The purpose of the experiment was to find out whether it was possible to apply the Synectics creative problem-solving techniques to a live issue through the medium of the online creativity journal. As the facilitator of the session, my conclusion is a highly qualified 'Yes': the Problem Owner did get some new ideas which she is trying to implement and seems more optimistic about achieving something in her chosen field than she was at the start of the session. Since that is the purpose of the experiment, it has to be seen as a success.
We were able to follow the basic Synectics structure of a Briefing from the Problem Owner, followed by the generation of Springboards, selection by the Problem Owner of attractive springboards and development by the Problem Owner of new courses of action they intended to implement.
However, as a demonstration of the Synectics technique, it left a lot to be desired and highlighted the huge differences between a live, face to face session and an online session using written inputs only. Synectics works by creating an emotionally safe climate in which people are willing to take risks, speculate, trigger off one another and generally have fun (I used to regard the amount of laughter as an indicator of the emotional energy of the group). None of that was achieved in the experiment, for a variety of reasons:
- contributions were in words only and lacked the extra dimensions of tone of voice and non-verbals
- the pace was slow, lacking the immediacy of interaction of a face to face session
- the mechanics of contributing through a moderated journal were clumsy – the medium of 'Comments' was particularly unsuitable for contributing ideas in a suspended judgement environment (the word Comment suggests an opinion!)
- there was no scope for using the Synectics 'excursion' techniques, which are one of the distinguishing features of the process.
- similarly, the Idea Development phase of the process (where speculative ideas are developed into feasible solutions by constructive feedback from the Problem Owner) did not arise, because the Problem Owner did not choose speculative Springboards.
The experiment brought home to me how much the process depends on real-time coaching of the Problem Owner by the facilitator, so that the Problem Owner can contribute most effectively to stimulate imaginative springboards. At the crucial selection stage, the facilitator can encourage the Problem Owner to take risks in pursuing speculative lines of thought; this was more difficult to achieve remotely.