Subject: Creativity/Problem Solving – Zwicky’s Box
Event: Birthday of Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky, 1898
Born on Valentine’s Day in 1898, Fritz Zwicky was a man who loved ideas. As an astronomer, he is known for his discovery of dark matter, and he not only discovered many supernovae, he also coined the term “supernova.”
Perhaps Zwicky’s greatest discovery, though, was a strategy that allows anyone — even non-astrophysicists — to generate new ideas. The strategy is called morphological analysis, a method that begins by identifying the parameters of a problem followed by generating alternative options for each parameter. The magic comes from randomly combining different parameter options to spark creativity. Zwicky was so proud of his invention that he compared it to the mystical practice of alchemy: “I feel that I have finally found the philosopher’s stone in what I call the morphological outlook and method” (1).
To illustrate the process, imagine you were presented with the problem of designing a new office trash can. To begin you would generate a variety of different parameters that make up a typical trash can, such as “size,” “material,” “shape,” “position,” and “additional features.” List each of these parameters at the top of a piece of paper. Next, under each parameter, you would brainstorm possible alternatives for each parameter; for example, under “additional features” you might list “a paper shredder,” ‘a clock,” “a whiteboard,” “hole punch,” and “stapler/staple remover.” Once you have a variety of options under each parameter, you should now have a matrix of options that make up a morphological box, also known as a Zwicky Box. Once you have created your box, the magic can now begin by randomly combining different parameter options. Imagine, for example, if you generated just five options for each parameter; a 5 x 5 matrix like this would generate over 3,000 different possible combinations. Because the human brain loves associations, you can use each random combination as a spark to produce a new idea for a never-before-seen or produced office trash can.
Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason: How is a Zwicky Box used to generate ideas?
Challenge – Thinking Inside the Zwicky Box: Imagine you are working for a greeting card company. Your job is to produce new ideas for a Valentine’s Day card. Using the parameters and options below or ones that you create on your own, randomly combine some options to generate some ideas. Write a pitch for your best idea, or better yet, create the card as your prototype.
Zwicky Box with Valentine’s Day Card Parameters
|hearts||recorded message||rectangle||rhyming couplets||elegant|
|candy||scratch and sniff||diamond||hyperbole||quirky|
ALSO ON THIS DAY:
-February 14, 1954: Today is the birthday of cartoonist and creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groenig. He said, “Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”