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Idea Analogy – Creative Thinking Technique

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another (The First Law of Thermodynamics). The similar can be said about ideas.

Ideas transcend time and place. The same idea can take on different forms and be applied in a comparable or completely different situation.

three girls looking into distance

photo by suhyeon choi on unsplash

When they wanted to perfect the skill of making boats, early people compared the shape of a fish with the shape of their boats and canoes. When they tried to take to the sky, people studied the design of birds and insects, and after many tries and errors, they managed to construct the aeroplane and helicopter.

The ideas that we create are not created from nothing, we re-discover the concepts that already exist, and we adapt them to our situation. You can also call this the Law of Universality of Ideas. By comparing different concepts and ideas, we can discover hidden links, causal relations, symbolic meanings and metaphorical connections that can lead us into thinking of new solutions. 

Idea Analogy – Creative Thinking Technique

The Idea Analogy is a creative technique that most vividly illustrates the Law of Universality of Ideas. In the Idea Analogy, we look behind the concepts used in different domains and transform them to fit our situation.

If you are exploring the ways to improve the production of low-fat yoghurt, you can try and look for the analogy in a completely different process – a sports person’s preparation for a cycling competition.

Or, if you are trying to improve the design of a bathroom mirror, you can compare the bathroom mirror with the ball-point pen.

The more distant the connection between the processes or objects you choose, the more fun you will have during the thinking process and more original ideas, you will be able to discover.

Idea Analogy – Creative Thinking Technique How to

Example: A pet shop is looking for ways to improve the sale of pet food.

Analogy: Selling pet food is like learning a new language.

Learning a new language will imply:

1- We will need textbooks and manuals.

2- We will have to learn the orthography (if we decided to learn Japanese).

3- We will learn from a professor.

4- We will have to watch films and read books in that language if we want to speed our progress.

Try to connect each of these statements with ‘selling the pet food’.

1- We can start a news-letter or install a big screen in the shop window and broadcast the information about the current offer and even charge food producers for displaying their ads there.

2- We can attach graphic symbols/icons to the display shells showing the information about the food ingredients, functional benefits, target age of the pet, etc. That information is already printed on the packaging, but a customer usually has to pick up the packaging and search for it.

3- We can develop simple software that will allow us to track every customer and their pet. This way, we can learn about the products that the owner usually buys so we can offer discounts, promo samples and gifts. Or, we can hire a pet nutritionist who will be able to provide professional advice.

4- Films and books are excellent educational tools, but they are usually used for entertainment. We can design an entertainment area where the pet owners will be able to leave their dogs to play while the owners are doing their shopping.

In this example, we used an analogy between two processes.

In the following, we will use the analogy between two objects.

Example: A restaurant is looking for new ideas to improve their business.

Analogy: A restaurant is like a computer mouse.

1- The computer mouse fits in hand.

2- The computer mouse is moved around the table.

3- When using the computer mice, you click to select.

4- The computer mouse usually has a roller for scrolling up and down the screen.

Let us try and use the statements from 1 to 4 as an inspiration for the restaurant ideas.

1- The restaurant can use their social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) to publish their daily menu.

2- In addition to the existing outlet, the restaurant can also have a food truck that they will move around. They can park in front of a school and sell breakfast to the children; later during the day, they can move to a business area and sell lunch. On weekends they can park in a recreational area and sell food there.

3- The restaurant owners can equip every table with a tablet with an application. Customers can choose the menu and pay online.  Their food is then delivered directly to their table.

4- They can install roll-down curtains in the ceiling and use them to divide the interior space by pulling them down when organizing different types of events.

These are just a few examples to illustrate how the technique works. Like always during brainstorming, not every idea that you generate will be viable, but some of them surely will.

Hope you will have lots of fun using the analogy technique – after all, creativity needs to be fun.

If you like this and previous posts in my blog about creativity please share them with your creative friends or visit the NCY Podcast and listen to the latest shows about creativity.

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