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Morphological Analysis




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A simple, but effective, principle used in some creative methods and problem-solving approaches is to break down the situation or item under scrutiny into its component parts.

When things are broken down in this way, then each part may be scrutinized and understood independently (as well as individually improved). Decomposition thus uses a 'divide and conquer' approach. A danger in decomposition is that improving parts does not always improve the whole, and can even cause unforeseen problems.






A very simple principle that is at the heart of much creativity is  Bisociation can be used both as an understanding and even as a stand-alone creativity tool.

Forced association

The simple principle of forced association is of 'banging things together' that have not previously been brought together, or at least not recently. This'Bisociation', a term coined by Arthur Koestler in his book, 'The Act of Creation', where he discusses the principle of forced association, amongst others. It is a quite a nice term, combining 'bi' for two ideas and 'association'.

A + B = C

A simple 'calculus' of forced association is the equation A + B = C, where A and B are two things being brought together that result in the idea, C.

The lever of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the term used by social psychologist Leon Festinger to describe the state of discomfort created when we hold two opposing thoughts in the mind at the same time. In social psychology, this classically happens in such situations when a person who thinks of them as being kind and thoughtful does something like walk past a beggar on the street without giving them anything. They typically react by trying to get away from this discomfort, for example by walking faster or pretending the beggar is not there.

In creative forced association, the act of verbal vandalism in bringing together two words or thoughts that do not go together is enough to shock the subconscious brain into giving you whatever you want, including good ideas, just to get away from the discomfort of holding together words that it does not think should go together.


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Essential Questions:

  1. What technique could help us create innovative ways to create a solution to this design challenge?

  2. How can we teach this creatively?


  The Concept of the Morphological Analysis is a way of automatically combining the parameters of a challenge into new ideas( parameter here means characteristics, attributes, factors variable or aspect).


How to set up the morphological table

  taken from: http://creatingminds.org/tools/morphological.htm 

Define the problem

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

Identify attributes and values

List the things about the situation that can be varied or changed in some way. Select a subset of two to six variables to investigate further. These will normally be significant parts of the situation.

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

Combing items

Find a way of combining items from the lists you have created. 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).

Repeatedly combine selections of ideas generated, 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.

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


An artist, looking for new ways of creating artwork, identifies two attributes, 'materials' and 'canvas', and then lists the values these can take (e.g. 'ink' is a value of 'materials'). She then brings these together in the table below to explore possible combinations.


Materials Canvas
Paper Wall Window Wood
Ink Japanese style

Blotting paper

Graffiti Painted glass Marquetry

Bleed rates

Oil   Murals Motor oil floating in glass tank  
Dye Appliqué with dyed strips   Stained glass  
Clay   Applied directly over brickwork   Wood and clay sculptures
Leaves Glued then painted over Blown onto glued wall Translucent colored leaves  

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: decomposition and forced 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.


  Prepared by  Bill Wolfson.  Copyright © 2010
Last Updated  02/06/2010