- Forced connections is a brainstorming technique where two or more unrelated objects or descriptors are combined in an attempt to devise a solution.
- The premise of forced connections is simple: combine unrelated things to create new ideas. Koberg and Bagnall’s initial technique is widely considered to be the precursor of modern design thinking.
- More modern interpretations call on the brainstorming team to select an object or picture at random, list a few attributes, and connect those attributes to the problem or project at hand.
Understanding forced connections
Forced connections is a brainstorming technique where two or more unrelated objects or descriptors are combined in an attempt to devise a solution.
Forced connections is a technique businesses can use to revitalize an internal brainstorming process that has become stale or tired.
The premise of forced connections is simple: combine unrelated things to create new ideas.
The technique can trace its origins back to authors Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall. In their 1972 book The Universal Traveler: A Soft-Systems Guide to: Creativity, Problem-Solving, and the Process of Reaching Goals, the pair outlined a technique that required teams to create a matrix and follow three steps:
- In horizontal columns, the team lists the attributes of an item or situation.
- Below each attribute, the team then lists as many alternatives as possible. For example, a product development team may brainstorm alternatives such as “wood” and “glass” for the “Product material” column.
- When completed, the team moves across the matrix and links alternatives from each of the various columns at random. They repeat this process several times to combine unrelated alternatives in different ways.
A modern interpretation of the forced connections technique
Below is a modern interpretation of the forced connections technique:
- Start by selecting a stimulus that is unrelated to the problem or project in question. This is typically an object, picture, or the like.
- List four stimulus attributes. What can the team see? What does it make them think about? Can they associate the stimulus with something else?
- For each attribute, connect it to the problem or project at least twice. Bonus points if the team can create three or more connections.
- Repeat as necessary.
Forced connections example
Let’s take a look at a forced connections example to better understand how the process may be carried out.
Consider a restaurant that has experienced a substantial reduction in patronage and wants to brainstorm ways to enhance its dining experience.
In the office of the restaurant, the team decides on a coiled spring as the stimulus item after a stapler is found dismantled on the desk.
With the stimulus identified, the team lists four attributes and links them to potential initiatives to enhance the dining experience:
- Small – intimate booths that seat five people and can be closed off from other diners.
- Bouncy – ultra-comfortable seating or positive, upbeat music.
- Spiral – a dining area set over multiple levels with floor tiles in an intricate pattern. The kitchen team also considers how they can present food items in the shape of a spiral to make meals more interesting or presentable.
- Flexible – a restaurant that also serves as a museum with random opening hours that suit the needs of patrons.