Creative Relationships

At HatRabbits we always use thinking techniques. Because our customers are often surprised at how easy and powerful these techniques are, we are recurrently asked if we can share more of them. In this post I will discuss a technique called: Analogy.

If I ask you to tell me what a shoe and a toothbrush have in common, you will probably be a bit confused. There is no direct relation between the two, or at least not an obvious one. However, if you think a little longer you will probably be able to tell me that they are both personal objects, used on our body, simple in use and part of a persons daily ritual.

Our brain is a self organising system. It’s programmed to make sense out of the data we collect. We’re brilliant in seeing patterns. This is the reason we all experience Pareidolia from time to time. We see faces in door knobs, animals in clouds and sometimes even Virgin Mary appears in our coffee dregs or on our burned toast.

It’s in our nature to connect the unconnected. That’s why the ‘Analogy’ is such an easy and fun way to explore a challenge creatively. It changes our perspective. Making comparisons with an unrelated subject allows us to think more freely. By exploring the similarities between two vastly different concepts, objects or ideas we force ourself to look and think in a different way.

The technique works as follows:

1. Choose an Analogy
Compare your challenge with a subject from another field.
It’s best if you use something specific and familiar.

Imagine you are a toothbrush company and you’re looking for a new and innovative design. You can formulate your Analogy in a question such as:

– How is a lemon like a toothbrush?
– How is a kitchen knife like a toothbrush?
– How is a phone booth like a toothbrush?
– How is a refrigerator like a toothbrush?
– How is a pair of scissors like a toothbrush?
– How is a sandal like a toothbrush?

Make a long list of analogies and pick one that you like.

2. Note the similarities
Describe the relationship between the subject of your challenge and the analogy in a clear and straightforward way.

Imagine we choose the refrigerator analogy.
“How is a refrigerator like a toothbrush?”

– They both have a handle
– They are both taking care of leftovers
– People are often standing when using them
– Both are actively used for short periods of time
– Both are usually used by one single person at a time

Again make a long list. Find as much similarities as you can.

3. Use the similarities to generate new ideas

“They both have a handle”
Can we improve the handle of the toothbrush? Could we make a better grip? Can we make it better looking, lighter, smaller? Perhaps we can add a small screen that shows the medical condition of your teeth?

“They are both taking care of leftovers”
We could add a protection spray in the toothbrush. Something that can be used after you’re done brushing. You can spray your teeth and protect them against the snacks and coffee that you will enjoy during the day.

“People are often standing when using them”
Maybe we can design a toothbrush that cleans your teeth for you, while you can do something else. A quiet device that brushes while you are watching television!

“Both are actively used for short periods of time”
What if we create a toothbrush that you can use all day. A toothbrush that cleans right after each meal and snack, and hides in the back of your mouth.

“Both are usually used by one single person at a time”
Could we design a duo-toothbrush for children? Two small toothbrushes that can also be used as toys? Or a brush game among young siblings? Or a toothbrush for a parent and a child that makes it fun to brush together?

As you can see this technique can help you get all kinds of ideas.

The technique feels a bit strange in the beginning but once you’ll get a hold of it, ideas will start flowing. It’s important that you use your imagination to turn the funny and weird similarities into creative ideas. Make sure you make full use of the creative comparisons and aim for an imaginative interpretation.

Once you’ll get the hang of it you can try to take your analogies to the next level: try to make analogies between different actions. While slightly more difficult, using the technique in this way could lead you to some very useful insights. You could make sentences like: ‘Brushing your teeth is like riding a bike’, ‘Brushing your teeth is like cooking a meal’ or ‘Brushing your teeth is like writing an e-mail’. The rest of the process is exactly the same as explained above.

Try the Analogy to gain new insights, spark your creativity and surprise yourself with refreshing and unusual ideas. I’d love to hear about your experiences with this technique!

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