Some critical notes on Dr. Martin Hyatt's synoptics

Y. B. Karasik

Thought Guiding Systems Inc.
Ottawa, Canada


With all my respect to the Doctor's degree conferred upon Mr. Hyatt by Stanford University, I have to tell that he cannot write. Not that he cannot write at all but his writings are akin to some Morse code: clear segments are interleaved with unclear ones. The clear segments try to present some threads of thought. But presentation never starts at the beginning of a thought and never reaches its conclusion. In the middle of a presentation the thought jumps and, while in the flight, noisy phrases follow. When it lands again on the solid ground, it turns out to be a different thought about something else ...

That is why it is difficult to write a review of his concepts. I better focus on clear pieces of text as they are encountered in his paper.

The 6-3+X challenges of creativity

Dr. Hyatt claims that creativity is so difficult because there are six challenges that any person faces when tries to be creative:
Challenge 1. How do we generate ideas that meet the opposing constraints of novelty and utility?
Challenge 2. How do we know when the full space of potential ideas has been generated?
Challenge 3. How can we develop or refine creativity techniques and practice?
Challenge 4. How do we ask the right questions?
Challenge 5. How can one manage the explosion of knowledge and channel it into potential solutions?
Challenge 6. How can one deal with the large number of possible alternatives that can be generated?

The first challenge assumes that really new things are useless and that new useful things are not very novel. Firstly, it is false: all great inventions are very novel and much more useful than incremenal improvements of the existing technology. Secondly, nobody knows how to correctly measure the novelty of things. And in the absence of the consistent measure, the claim does not have any sense. Thirdly, Dr. Hyatt will probably be surprised to learn that his challenge #1 is all but anti-TRIZ argument used by many opponets of TRIZ since its inception. The opponents many times claimed that incremental improvements (i.e. inventions of the first and the second levels in the TRIZ terminology) are the most useful ones and represent the mainstream of the technological evolution. That is why TRIZ, in their opinion, was useless because was inteneded for generating very novel inventions of the higher levels. Thus, Hyatt's first challenge is nonsense at best and anti-TRIZ at worst.

The second challenge assumes that the full space of potential ideas is finite. It is another anti-TRIZ idea, because TRIZ was built on the assumption that the number of possible approaches to the solution of a problem is infinite. Otherwise simple brute force algorithms (e.g. trial and errors) would work.

I do not understand why one need "develop or refine creativity techniques and practice" ( Challenge #3) to creatively solve a problem. Dr. Hyatt probably confused here one type of creativity (applied problems solving) with another one (development of the methods of creativity).

I have no comments on challenges 4,5,6 since Dr. Hyatt did not propose the means of coping with them. On my part, I agree that they are important. Although it is not clear to what degree they are important. And may be there are more important challenges, which Dr. Hyatt overlooked. Thus, the correct number of the challenges of creativity has to be not 6 but 6-3+X, where X is the number of overlooked challenges.

About something that is more subtle than mathematics

The next section (called "Metaphoric models") of Dr. Hyatt's article starts with a staggering claim: "Unlike formal disciplines like physics and economics that use mathematical models, the models to reason about creativity are more subtle". When I first read it, I thought that he was kidding. However, the more I read the section, the more helpless I felt. Eventually I agreed with Dr. Hyatt that his metaphoric models were really more subtle because they turned out to be beyond the understanding of a mathematician.

However, if one separates subtle from understandable in "Metaphoric models", then the latter component boils down to the following:
a) There are three metaphoric models of thinking: 'Thinking is Perceiving', 'Thinking is Moving', and 'Thinking is Manipulating Objects'.
b) The methods of creativity solve the first challenge of creativity by drawing from "new and useful acts" within the metaphoric models of thought. (Who would explain me what this means ?).
c)They solve the second challenge by drawing from "the new and creative acts" within the three metaphors. (By drawing from what "acts" the methods of creativity solve the other challenges, is not discussed in the article.)
d) In the "thinking is moving" metaphor a "new and useful" act is taking a shortcut.

That's basicly all what I was able to extract from the pretty lengthy section proudly called "Metaphoric models". Being humbled by my inability to recognize any subtlety in this primitivism, I was, nevertheless, unable to get rid of the following questions:
a) What is the complete set of "acts" within the metaphoric models of thought ?
b) If taking a shortcut is "a new and useful act" in the "thinking is moving" model, then what is this act in the "thinking is perceiving" and the "thinking is manipulating objects" models ?
c) Moreover, what is meant by "shortcut" ?
c) What is the essense of "the new and creative act" for at least the "thinking is moving" model ?
d) How to use the models ? etc., etc., etc.

Dr. Hyatt provided no answer to these questions. Probably he shares the views of a Mark Twain character: if that is not enough, I do not know Arkansaw !

(To be continued)

R E F E R E N C E S:

1. Martyn Hyatt, "An Overview of Synoptics and the Six Challenges of Creativity", The TRIZ-journal, October 2002.