from R&D Innovator Volume 1, Number 2
for Creative Thinking: Yes,
by Gary A. Davis, Ph.D.
Davis, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, is author of Creativity is Forever (3rd
ed. 1992), Kendall/Hunt Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa.
techniques are deliberate thinking processes designed to help find
ideas and solve problems. They
are not mental tricks dreamed up by ivory-tower professors but
rather strategies used by many—if not all—productive, creative
people. Although the
techniques are not complicated, most people are uncomfortable
using someone else's thinking or problem-solving methods.
you might be pleasantly surprised after trying some of the
following strategies. They
have worked for many others.
most common creative process is analogical thinking--the transfer
of an idea from one context to a new one.
Perhaps 80 percent of creative ideas are rooted in
analogical thinking, and examples abound in every field of human
music, Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring was based on the
Quaker folk tune, Simple Gifts.
You may know that the U.S. national anthem Star Spangled
Banner originated as an English drinking song.
And the Broadway musical Cats was based on T. S.
Eliot's Book of Practical Cats.
cartoonists and creators of cartoon strips continually borrow
ideas from movies, television commercials, the Bible, children's
stories, and the headlines. Remember
the caricature of Ronald Reagan, Ronbo?
Did you notice the caption by cartoonist Gary Larson:
"Moses as a kid," under a boy who was raising his arms
to part the milk in his glass?
Many movies, from Gone with the Wind to The Ten
Commandments, derive from historical or Biblical themes.
also see analogical thinking in
the mechanical realm.
The irreplaceable fastener Velcro was inspired by the
obnoxious cocklebur. Gutenberg's
printing press was a combination of the stamper used for minting
coins and a wine press. Eli
Whitney was inspired to invent the cotton gin after watching a cat
pluck at a chicken through a fence.
The resulting pawful of feathers apparently reminded him of
technique is asking how nature has solved a similar problem.
Pringles Potato Chips were conceived via the analogy of wet
leaves--which stack compactly and do not destroy themselves.
Darwin reversed the situation, using a human solution to
explain a natural phenomenon:
His origin of species explanation stemmed from selective
cattle breeding practices.
virtually every architect and designer keeps stacks of books and
magazines filled with ideas waiting to be adopted.
But you need not sit back and wait for analogous connections to
appear by themselves. Analogical
thinking can be a conscious technique if you deliberately ask
questions like these:
"What else is like this?"
"What have others done?"
"Where can I find an idea?"
"What ideas can I modify to fit my problem?"
granddaddy creative technique, brainstorming, was the brainchild
of Alex Osborn, co-founder of a major advertising agency.
The procedure is simple and familiar.
First you devise wild--even preposterous--ideas, and jot
down every one. But
the key is this: save the criticism and evaluation until this
process is completed. Osborn
tells us, with disarming logic, that we cannot simultaneously be
creative and critical. Furthermore,
he adds, wild ideas can often be "tamed" into workable
most people consider brainstorming a group technique, you can
brainstorm by yourself as well as before a large audience.
But the recommended small group, with 10 or 12 members, is
usually suitable to a variety of situations.
Brainstorming, I'd say, has survived for half a century
because it works.
brainstorming is a general procedure, attribute listing is a
specific idea-finding technique (one that could even be used while
identify the key characteristics, or attributes, of the product or
process in question. Then you think up ways to change, modify, or improve
each attribute (in design engineering this is called the
anyone can "disassemble" a product into its attributes
and then think of modifications for most of them.
For example, a can of soda has these attributes: size,
shape, color, color pattern, decorative theme, material, possible
uses after modification, other audiences for the product if
modified. Can you
invent alterations for each of these attributes?
Fran Stryker supplied himself with plots for Lone Ranger
radio and television episodes for a couple of decades by modifying
these characteristics: characters, goals, obstacles, and outcomes.
synthesis is a simple elaboration of attribute listing.
After completing the list of attributes, list changes in
one attribute (such as “products”) along the horizontal axis,
and list changes in a second attribute (such as “markets”)
along the vertical axis. Idea
combinations, or syntheses, will appear in the intersections, or
cells, of the table. Morphological
synthesis will force you to look at many surprising combinations.
you ever consulted a telephone directory or a supplier's catalog
as a "checklist" of resources or ideas for solving
problems? You may not
know that checklists have been written expressly to solve problems
creatively. The best
known is Osborn's "73 Idea Spurring Questions."
Consider how you would invent a better mousetrap as you
read these examples from his idea checklist:
Put to other uses?
New ways to use as is?
Other uses if modified?
meaning, color, motion, sound, form? Other changes?
to add? Greater frequency? Longer?
Extra value? Duplicate?
to subtract? Condensed? Miniature?
sequence? Change schedule?
about a blend, an assortment?
Combine units? Combine
course, none of these techniques is guaranteed to solve your
research problems. But
they can help you find ideas without forcing you to wait for an