover,
Vronsky? Why do you choose what your comparisons?"

One young woman wrote that if Anna is a pyramid, then her husband is a
tomb robber who goes to the center of the monument and robs it of its
deepest treasure and beauty; her lover is like an archeological expedition
who come to a site and spend so much time -- altogether too much -- that
the site itself is wasted for all time.

I recall one other student who, upon completing a small volume of
pre-revolutionary Russian history, wrote that Russia as she understood it
was like a strike-anywhere match: at the same time that it could
illuminate, it could also destroy.

Ah me, those were the good ol' days.

I do hope I have shed a ray of light.

Love and understanding,


Barry Mallis
The Organizational Trainer
110 Arch St., #27
Keene, NH 03431-2167 USA
voice: 603 352-5289
FAX: 603 357-2157
cell: 603 313-3636
email: theorgtrainer@earthlink.net

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