Forced Connections

Forced Connections - ToolsHero

This article explains the concept of Forced Connections in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful Creativity tool.

What is are Forced Connections?

Brainstorming in the business world can become stagnant and stale. More often than not, you may hit obstacles that you seem unable to overcome. Such problems usually result from unwillingness to take risks outside of your scope of experience.

By venturing away from your comfort zone, you can get new ideas that lead to revolutionary problem solutions and fresh ideas for products and services.

An approach to creative thinking called “forced connections” can help you overcome roadblocks and help you think “outside the box” to get new ideas and grow your business.

How do Forced Connections work?

A pair of authors, Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall, proposed the concept of “Morphological Forced Connections” in the early 1970’s. Their approach required the creation and use of a matrix in several steps:

  1. Listing the attributes of an item or situation in horizontal columns.
  2. Create rows under each column containing alternative attributes.
  3. Make random runs through the alternates, selecting one from each column.

By “forcing” connections between characteristics which might otherwise seem unrelated, new ideas emerge. For example, consider a printer. How to connect a printer with food?

A printer creates pictures and text on paper. Next, consider the possibility of printing on alternative materials. Additionally, think of printing things other than images and text. Soon, you might come up with the idea of printing tangible things.

You might ask, “Can I do this?” The advent of 3D printing has proved the feasibility of printing objects. 3D printing technology has also become more affordable and flexible than conventional manufacturing methods such as CNC milling. In fact, this additive manufacturing technology now allows us to produce detailed, complicated products that were once impossible to create.

The example above only begins to show the power of “forced connections.” After all, 3D printing now allows people to print objects in a variety of materials, including food, precious metals or bio tissue.

You can take the tactic of forced connections a step further. For instance, you can take two different concepts or products and then apply the characteristics of one to the other. In the end, you may come up with ideas that spur innovation and boost profitability.

How does this approach bring benefit?

When you find solutions using the “forced connections” method, you break free of your traditional modes of thought. Although doing this requires determination, the results you get can dramatically improve your productivity.

During brainstorming sessions, you will discover that forced connections require you to take a non-conformist approach to problems. For this reason, you can come up with new ideas that transcend the scope of your experience.

Simply by finding relationships between unrelated objects and ideas, you will soon come up with amazing solutions. So, make a list of the products and services that you have and keep working until you find connections between them.

Forced Connections example

Suppose one of your products is an insulated water container and you want to promote it. To start with the “forced connections” model, you would think about everything that people can do with it. What will make your product irresistible?

In addition to making water portable and convenient, you would need to think about how you can make your product better than others. As part of this process, you might create associations between it and something else, like air.

So what associations come to mind when you think about air? Write them down. Here are 3 associations about air:

  • necessary
  • lightweight
  • clean

Now, try applying these attributes to your product:

  • Necessary: Water is necessary, essential to life. Instead of buying bottled water, simply refill your insulated water bottle and have it with you at all times.
  • Lightweight: Light materials used in the manufacturing of our bottles make sure the bottle itself doesn’t add much extra weight.
  • Clean: Cleaning our bottles is easy. You can put it in the dishwasher as many times as you wish. Materials are dishwasher safe and handle high temperatures well.

As you can see, these simple associations can be utilized in both the manufacturing process (make your product lightweight, easy to clean), and in marketing as well (communicate these traits to your target buyers and explain how this solves their problems).

Conclusion

The world of “forced connections” will lead you to create matrices that allow you to think in ways that you may find both uncomfortable and exhilarating. It can help you with everything from problem-solving to marketing.

Now that you understand the basics of “forced connections,” use the technique to propel you and your team away from your comfort zone. As you enter a new world of innovation, enjoy the adventure. Who knows what new products and solutions that you will uncover?

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Is the creativity tool “forced connections” in your professional environment applicable? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for generating new ideas and outside the box thinking?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Bodell, L. (2012). Kill The Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution. Bibliomotion.
  2. Koberg, D. & Bagnall, J. (1974). A soft-systems guide to creativity, problem-solving, and the process of reaching goals. This quirky guide to the design process was created long before “design thinking” became a buzzword among business-oriented designers.
  3. Firestien, R. L. (1998). Why didn’t I think of that?: A guide to better ideas and decision making: a fable. Williamsville, NY: Innovation Systems Group.

Online articles suggestions:

  1. Bova, T. (2017). At the intersection of innovation and disruption is people. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/at-the-intersection-of-innovation-and-disruption-is_us_59d7b27ee4b0705dc79aa75a.
  2. Unknown. (2011, August 2). Forced Connections. Retrieved from https://brooklynbilbao.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/forced-connections/
  3. Osborne, A., & Keller-Mathers, S. (2013, February 9). Forced connection and brainstorm tool facilitation. Dr. Susan Keller-Mathers, associate professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity facilitates the divergent tools of Stick um up Brainstorming and Forced Connections with a group of graduate students and alumni [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv0-bJ5FEvo

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Heather Redding
Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager and part-time writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She likes sharing her thoughts on creativity, technology, and innovation. To feed her curious mind, she uses the internet and her full Kindle library. In her spare time, she bakes cakes, watches movies, and spends time with friends. Connect with Heather on Twitter.

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