Syntopical Reading Exercise (Metaphors)

Posted on by Brandon Klein

To read syntopically is to read many books or articles simultaneously, and to study each work in relation to the others and to the subject around which they revolve. During a Syntopical Reading module, participants scan and read an eclectic mix of essays, articles and book chapters, often ranging from innovations in business to science fiction; from new physics to social commentary. The breadth and content of the syntopical readings are adapted to the specific needs of each event. This exercise is based on How to Read A Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. Syntopical reading demands that the reader bring a new synthesis, to construct an analysis of the subject that is not in any single article or book. Because the reader is actively engaged in an exploration with the authors, s/he is reading at the most active and rewarding level. It is as though the reader is the researcher and the authors are the consultants to the reader. The syntopical reading exercise is a key part of the “Domain 1” (Body of Knowledge) management of a DesignShop. It is a major opportunity (sometimes the major opportunity) to introduce to the participants ideas and concepts that they may need in order to arrive at effective solutions.

To provide a Scan, for example, of innovations and trends occurring across different parts of the society. To “spark” the creative process by providing a wealth of thought-provoking ideas. To “seed” the creative process with innovative ideas that have been tested or proposed by others.

This is a major Scanning tool; usually a scan of the external environment, particularly of technological and organizational innovations. In the “classic three-day DesignShop” this module follows the Scenario, and is allocated about 90 minutes: 40 minutes to scan and read; then 40 minutes to discuss (in teams); then 10 minute break. Team reports to the large group are not necessary, yet are an option.

Strengths — Effective process for Scan. Stimulates thinking. Provides an effective way to introduce participants to viewpoints from a wide variety of sources. Sets an expectation for rigorous use of information. Weaknesses — May feel too “academic” to some participants. May be too “leisurely” for the pace of some DesignShops. Specifications for Success — 1. The strength of this exercise depends upon the strength of the articles and excepts selected for inclusion. Plan sufficient lead time that these are developed well.

• Read Aheads – Print and distribute a syntopical reading prior to a DesignShop.
• Become the Author – assign each participant a book to read; then during the design process, each participant not only reports what the author has to say, but is asked to “become” the author, participating in the design process as the author would have done.

Also see other Metaphor exercises and How to Read a Book (A Touchstone book)    How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines