In this article Dr. Stephen Sweid is sharing a few secrets of the analogy method that has been refined throughout the years. Suggested techniques render this method more user friendly, but also allow it to generate WOW type new ideas that are more compatible (for integration) and that work in the real world, e.g. in the market.

As consultant and trainer I come across many situations where I need to formulate innovative product ideas, or novel marketing approaches, or to produce much differentiated business models, or to crack very stubborn problems. I resort to different creativity techniques including use of analogies. Although the association technique, i.e. seeking similarities, is more cumbersome, it is considered one of the most powerful tools for the generation of high impact novel ideas resulting in WOW effect.

The two extremes and the right balance of associations

When you find very similar objects, i.e. which share many features, you can be certain you can learn a lot,and carry over many aspects and integrate them and get useful ideas. Trouble is the degree of novelty will be low, since such close similarities are straightforward, and come to mind right away, and many people would have done the association before.

…it is considered one of the most powerful tools for the generation of high impact novel ideas resulting in WOW effect.

On the other hand, very distant similarities, i.e. having very few common aspects, have a lower degree in compatibility and hence usefulness. Nevertheless, they result in very novel ideas, since it is unlikely that others have made the same distant linkage before. For instance, the apple and the wheel are similar in their round shape. You can imagine two big apples used as wheels of a coach!Hence the learning bit might not make much sense, but novelty is assured.

Very novel and useful associations are those that are not too close or too far, i.e. which share SOME common features but not too many and not just too few. Hence, when seeking powerful similarities for creativity you should usually drop the very first few ideas that come easily to your mind. You should persevere for a few moments and seek some more distant similarities, possibly similarities that share only 2 – 3 important common aspects. Defining the right balance is not easy, but the lesson here is to get used to sweating when seeking similarities. You should try and get a number of similarities, e.g. some 10 similar ideas, after a sweat, and then select the most promising. You will find that this effort is really worthwhile. Great WOW useful results are guaranteed.

In essence, you can start with two features (attributes) of the concept, and seek similarities in them. For instance, a sweater should be light and comfortable, among others. What other objects are light AND comfortable? Some examples include T-shirt, socks, bike, rucksack, helmet, pillow, shoes, blankets, watch, chair, glasses, laptop etc. You can learn so much from these similarities and integrate them into your sweater.

Applying Google Search to help find effective associations

With some aspects defined, why not make full use of search engines such as Google to find the associations. You key in the combination of aspects, e.g. “light” and “comfortable”, and the search results will produce thousands of objects containing such features. Most interesting here is the use of the images search, with all the powerful graphics and visualizations. Above findings were made this way. This should not substitute the mental effort, but should complement this search. It is a good start. The search option “Google Sets”was quite interesting for analogies.

Maximizing the use of associations to generate new powerful ideas

As a rule, whatever issue, problem or task you are dealing with, you should allocate at least one hour to the method of associations.

It is extremely useful to train the mind to find similarities, indeed on a daily basis. For instance you watch the TV every day, but have you asked yourself specifically what is similar to a TV? You use the spoon every day, but have you asked yourself the same question?

Whenever you are faced with an issue, problem or task, you should try and seek similarities. As a rule, whatever issue, problem or task you are dealing with, you should allocate at least one hour to the technique of associations. Other creativity techniques are not to be excluded.

Daily exercises improve the power of association substantially, and it becomes more automatic. You can find general similarities, or similarities in one feature only, or two features. Google search, as mentioned before, is a very good support tool, indeed when seeking similarities in a number of features.

I use also the association technique during brainstorming sessions too, whereby, participants are asked to identify similarities to the problem at hand and to extract ideas from the similarities that will help solve it.

By Dr. Stephen M. Sweid

About the Author


Dr. Stephen M. Sweid is a business and innovation consultant / trainer, with over 20 years consulting experience on the international scene: Europe, USA, Middle East and Far East. He has involved as expert consultant in technical assistance projects of international organizations as well as in consulting projects commissioned by multinationals.
He is currently active in the UK and UAE. His consultancy focuses on strategic issues, quantum leaping, innovation and marketing.

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