Case Studies: Physical Synectics – Engagement and HR Strategy

Working with a social enterprise which is driving change, encouraging key individuals down the chain of command to take ownership for “making things happen”. However, inevitably there is an enormous inertia in the system – possibly too much for a more junior member of staff to address …. Using conventional thinking! Time for some creativity.

Problem Owner: Change Manager

Key Definition of Creativity:

Generation of ideas which are both novel and useful

Problem as Defined

How can I be empowered to have the influence to create change?

Problem Exploration Technique

Boundary Examination

Problem As Understood

In what way might I guarantee that everyone totally supports and engages with my efforts to drive change across the organisation?

Note: the redefinition massively raises the bar, above the mental blockages, demanding breakthrough thinking if we are to find a real solution

Idea Generation


Now, Synectics is a technique which is based in provocation – stimulating the brain by distracting it away from the well-worn traditional thinking patterns, focusing on novelty in the first instance. A random stimulus is used to generate this provocation – in this variation of the technique simply using a random physical object, tabled by the facilitator and completely unexpected by anyone else (thereby assuring a lack of preparation in advance – which would otherwise inevitably steer the team into “more of the same”. Presented with this object, the team initially explore its characteristics or attributes, initially in isolation from the issue at hand (i.e. the Problem as Understood).

Then, this exploration process is used as the starting point for solving the Problem as Understood, seeking something within the image that makes one look differently at how to address the issue. Then follow the thought …. trying to find the germ of an idea, something that the problem owner had never thought of before (i.e. novel), but that they can see how it might work (i.e. useful).

Provocation – Pot Noodle (!)

Attributes/Characteristics: a limited number of varieties, simple, pre-prepared – easy to use – just add hot water, wait, eat. Memorable – tasty, if little food value (and we all know that!)[/su_column]

Key thoughts that then need to be adapted for the Problem as Understood:

Time to find a link between the Pot Noodle and how to solve the Problem as Understood.

Well, everyone likes a Pot Noodle!

Why? So simple, so tasty, so inexpensive.

What can the Problem Owner learn from the pot noodle in solving her problem?

Well, break down the challenge process into simple pieces – each one giving clear benefit (tasty), and each one a no-brainer.


Makes one think about a concept called “Vision Led Change” …. start with the answer and work backwards. Imagine a 1000-piece jig-saw – tip out all the bits – get rid of the lid. Now get people to make the jig-saw. Good luck! They are a whole bunch of apparently random bits, some of which cluster together but no-one can see the full picture.

People lose the will to do the puzzle, and drop out.

Now, repeat, but make sure that everyone can see the picture on the lid. Now it is easy – each individual bit has its place, they can see how they interlink, if working on one isolated piece of the bigger picture – no worries, because they can then fit it in with other people’s assemblies. Each piece is only small, but easy to digest and delicious to eat!

(Note – it’s somewhat worse than that in reality – we have no “big picture” to work with, and we mix pieces from many different pictures together. No wonder we struggle with change!)

Drawing upon this analysis, how might one then translate the thinking into something Novel and Useful for the company?