Forced Association

Forced association is a great way of inspiring creative thinking and helping students to think in new ways.

The idea is that words and images are forced into an association to build new perspectives around an original topic.

Using seemingly unrelated words to force a connection helps creative ideas to develop; ideas generate further ideas through the power of association, a process that has been called “hitch-hiking” or “piggybacking.”

Free association means that freewheeling is encouraged and the more abstract, fantastic or even off-the-wall ideas are articulated, the better.

Forced Association (also known as forced analogy or brutethink) is attributed to the US marketeer and creative thinker Alex Osborn, the developer of brainstorming.

What to do?

Review the idea, situation, concept, event, or condition that you want students to consider.

Choose words that are concrete and accessible to students, but that have no clear relationship to the concept being studied. Examples: calendar, shoe, fork, swimming pool, drone. The more random the association, the better to generate forced associations.

Write a key word or concept on your board for students to link and associate with the random words chosen.

Free association or banging things together seeks to destroy habitual patterns of thinking in order to establish new relationships. These can be great for staff meetings.

By combining words that appear to be unrelated, students are encouraged to think in new ways and to develop new perspectives and understandings.

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