Metaphors and Analogies

I just spent the last week researching and writing a training manual for one of my clients.  The target audience for this short course (3-4 hours) is trained facilitators.  The goal is to hone their facilitation skills so that they are helping teams dig deeper into their thinking about how to solve the issues and opportunities that they are faced with in creating new products.  New product development, no matter how fun it may seem, is an arduous process blending creative thought with real technological roadblocks.  I wanted to post an excerpt (the manual is in review/edit right now) of my initial draft.  The excerpt comes from the opening section of the manual.  The following is geared towards those who facilitate creative problem solving sessions in their organization based on Synecticsworld® and the frameworks that have been developed over the past 55 years.

Using Metaphors and Analogies

A new idea can come from anywhere as long as the thinker is available to all stimuli whether it seems relevant or not. The essence of being creative stems from our ability to make connections where none seemingly exist (and breaking long-existing connections that we have). It is within this connection making that we must encourage our resources to explore deeper connections, sometimes several levels deeper than previously seen in order to craft and articulate the ideas that stem from their own thoughts.

Climate is Key.

As facilitators, we need to ensure that the climate is safe and open. Everyone must be heard, free of judgment and evaluation. When you are embarking on a design that pushes the Spectrum of Thinking to its limits, resources look to you to guide them and provide a safe landing place for their thoughts, emotions and feelings that will become the springboards, emerging ideas and possible solutions over the course of your session.

A metaphorical or analogical exploration during session will require a building of climate so that you make it easy or easier for the resources to generate and discuss the metaphors and analogies that they are using to create their springboards and ideas.

Facilitator’s Can Set Climate for Metaphorical and Analogical Thinking by:

  • Create a climate setter and other energizers that contain metaphors and analogies
  • Provide examples of metaphorical and analogical solutions in history
    • Post-It Notes originated from wanting a Removable Bookmark
    • Velcro was envisioned by seeing Hook and Loop Design from a Sticky Burr
    • Jose Cuervo was a wish stemming from the notion of having your own Island and Passport
    • No-Prick Insulin Pen came from the notion of that a Feather can’t really hurt you
  • Products or Ideas from your own company
  • Be a metaphorical and analogous thinker yourself and model the behaviors you want
  • Use the Excursion technique repetitively to explore analogous worlds and metaphorical stimulus to “force” the resources to think differently
  • Get creative, use all the senses to elicit feelings and emotions, and tell a story


Metaphors are used in books, poems, movies, advertisements and everyday life. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a person, thing, or place is directly compared to an object that is unrelated and seemingly contradictory and has at least one common characteristic. It uses one word to mean another. In order to emphasize meaning, metaphors provide a more visual description of the word or phrase being used. In a metaphor, you say something is something else.

Examples of Metaphors:

His iPhone is another appendage.
In this example, the iPhone is compared to a body appendage, which has the quality of being attached to him permanently.

The teenager is a night owl.
Here, the teenager is being compared to an owl, not because he’s a bird, but because owls are nocturnal, which is a quality that the owl has in common with the teenager.

He said his son was a whirling dervish.
In this example, the man’s son is compared to a whirling dervish to visually emphasize the fact that the son is always moving around and around.

A Note: Similes.

The simile is a type of metaphor. A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two things with connective words such as like, than, as, so or resembles. Similes are used to describe words or phrases more vividly and emphatically. In a similar, you say something is like something else.

Examples of Similes:

She was smaller than a peanut.
She sang like a angel.
His smile was as wide as the river.


Just like a metaphor and a simile, an analogy is used to demonstrate how two seemingly different or irrelevant things are actually quite similar or connected. However, the analogy isn’t a figure of speech, like the other two; it’s an elaborate, rational argument. The best way to figuring out an analogy is to understand the relationship between the words being compared. There are dozens of possible relationships to look for between words, such as synonyms, antonyms, parts of a whole, or cause and effect.

Example of an Analogy:

Work is to vacation as vacation is to _____.
By knowing the relationship between the words (antonyms), you can guess that the missing word is solitude. That is, the antonym for vacation is solitude.

A Note: The Miller Analogies Test (MAT)

The MAT is a test used for assessing analytical skills and academic content critical to success in graduate education. The MAT is designed to reflect analytical thinking. Through analogies the MAT identifies knowledge and abilities that go beyond memorization and repeating information. Predictive validity studies by researchers across the academic spectrum have shown positive correlations between the ability to analyze analogies and success in academia and beyond.

Analogies are as equally important as metaphors in helping solving problems by tapping into the analytical mindset of your resources to make new connections and break old ones.

The notion that if we allow ourselves to dig deeper and discover and uncover analogies and metaphors to help us solve the problems that we are facing, will allow us to see both the problem and the solutions in a different light.  I like to think that the solutions to ALL of our problems already exist somewhere else, we just have to available and open-minded enough to recognize them.


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