Structured Problem Solving and Ideas Generation Techniques
The Super Heroes ideas generation techniques were designed by Grossman and Catlin to provide a playful group atmosphere during idea generation. Group members assume the identity of different Super Hero characters and then use the characters as stimuli for sparking ideas and problem solving.
The steps are as follows:
1. Descriptions of various Super Hero characters are distributed to group members.
2. Group members select one of the characters and assume its identity. If desired, costumes can be used to elaborate upon the characterisation. At a minimum, members should be provided with signs to wear stating the name of the hero they selected.
3. Each group member, in turn, describes his or her character in as much detail as possible. This description should include such things as special powers, strengths, weaknesses, and habits.
4. After each hero is described, group members use the information as stimuli for ideas generation techniques and problem solving.
For example, Spiderman’s web might suggest a network concept for solving some problem.
5. Group members ask the Superhero concerned how they might use their super powers and abilities to help the problem/opportunity owner address their situation. The problem owner needs to record, verbatim, what the superhero might say so that the suggestions can be interpreted later in the session. The point being that the initial response may be intuitive and, initially, have no direct obvious meaning/application if the person playing the superhero has really got into role. It is only after a second analysis of the response in the form “how can this suggestion help me” that a more orthodox interpretation can be extracted.
Any number and type of Super Heroes can be used for this technique. If possible, there should be more characters than group members to select from.
Below are some common heroes and their major characteristics.
Superman has X-ray vision, superhearing, can fly, and is the strongest man on earth. When not on duty, he is disguised as mild-mannered newspaper reporter, Clark Kent. He can be weakened only by Kryptonite, a leftover rock from his birth planet, Krypton. Superman is faster than a speeding bullet and is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can fly, he has heat vision, super breath that can be used to freeze things as well as blow them! He can’t see through lead with his X-ray vision though.
Batman and his sidekick Robin, The Boy Wonder, are first-rate detectives who always manage to outwit the most sinister criminals. They have at their disposal an assortment of “Bat” paraphernalia, such as a Batmobile, Batplane, Batcycle, Batrollerskates, Batrope, ad nauseum. Barman’s alter ego is millionaire Bruce Wayne. He and Robin live in the Wayne Mansion that is built over the Bat Cave.
Wonder Woman is a truly liberated woman. With extraordinary strength, agility, and all-around athletic ability, she easily can overpower the most macho man. With her magic bracelets, she even can deflect bullets shot at her. And, with her magic lasso, she can rope almost anything. When wrapped around someone, her lasso always causes that person to tell the truth. On occasion, she flies her own airplane, which is invisible.
Captain America represents the ultimate in All-American ideals (truth, justice, apple pie, and mom). With his winning personality he usually has no trouble persuading others to see his viewpoint. The captain also is known for his positive outlook on life and his great strength and athletic skills. If all of these attributes are not enough protection, he also has a Captain America shield that can protect him from any harm.
Dr. Strange tries to live up to his name. As a skilled magician and sorcerer, he can create numerous illusions. He also is able to cure sicknesses, control people and situations, and change one thing into something else. Another strange thing about Dr. Strange is that he is afflicted with temporary lapses of concentration.
E.Man, whose most distinctive feature is his unlimited supply of energy, can take on any form he wishes. However, once he assumes a form, he is affected by its weaknesses. His favourite sleeping place is a toaster.
Nova Kane is the female counterpart to E-Man. She previously worked as an exotic dancer.
Spiderman, or “Spidey” as he is affectionately known by his fans, can walk on ceilings and walls. With his ever-present web, he can swing through the air as well as capture bad guys. Spiderman also has a unique ability to detect any dangerous situation before it affects him.
Mr. Fantastic is the smartest man in the world and, although no logical correlation is involved, he can stretch his body to any length. He is a very flexible person.
Invisible Girl, as her name implies, can make herself and other people and things invisible. She also can make people and things reappear. When in danger, she creates an invisible shield which protects her from all harm.
The Human Torch is said to be a short-tempered hothead. He has the power to emit and control fire. Heat never bothers him. He also can fly whenever the mood strikes.
Evaluation of using Super Heroes for Ideas Generation Techniques
If the group members possess a playful attitude, the Super Heroes problem solving and ideas generation techniques can work well. It has a built-in mechanism for generating ideas and helps ensure all atmospheres conducive to creative thinking. Discussing the various characters often is sufficient for loosening up the group. As a result, the ideas may flow easily. Super Heroes also is likely to produce unique ideas because of its use of unrelated stimuli. In addition to the usual weaknesses of any brainstorming approach, Super Heroes has one major disadvantage. The playful attitude required may not exist in all groups and some members may be reluctant to participate. On the other hand, requiring members to assume different roles may be just the thing needed to liven up some groups.
(The problem solving and ideas generation techniques have been adapted and expanded upon from the book “Techniques of Structured Problem Solving” by Arthur B Van Gundy Jr.)
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