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Forced Analogies
by Peter DeJager

No matter what our position, we are faced with hundreds of problems at work each month. Some big, some bigger, some small, some smaller. We are presented with this flow of problems and sometimes we find ourselves unable to help ourselves or our clients. No matter how good a problem solver we are, this will happen. We will run out of ideas. We've failed.

There comes a time in problem solving when we are at a loss for inspiration. We’ve followed all the rules. We have made list upon list of details, facts, assumptions and desires--all to no avail. The solution will not make itself apparent and we're about to give up. We need an idea. A new idea, one We haven't explored yet. How do we turn on our creativity and save the day?

We have been taught that creativity is not something we can just call up whenever we need it. That it’s the prized possession of a select few geniuses. That it’s not for us ordinary mortals; and if we come up with a truly original idea once a lifetime, we should consider ourselves lucky. I happen to disagree with this philosophy. We are each filled with creativity, the problem is how to let it out. How to turn on the creative muse and let the ideas flow through us.

Being creative, literally means doing things in a different way. The paradox is that once we find a solution to a problem that works, we use it on future problems time and time again. Success breeds repetition. Success spawns monotony. Even when the tried and true solution fails to solve a new problem we continue to try and use it. So much for creativity.

It’s human nature not trust new things; they might not work. We are afraid of change because it might hurt us. We would rather try and use old solutions no longer appropriate to the task, rather than experiment with new ideas. In a sense we are deathly afraid of being creative because we are afraid of failure, but the need for new ideas remains ever present..

Being creative, means being willing to try new things and to take risks. Risks to our ego, our sense of worth and risks to the image that we want to project to the world outside of us. Being creative, means living on the edge, not knowing how things are going to turn out and risk being laughed at.

Try This

How does one become creative? The answer is simple, but will be rejected by most readers: try new, untried, unproven, methods to get new ideas.

One technique I like is what I call “Forced Analogies.” It comes in many forms. It has a surprising ability to empower you with hundreds of new ideas.. It can even be a bit of fun to play with, but don't let that discourage you from trying it. After all, we are supposed to enjoy our work. Or is that too original an idea?

The basis of the method is simply this: compare your problem to something chosen at random.

That’s it. Take any object or process and ask: “How is my problem like a zoo? How is it like an orange? A old 78 rpm record? An aging bridge?” It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you choose it at random. The idea is to force yourself to make connections from your problem to something else. The objective is to create new linkages. Hidden in those linkages will be one, or two possibilities, which will lead you to something potentially interesting.

Don't let the simplicity of the concept turn you off. If you do, you will be resisting change, resisting a new idea and deciding that “this cannot work” because it’s too simple. It does work. Devote at least two hours to some self experimentation and you will come up with new ideas. You will think new thoughts, thereby opening up new possibilities for yourself. Most won’t even be good ideas, but possibly a few will be great ones. Try it.

(c) 2004 Peter de Jager - Peter is a Keynote Speaker, writer and consultant focusing on issues relating to Change Management and the Future. All Rights Reserved.

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