The Forced Analogy Method

A Phone in a Small Tree (all rights reserved)
Difficulty:  Not particularly.
Audience:  People looking for a new perspective on a challenge or opportunity.
Suggested Time:  5-20 minutes.

Forced Analogy is a method of encouraging people to see a problem differently.  The method involves comparing and contrasting a problem or a product or a service or a situation with something completely different.

A Forced Analogy process I use with undergraduate students is to encourage the students to think of a mobile phone as a boat, and then as a tree.  I ask them what ideas a phone manufacturer like Nokia could draw from these analogies.

The boat analogy has resulted in:
  • How can we waterproof the phone?
  • Could we use timber in the construction?  Or fibreglass?
  • The white iPhone may be more nautical than the black one. 
  • Would the phone float or sink if it was waterproof?
  • How can we learn to compact things?  (A small boat's galley is like a shrunken kitchen.) 
The tree analogy has resulted in:
  • Again, the potential to construct in timber.
  • Could the phone network be drawn as a tree?  What represents the roots hidden underground?
  • Tree branches are irregular for easy grasping or gripping.
  • Could phones be organic?
  • Can photosynthesis replace or supplement battery power? 
  • Trees are often suited to their environment.  (Unfinished idea...)
  • Trees like to grow together.  (Unfinished idea...)
Give it a try.  What if your problem, or your product, was a tree?  Or a fence?  Or a piece of legislation?  Or an artificial limb?  Or a house in disarray?
(I'd love you to tell me about some ideas you identified in the Comments.)