Paraphrasing Key Words

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This technique requires you to alter the meanings of key words in the problem statement (or any sentence that contains key words) to reveal assumptions and generate alternative perceptions. See also Boundary Examination, and the software packages: Batmemes, and Paramind.

Replacing Key words with Synonyms

This method devised by Edward de Bono (1970) requires you to identify key words in the sentence, substitute them one at a time with other words that have the equivalent general meaning, and create different emphases and a different rhetoric.

It can be achieved in a simple and informal way from general knowledge, or at a deeper level with imaginative use of a thesaurus. E.g. look at the example below, which an average word-processor thesaurus gave the direct and indirect synonyms for the 3 key words in the problem statement:

  We have  Underused         Reprographic   Resources
  We have  Overcapitalised   Duplicating    Capital
  We have  Wasted            Copying        Property
  We have  Squandered        Remaking       Machines and people
  We have  Derelict          Transcribing   Mechanisms
  We have  Superfluous       Facsimile      Holdings
  We have  Excessive         Mimicking      Agency
  We have  Bountiful         Mirroring      Investment
  We have  Generous          Reproducing    Means
  We have  Redundant         Mimeographing  Belongings
  We have  Ignored           Cloning        Facility  

Altering just one word at a time produces very distinct shifts in the meaning and boundary assumptions such as:

  • We have over-capitalised reprographic resources
  • We have underused cloning resources
  • We have underused reprographic belongings

Obviously the amount of potential paraphrasing is very large, just using the synonyms in the table above, this simple problem statement may well be reworded in at least 1000 (10 x 10 x 10) ways, many of which correspond to very different meanings. Paraphrasing as such can be used either to alter the problem statement itself, or to trigger different streams of ideas about possible solutions.

Use Synonym Pairs to Trigger Ideas

A variation of the method above devised by Olson (1980) takes just 2 key words from the problem statement (ideally a grammatically linked pair such as noun-verb, verb-noun, verb-adverb, adjective-noun), generates lists of synonyms for each word (as above), and then uses word pairs generated from the 2 synonym lists to stimulate ideas. For example:

Select grammatical keyword pair: I choose: Reprographic resources (adjective-noun pair).

Generate synonyms: e.g. the two right hand columns of synonyms in the table above.

Select some interesting word pairs: e.g.: mimicking agency; transcribing investment; cloning capital; mimeographing belongings etc.

Use these to trigger ideas: e.g. from mimicking agency: Develop an agency to make copies of photos; develop a service for transcribing hand-written records; start to forge bank notes (!) – well, not really, but perhaps a service to print cheque-books or pay-in books or toy money for children ….etc….