Thinking technique: the Analogy

If you need inspiration for creative ideas, you’d be wise to try out some thinking techniques. One of the many techniques you can choose from is the analogy.

Triggering yourself to come up with creative ideas is not as hard as it looks. There are many ways to force your brain to look for unusual approaches to tackle your challenge. You could start your quest with a random word, you could use the power of wishful thinking, you could try to escape from your most basic assumptions or you could try some exaggeration

Starting with a random word lets you approach your challenge from a different angle. Wishful thinking, exaggeration and escaping assumptions are ways of getting your brain past perceived limitations. The technique Analogy stimulates creative thinking in yet another way; it helps you gain fresh insights by finding unexpected similarities.

Like many thinking techniques, the Analogy consists of three simple steps.

Step 1. Generate an analogy
Select an action you can compare your situation to. This can be anything from ‘planning a wedding’ to ‘brushing your teeth’. It doesn’t really matter, as long as the action doesn’t seem to relate to your subject. Some actions you might compare your situation to are…

  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Playing poker
  • Going on holiday
  • Going to the beach
  • Driving a car
  • Cooking a meal
  • Going to the gym
  • Shopping for groceries
  • Going on a date
  • Ordering a beer in a bar
  • Making coffee
  • Doing the dishes
  • Writing a book
  • Checking your mail

Pick one from this list or generate some quirky actions yourself. Whatever you pick, make sure it won’t lead to an obvious match with your challenge. Obvious analogies are simply much less inspiring. ‘Selling more of our new product is like… brushing your teeth’ will lead to more interesting insights than ‘selling more of our new product is like… finding new customers’.

Step 2. Find similarities
Once you’ve created an analogy it’s time to write down as many similarities as you can think of. Use your imagination and have some fun with it. You’ll find it is much easier than it sounds.

Step 3. Use similarities to generate ideas
Go through the similarities to find interesting insights. What is there that you can use to start generating ideas? Look for new ways to look at your situation.

Let’s look at an example
Last week we organised a session to find refreshing ideas on webcare, so let’s use that as an example.

Say you want to improve the webcare of your organisation. You might start with the analogy ‘Responding on social media is like… going to the beach.’

Of course this sounds ridiculous at first… but at the same time, you’ll find it’s remarkably easy to find similarities between the two actions. For instance, you could say that in both instances ‘you need some preparation to prevent trouble’ (giving the wrong answer or upsetting people in one case, getting a sunburn in the other). You could also say ‘sometimes the conditions are not right’, ‘you don’t always have time for it’, ‘it can be a very pleasant experience’ or ‘the people you’ll encounter will have different reasons for being there’.

After writing down a bunch of similarities (some more far fetched than others), you go through the list to find inspiration for new ideas. One thing that might strike you is the observation that ‘you don’t always have time for it’. You immediately realise that customers will probably not care. They expect timely answers to their questions. How could you resolve this situation? Well, perhaps you could create a pool of loyal customers to answer common questions (freeing your webcare team to deal with more difficult issues) …in exchange for bonus features or new beta gadgets of course. Obviously, there are many other ways to deal with this situation. You could outsource the answering of common questions to a lower income country or you could create an FAQ-page. You might even be able to join forces with an organisation that offers a similar service to create a larger webcare team (so you can cover more hours). The point is: a seemingly ridiculous analogy can spark an insight and lets you look at the situation from a fresh perspective.

What can you compare your challenge to?


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  • Bajarang Kshirsagar

    This is something different, but interesting. It’s like compare any problem/activity with another activity. It will definitely give us fantastic ideas.

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