The Power of Analogies

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Often times, when we are tasked with creating new ideas, we fall back into our own heuristics and what is known to us. Yet pushing ourselves beyond that mindset is critical for creating truly breakthrough ideas. One way we stretch our thinking at Peer Insight is to use analogies.

Let’s refresh quickly, what do we mean by an analogy?

analogy: comparing two dissimilar things together to draw on a parallel theme or make a larger point.

We find that a great time to use analogies is during brainstorming sessions (also referred to as ideation sessions in the design thinking world). During an ideation session, we’re intentionally diverging our thinking to create as many ideas as possible, prioritizing quantity over quality.

Typically, we come to an ideation session after conducting needs-finding research with users in the market; we come back together with our client to generate potential concepts to serve the unmet needs we heard in our research. One way we spark possibilities is by hanging a “gallery” of analogy posters on the wall (say about 5-7 different analogies) and have clients think about what they may want to “adapt” from the analogy. These analogies often feed into another round of brainstorming and help us think through a new element of the service, business model, or delivery method.

There is an art to selecting the right analogies to bring into an ideation session. A rule of thumb is to try and use key research themes and patterns that you’ve heard from your users during your needs-finding research to draw upon. By using those themes and patterns to identify key attributes, you can identify businesses or services that deliver that attribute really well or offer it in a re-imagined way.

A template we like to use to help us think through analogous contexts is the Thief and Doctor template. By listing the key attributes of the research, you can brainstorm analogies that are either mild (easily thought of and near-in) or wild (tangentially related, far-out) that would exemplify that attribute. Then, you can think about how you might adapt that analogy to your challenge/project.

Have you ever used analogies to draw inspiration or help you jumpstart your thinking? Shoot me a message at jbrown@peerinsight.com.