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July 01, 2015 Wednesday 06:11:48 PM IST

Keep the Attributes Listed for Suitable Re-Creation

Creative Living

Creativity is generally considered reserved for lateral thinkers, who could easily transcend the limits of logic to a world of myriads of options. However, a particular creativity thinking technique assists the analytical minds to systematically generate options and to create something new. Pioneered by Robert Platt Crawford in 1931, through his course on creative thinking, Attribute Listing continues to be a widely used creativity technique, especially by the research and development departments of business houses to improve their products, procedures and services. It is particularly useful to engineer a physical object. However, the method can be similarly applied to any task, challenge, problem, or question that can be analyzed or broken down into several principal dimensions, elements, or parts.

What is Attribute Listing?

Every problem, product or process has attributes which are liable to be overlooked. In the Attribute Listing method, one deliberately lists these attributes in order to systematically expose creative options. Attribute Listing can be considered a tool for generating creative options. It consists of a systematic approach to generate possibilities by first identifying the main attributes, characteristics, or qualities of an option, problem, or task, and then exploring new, interesting, or unusual combinations of these attributes. Here, the given problem, product or process is broken down into smaller and smaller dimensions and all their alternative possibilities are listed. In the engineering of a product these dimensions could be: material, weight, rust resistance, size, color, water resistance, durability, shock resistance, heat tolerance, explosiveness, flammability, aroma, translucence, buoyancy, flexibility, malleability and compressibility. These attributes could also be viewed from a range of perspectives or categorized into different groups.


Physical attributes: Shape, Size, Color or Texture

Social attributes: Responsibilities, Taboos, Roles or Duties

Process attributes: Design, Fabrication, Production or Marketing

Psychological attributes: Needs, Expectations, Motivations or Emotions

Price attributes: Cost of Design, Cost of Production, Cost of Distribution or Cost of Advertisement.

For example, physical attributes of a pencil would be shaft material, lead material, hardness of lead, width of lead, quality, color, weight and price. A cinema plot might have attributes of characters,actions, locations or weather. For a marketing review you might use attributes of markets openings, customer habits, local culture and prominent styles.

Attribute Listing Matrix (ALM)

Based on different attributes of the problem, an Attribute Listing Matrix (ALM) is developed. The following procedure could be adopted to build an ALM:

List the attributes or the principal dimensions of the task/product: breaks the task into its constituent parts and components. Attributes might be characteristics, structural parts of a task, or functional elements.


Assess the value added to the task/product by the given attribute. Ask, for example, “What are the most important parts of this task/product?” Identify the real value of each attribute. Do some attributes reduce the overall value of the task/ product, adding negative value to it?


Develop options for the attributes so identified: Ask questions, for example, “How might we change, modify, improve, or enhance this attribute for better? How could we modify the attributes to increase value, decrease negative value or create new value?” Think of many, varied, or unusual ways each attribute might be modified or changed. Examine the lists of possible modifications. Look for any modifications or combinations that suggest promising new possibilities. Brainstorming could be employed to generate new options. Explore possible modifications for each attribute in a playful way, giving sufficient room for creativeness.


Present all attributes thus generated in the form of a matrix, Attribute Listing Matrix (ALM). Let us consider the task of making a table in a restaurant. The Attribute Listing Matrix could look as follows:


Attribute Listing Method: Procedure

One may identify four steps involved in a successful execution of an Attributes Listing Method:

1. Clear definition of the task/ product: Clearly and distinctly state the task/product at hand. Clarity and distinction is the necessary prerequisite for effective analysis. Hence the success of attribute listing method depends on the precision with which the task/ product is defined.

2. Elaborate building of Attribute Listing Matrix (ALM): Following different steps elucidated above a comprehensive attribute listing matrix is developed.

3. Playful recombination of the listed attributes: Playfully recombine different variations in the ALM to develop a new concept for a novel definition of the task. For example, you could think of a table made of marble, green in color, hexagonal in shape, with traditional leg design, with glossy surface meant for small children.

4. Creative redefinition of the task/product: Based on the recombined attribute list you could redefine your task. E.g. Develop a green, hexagonal, green marble table with glossy surface meant for children

Application in Education

To improve different aspects of teaching-learning process including, generation of learning material, content delivery and assessment, attribute listing method could be successfully used. Here, the salient attributes of different processes are systematically identified and creatively rebuilt.

Content Generation: Key approaches to address the learning needs of different categories of students are identified. Content is made adaptable to the multitude of learning needs and approaches of students. Thus contents tailor-made to the student requirements could be developed.


Content Delivery: Various concerns of students to be addressed are listed and systematically revisited. Different approaches to reach out to the unique categories of students are developed accordingly.


Student Assessment: Determine major attributes of a useful student assessment as a means to enhance further learning and generate options to improve each of them. Similarly redefine student projects and assignments, giving sufficient room for self-exploration and experiential appreciation of the topics to be learned. Be sufficiently creative and playful in defining those assignments to capture the attention of the students and to enable them to learn with lot of fun.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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