Vincent Nolan was Chairman of Synectics Ltd., the European division of the international creativity and innovation consultancy. He introduced the techniques into the UK in 1971, having spent the previous 20 years in conventional consultancy and as a senior executive in Rank Xerox. Since retiring from business, he has focused on introducing business creativity methods into education, through the registered charity, Synectics Education Initiative (SEI).
He is the author of Open to Change (1984, MCB Publications), now available as an ebook, The Innovators Handbook (1989, Sphere Books) and editor of Creative Education (2000, SEI) and, with Gerard Darby, Reinventing Education: A Thought Experiment by 21 Authors (2005, SEI). He co-edited, with Connie Williams, Imagine That! – Celebrating 50 years of Synectics (2010 Synecticsworld Inc.).
He is a father of four and step-father of three with 15 grandchildren aged from 6 to 32 years. His hobbies are golf, playing the cello and grandchildren-watching.
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:
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.