Morphological Forced Connections

This application of attribute listing is contained in The Universal Traveler which authors Koberg and Bagnall call "Morphological Forced Connections". They give the following rules for their "foolproof invention-finding scheme" along with an example showing how their scheme works. Here it is:

  1. List the attributes of the situation.
  2. Below each attribute, place as many alternates as you can think of
  3. When completed, make many random runs through the alternates, picking up a different one from each column and assembling the combinations into entirely new forms of your original subject.

After all, inventions are often new ways of combining old bits and pieces.

Example: Improve a ball-point pen
CylindricalMaterialCapInk source
FacetedMetalAttached CapNo Cartridge
SquareGlassNo CapPermanent
BeadedWoodRetractsPaper Cartridge
SculpturedPaperCleaning CapCartridge Made of Ink

Invention: A Cube Pen; once corner writes, leaving six faces for ads, calendars, photos, etc.

Another use of attribute listing, credited to Fritz Zwicky, is called Morphological Analysis and is an automatic method of combining parameters into new combinations for the later review of the problem solver. A selection of parameters or attributes is chosen and combinations explored. You could imagine three attributes as X, Y and Z axes.

An excellent way of implementing this method is with a computer program to enumerate the combinations and prompt the user with random combinations. Often the combinations are useful idea prompters and stepping stones to other solutions. I have such a program written in Hypercard, but the technique is not difficult.

Of additional value is to have a collection of attribute lists for plugging into your morphological analysis. Here are some of mine:

Human Ages Baby, Toddler, Pre-Schooler, Child, Adolescent, Adult, Retired
Time Units Milli-seconds, Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Morning/Afternoon/Evening, Days, Weeks, Fortnight, Month, Quarters, Years, Decades, Century
ColoursRed, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, Black, White, Brown, Pink, Crimson
MealsBreakfast, Snack, Lunch, Dinner, Supper, Snack
Six QuestionsWho, What, When, Where, How, Why

Think of the very popular books produced by Rick Smolan (photographer) which included A Day in the Life of Australia and his more recent A Day in the Life of Cyberspace. My using morphological analysis, you could replace A Day with the list of time units, Life could be replaced with Birth/Death/Growth/Decay and the last word could be replaced with a list of your areas of interest, eg My Family, My Country, My Dog.

As you evaluate the combinations, you will encounter such combinations as: "A Year in the Death of my employer" which could prompt you to examine the decline of your employer following your retrenchment. (I speak from experience!).

Last updated: 18th October 1996

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