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The Power of of Metaphors

The connection between perspective and creative thinking has to do with habituation and over-familiarization. Over-familiarization with something (an idea, a procedure, a system) is a trap. Where creative thinking is concerned, that is the irony of the skill: the more adept you are at something, the less likely you are to look at it in a different way; the greater your skill of a particular discipline, the less you will be tempted to experiment with different approaches. Einstein put it best when he once said, “An expert is a person who has few new ideas; a beginner is a person with many.”


Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, believing that the individual who had the capacity to perceive resemblances between two separate areas of existence and link them together was a person of special gifts. If unlike things are really alike in some ways, perhaps, they are so in others.

With metaphorical thinking, you shift your frame of reference and make a connection between the problem and something else. Take a moment and suppose you want to increase your personal productivity at work. Your problem could be stated as, “In what ways might I become more productive at work?” What ideas do the following metaphorical questions spark in your imagination about the problem?
•What animal is like your problem? Why?
•A cheeseburger is like the solution to the problem because……….
•How is your problem like a flash light? How are the components similar? How can the similarities and differences provide ideas?
•How is an iceberg like an idea that might help you solve the problem?
•If your problem were a lawn, what would the weeds be? How would you remove them?
•Why is a road map like your problem? What ideas can you get from a road map to help solve your problem? How about a GPS?
•How can a dog’s bark help you solve your problem? In what ways can you hear the problem? What does it sound like? What else sounds like that? How can those things inspire ideas?
•What are the similarities between a half-eaten, cold pizza and your problem?
When we compare problems to something unusual, we tend to have a need to understand it. Consequently, we break it down and analyze the different parts to see if this will allow us to understand it or make it somehow familiar. When this happens, we form new links and relationships that may lead to breakthrough ideas. For example, years back, a group of designers were looking for new light fixture ideas. They worked with various metaphoric questions, including, “A monkey is like the solution for a new design for a light fixture because….” They imagined a monkey running around the house with a light wherever it was needed. This thought led them to conceive track lighting.
Cristina Madeira
Certified Executive and Team Coach by