The Psychology of Quality and More

Morphological Analysis

Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 29: Morphological Analysis

In creative problem solving it is easy to get stuck in conventional thinking or in the ruts of any given train of thought. Morphological Analysis is one of the creative tools that is available to shake you out of your current hole by considering many other possibilities.

How it works

Despite its wonderful name (given to it by its originator, Fritz Zwicky), Morphological Analysis works through very simple processes, using two common principles of creativity: breakdown and association. The problem is broken down into component variables and possible values identified for each. The association principle is then brought into play by ‘banging together’ multiple combinations of these values.

The cube below shows how a simple situation with three variables and ten possible values of each results in 1000 possible combinations. Of course it would be impractical to investigate all 1000 combinations, but this is not how creativity works. The objective is to find just some useful ideas, and this approach leads you a short time from a barren field to a bountiful garden, in which you do not have to pick all of the flowers to get a good bunch of ideas.

Morphological Cube

How to do it

1. Identify the objective of the creative session, defining the problem in a short and clear statement.

2. List the things about the situation that can be varied or changed in some way.

3. Select a subset of two to six variables to investigate further. These will normally be significant parts of the situation.

4. For each of the variables from step 3, list possible values, including those away from the conventional values (you can be creative at this step too).

5. Select the values from step 4 to carry forward, including standard and ‘interesting’ values.

Steps 1 to 5

6. Find a way of combining items from the lists from step 5. If there are only two lists, then a matrix may be used as in the example below. Another way is to have six variable in each list and throw one die per list to select items to combine. You could also write them on cards and pick them from six ‘hats’ (the methods are as many as you can imagine).

7. Repeatedly combine selections of ideas generated using the method in step 6, forcing all items together to build a creative solution. Do not worry too much at this time if the ideas are not particularly feasible as they may be developed at a later stage or used to trigger other creative possibilities.

8. Select ideas to use or develop into practical solutions to your problem.

Steps 6 to 8

Next time: The Flow Process Chart

This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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