Chipp Norcross Synectics Synecticsworld Innovation Consulting

Chipp Norcross, Synecticsworld

By Chipp Norcross

I’m always happy to see the “Intelligent Life” insert to The Economist when it arrives in my mailbox. Being a rare occasion when I was actually home when it arrived, I immediately sat down with a cup of coffee and started thumbing my way through. Ian Leslie’s thought-provoking article, Non cogito, ergo sum caught my eye.

Ian provides a compelling story about the danger of “overthinking” when it comes to succeeding in a variety of performances, whether winning the U.S. Open or picking the winner of “American Idol.” While there are a variety of ways that overthinking can affect one’s performance, they all share a common trait: The more we think about our next move, the less we listen to the instincts and wisdom that we carry around in our gut. And the more likely we are to “choke,” failing to score the winning shot or pick the right answer.

As I reflected upon Ian’s article, I thought about the connections to the practice of Synectics and where the threat of overthinking is most challenging to our clients. Undoubtedly, I’d say this occurs at the point of “Selection.”

The “selection” I mean comes after the group has done its creative ideation, and used their right brains to offer creative ideas and build on each others’ thoughts.  These inspired ideas often shows up as metaphors, images, or idea fragments when first offered to a group. It is at this point, from all of these unformed concepts, that we ask our clients to choose a seed of an idea that our team can build into a complete solution.  We do this because we know from tens of thousands of workshops with our clients, that the truly complex challenges people face today can only be solved by drawing upon the kind of inspiration that comes from the right (creative/emotional) hemisphere of the brain.

The challenge for our client is that, in a group setting, most people initially shy away from embracing the fuzziness of metaphors, images and idea fragments.  They move towards a desire for the immediate gratification that a complete solution, offered perfectly the first time, provides. Whether this is due to time pressure, the desire to look in control, or just a lack of understanding about the natural process of creativity, this reluctance leaves many people and organizations returning over and over to the same solutions they’ve tried in the past. This is largely because past solutions have the benefit of being concrete, though likely insufficient.  And we are asking them to do the opposite in their “selection”.

So, what do we need to be mindful of? In my experience, when faced with an opportunity to dig deeper into exploring the highly-intriguing metaphor, or the tried-and-failed complete solution, it’s all too easy to overthink and pick the more logical and safe choice… even if it has no hope of succeeding, while paying no attention to what the gut has to say about the situation.  I see clients embody the conflict between logic and gut on an almost daily basis when we first begin working together.

One favorite anecdote is a client saying that she wanted to spend time exploring one idea while lovingly caressing a sticky note that would lead her down a completely different, metaphorical path. As we identified and understood this, we decided that, for her, “Selection by Petting” was the right path to follow.

And, this is where the benefit of being, “calculatedly stupid” comes into play. Listening to that inner voice that wants to explore and play with an intriguing idea that the logical mind would never allow you to select is always the right choice in Synectics. It is not a random choice, but one that your instincts have become finely attuned to see and understand in an unconscious way, drawing from all of your experiences. That kind of a calculation is the kind that is needed when trying to solve the sort of challenge that requires a creative solution. And that’s why I place a premium on preparing and supporting our clients to listen to this inner voice from the earliest moment of our work together.

When was the last time you opted to go with your gut and against your logical option? What happened?


  1. Ray Tabler

    In reading your post it occurs to me that logical thinking is, when you get right down to the root of it, a model of reality. This works well for aspects of reality that are well understood and up to a certain level of complexity. Newton’s laws of motion are a good example. You can write a computer program that will predict the path of a space probe to jupiter and beyond with great precision, assuming you have those skills. However, if you don’t understand the aspect of reality well enough, or it’s sufficently complex that simple logic can’t handle it, then maybe your gut feel does a better job. Not perfect, but better. Robert Heinlein once said (actually he wrote it) that a hunch is nothing more than subconscious reasoning. I could speculate that what we call “gut feel” is your subconscious applying more complex analysis to a not well understood situation than your logical, reasoning brain can handle consciously. I’m not saying that logic should be abandoned, simply that our ability to apply it probably has limiits. For instance, logic and reasoning are called for in a legal court case, but it’s a notoriously risky method to apply to the stock market!

  2. Hi Chipp, thanks for reminding us of the importance of preparing and guiding our clients to select boldly. I believe the ability to select really way-out ideas and have fun with them until they produce the real break-through is what sets Synectics apart from most other approaches. And the fact that everyone played along until we got there also gives high ownership of the final action plan. And the plan then helps us to return to reality.
    Your story reminded me of a very special workshop where we had a group of agricultural scientists – and they were brave enough to select intriguing ideas with every task. For example “I wish we could turn Africa upside-down” was something they couldn’t take to the Minister of Agriculture – but it delivered a great plan for international research co-operation. Antoher of their selections was “I wish rainbows could glow at night”!

  3. Lorna Escoffery

    Hi Chip.
    Your thoughts are a good reminder not just for my clients, but for me when being approached by a new client. It is critical to look at new clients/projects not just rationally, but using your “gut feeling”. I have learned that your “gut feeling” can save you from a no-win situation and a client you really do not want.

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