Dishes and selection boxes

Unlock complex problems using Morphological Analysis

The PLAYBOOK

‘Morphological analysis’ is one of 30 techniques included in our PLAYBOOK, the free toolkit for creative thinkers.

WHAT IS MORPHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS?

General morphological analysis takes creative thinking about functions and attributes to the next level. It was devised by Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky in the late 1960’s for tackling problems that were both complex and non-quantifiable, otherwise known as “non-reducible complexity”.

Unlock complex problems

HOW TO USE IT?

Like functional analysis or attribute listing, this method explores the essential functions of something (a product or system) to break it down into its essential constituent parts. It then looks at different new ways each can be provided and combined.

 

You can download the worksheet below.

Morphological analysis worksheet
Morphological analysis worksheet

In its simplest form, it involves first defining a product’s main parameters. These are its primary functions, processes and features. Then, the method explores different combinations of ways of meeting the parameters and their requirements.

1 – List functions:

In the left-hand column of the grid, list all the primary functions of a product or service.

For example, for a dishwasher we could define the functions as:

  • Hold dishes, pans, cutlery, glasses, cups
  • Remove food / dirt residue
  • Remove any soap from items
  • Dispose of water and dirt
  • Dry the items

2 – Find Alternatives:

For each function, identify alternative ways of achieving the same result. Write these down in the corresponding row.

For the dishwasher, different ways of drying could include:

  • Blowing
  • Heating
  • Spinning
  • Rubbing with a towel
  • Or just waiting

3 – Select combinations:

Now select different combinations of ways of delivering the desired functions. Not all will be practical, however some will inspire new approaches.

One novel – if bizarre – combination in the dishwasher example could be:

  • Holding items with suckers
  • Cleaning food off items with high pressure water
  • Removing soap scum or residue with a laser
  • Disposing of waste by evaporation and incineration
  • And drying items by spinning them really fast
ENDS

DOWNLOAD WORKSHEETS

The worksheet is included in our free PLAYBOOK, a collection of 30 of our favourite tools and techniques. Download them all now in the PLAYBOOK.

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