Free Association – creative technique


Free Association as a creative problem-solving method

1. History

The free association method or associative experiment was first used by Francis Galton and Wilhelm Wundt in the 1980s of the 19th century in order to study mental processes. In the early twentieth century, E. Krepelin, Z. Freud and C. Jung began to use it in psychiatry as the therapeutic technique and method of research into the unconscious.
The essence of the method in this case was a rapid spontaneous response to the first word that occurred to the word presented – stimulus. The universality of associative processes was the reason for the application of this method in the 70s of the twentieth century in management, business, and advertising. In these fields, Free association is widely used as a creative problem-solving method.

2. The essence of the method

Free association is a method of developing new idea through a chain or a cycle of word association. The process involve a word relating to the problem being written down, then another and another. Participant says whatever comes into his mind relative to a word he just wrote or relative to a key word definition of a problem. Creating a semantic relationship between every word from the obtained list of associations and the problem might help to find useful analogy, which contains creative ideas and could lead to solutions.

3. Main functions

1. The association method is a fast and effective creative problem-solving technique that can help to look at the problem or object differently and to spark new unique creative ideas.
2. This technique is a powerful way to get past typical thinking, and to get out of a rut, to get rid of traditional, stereotypical connections. It could be helpful in developing of an entirely new angle to a problem that may lead to unexpected solutions
3. The method works as a technique to awaken imagination and flowing a word is used to stimulate a creative thinking process.

4. Methodological and theoretical grounds

1. The Principle of Universal Connection. “Everything is connected to everything else”. Free Association involves making a new and useful mental connection between two objects: perfected object and random association.
2. The principle of unity of consciousness and the unconscious mind. Free association depends on a subconscious activity and mental stream of consciousness. This method is used to draw fresh and unexpected ideas from the free and spontaneous “minds stream of consciousness”.
3. Creativity can be represented as “the forming of associative elements into new combinations which either meet specified requirements or are in some way useful”. S. Mednick

5. Main rules

1. Create a safe and supportive environment where everyone can think freely and follow his natural flow of thoughts.
2. Try to let go of any preoccupation and think without judging your thoughts. Don’t dwell on whether created association makes sense or not.
3. Think quickly. Clear your mind and just let the associations flow.
4. Accept your unusual, rude, silly intriguing and surprising ideas and solutions without any regard to their feasibility. Often the most far out and crazy ideas lead to the most productive solutions.

6. Kinds of Association

1. Free Association
Free associations are created by spontaneous response to the presented word, without any restrictions of a semantic or grammatical nature.
In free association, you say whatever comes into your mind relative to a word you just wrote or relative to a one- or two-word definition of a problem.
2. Directed Association
Directed or controlled associations are limited to certain pre-specified conditions. An example of the latter is the instruction that prescribes the creation of associations by contrast or by the words of a certain part of speech (nouns or adjectives), as well as symbols or colors.

7. Structure of association

1. Serial association. Creating of a chain of associations in which each association works as a trigger for the next association.
Start with a trigger word, you record the flow of words that come to mind, each word triggering the next, ultimately reaching a potentially useful one.
For example: Phone – relationship – love – rose – velvet – heat – lamp – sun – life –health … (The “phone-health” bundle can be the source of a number of ingenious and powerful solutions for improving the device).
2. Centred association. Generation of multiply association to one single stimulus word or trigger. This technique similar to Mind Mapping.
Prompts you to generate multiple associations to the original trigger so that you ‘delve’ into a particular area of associations.
For example: Phone – waves, computer, music, art, hand, light, heat, vibrations, jacket, world, artificial intelligence, chain, energy, weapon, robot … (The “phone – weapon” and “phone-robot” bundles also can generate several powerful ideas for improving the device and giving it a new functions).
2.1. Centered and structured free association:
In this case, you should to write down a keyword in the center of the flower and four words that are associated with the keyword around it.
Then to write around every of four words-association a new four associations. Then follow each of the four words in turn up its branch writing associated keywords as you go.

8. Basic steps

1. Write down a trigger word that seems to be directly related to the problem.
2. Spontaneously write down whatever word comes to mind relative to this word.
Simply, continue to write and write until you until a previously selected amount of words or time has been reached.
For example: a) Develop at least ten for thirty associations. b) Associate freely for at least ten minutes and create a list of words.
3. Review the list of associations, choose a random and combine it with trigger word (the problem or the object, which is being improved). Try to see the relationship between the focus word and the any spontaneous response word.
4. Using the above selected associations, develop ideas that seem capable of solving the problem. This new unrelated union or connection will trigger new thoughts about the problem. This union can be used as a springboard for more ideas. Therefore, cloud of new thoughts might lead to fresh and interesting solutions.
5. During this activity, participants create lists of all possible solutions.

Attribute Association Chains

List the attributes of a problem, then free associate on each attribute to generate ideas about the problem.
1. List all the attributes or qualities of a problem or object.
2. Free associate on each attribute or group of attributes to generate solutions
to or insights into the problem or object.
3. Study the suggested solutions to determine which one is most feasible.
4. Examine the remaining associated words to determine what solutions
they suggest, and then determine which of these is most feasible

9. Advantages

1. Free association is the one of the simplest and effective creative problem-solving technique
2. This is an effective technique to use when you need many ideas quickly.

10. Disadvantages

The success of the method depends on the competence of the facilitator, who able to create an atmosphere of spontaneity, play and creativity. Otherwise, participants propose stereotypical associations that cannot be a source of ingenious ideas.


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