Analogy and Creativity Blog Moving

July 10th, 2008

The Analogy and Creativity Blog is moving to a new address:

I will still be writing it. It will still be associated with Structured Analogy Consultants. It will still be powered by WordPress. It will still be concerned with analogy and creativity.

The only change is that we will be working directly with WordPress rather than through the 1&1 WordPress interface. This will ultimately give us greater control over the look, feel, and operation of the Blog. However, until we get past the WordPress learning curve, the look of the blog might be a little less polished.

Thank you for your patience during this transition.

A Baseball Analogy for Thinking About Innovation

June 14th, 2008

This article by Scott Anthony at Harvard Business Weekly Publishing is a wonderful example of using analogy for communicating about innovation. The analogy used in the article is between the Major League Baseball draft and the way a company manages innovation.

Because the analogy and its use for innovative thinking is presented so well, I am going to go all recursive on you and use the article as a showcase of the right ways of using analogy for innovation and for communicating about innovation.

The first step in any analogy is pointing out to the audience the relevant correspondences between the concepts:

Baseball teams have to assemble the best talent possible, just like companies have to bet on the best innovation opportunities. A baseball team chooses between acquiring talent on the free agent market or drafting and building talent. A company chooses between acquisitions or organic growth.

A good analogy focuses on deep structural correspondences between concepts:

Acquisitions are expensive, but perceived to be lower risk, because the talent (or idea) has proven itself demonstrably in the marketplace (for baseball, that means success on a major-league diamond). Organic growth is typically cheaper, but perceived to be risky because many times highly touted initiatives or prospects don’t pan out.

What this means is that the author isn’t just drawing correspondences between the elements of the two concepts (e.g., “acquiring talent on the free agent market” = “acquisitions”). He is explaining how elements and the relationships between them in one concept correspond to elements and the relationships between them in the other concept.

These correspondences then lead to certain inferences. Inferences, that are important to the point the author is making about innovation:

Just as a baseball team doesn’t have complete information about what a player’s true level of ability is on draft day, you don’t know the real potential of any one innovation project…. Good teams collect as much data as possible. They have sophisticated models to project how rough performance can project to the major league level.

Leads to the inference that for companies:

With a well-organized scouting team, you should gather multiple data points in preparation to “draft” innovation opportunities.”

By pointing out the correspondences between rich concepts such as the ones being used in the Baseball Analogy article, the audience is then able to make their own inferences using their own detailed knowledge of the concepts in the analogy:

Of course, the market for companies is more liquid than the market for baseball players. We bet you if you ran the data the absolute best return on investment would be acquiring a hitter who has proven himself at a critical midpoint….Ask yourself: What is the equivalent inflection point in our market?

It is by working out the inferences resulting from correspondences such as these that innovation is made possible. However, these inferences are not possible unless your audience possesses detailed knowledge of the concepts used in the analogy. I, for one, know next to nothing about the Major League Baseball draft. Consequently, I can follow the analogy made by the author and the points being made but would be absolutely unable to determine an “equivalent inflection point” at which I would be most likely to receive the “absolute best return on investment.

Using analogy for communicating about innovation or for innovation itself requires knowledge of BOTH the concepts used in the analogy. This knowledge can be provided by the person making the analogy or through personal experience, but acquired it must be for innovation to happen.

The sound of one hand clapping

June 13th, 2008

I StumbledUpon the OneWord website yesterday. The site gives you a single word (“Daisy” or “Substance”) and you have 60 seconds to write something, anything about that one word.

Once you submit your answer, you can then review what other visitors to the site submitted for that word.

I actually thought it was a pretty creative website. Maybe it was intended to get the creative juices flowing or to help snap a person out of writer’s block. If so, it was unique in that most techniques like this to enhance creative writing or innovation have a person combine two or more random words/concepts and then explore the combination.

The idea that creativity comes about through combination of ideas has a long history. One of the first people to explore the use of conceptual combination in the development of ideas was Poincare. Of course he examined it in the context of “the genesis of mathematical creation.” Poincare reasoned that elementary concepts “collided” in the unconscious. The most fruitful combinations were those made up of disparate elements. However, combinations made from disparate elements were also those most likely to be useless. Why then are we not bombarded with a plethora of useless combinations during innovation or problem solving? Poincare believed it was because the unconscious mind engaged in a selection process only allowing the combinations with the most potential to rise to consciousness. As he stated “Invention is discernment, choice.”

There is ample evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, that combinations of disparate concepts result in creativity and innovation. Consequently, many techniques exist to use conceptual combination to enhance creativity. These include the “Random Logline Generator” for writers and Ward’s “Random Adjective Noun Combination” generator.

Some of the most creative work I have seen has come about through the random pairing of concepts. At the top of my list of creative products resulting from random conceptual combination are:

1.) The artist Mark Tansey‘s use of a concept wheel to generate ideas for paintings such as “White on White“.

2.) The Nietzsche Family Circus

3.) Working video games created in response to a random name generator. The winning playable entries (created by the 3 week deadline!) included “Post-Apocalyptic Unicorn Uprising,” “Emo Harvest on The Oregon Trail” “Attack of the Banjo on the High Seas.” 🙂

Now you can see why OneWord is different. Perhaps it is designed to help people achieve creativity through tapping into the Zen of the sound of one hand clapping.

Creative Advertising: Flogos

May 7th, 2008

Well, this certainly counts as creative advertising.
The idea is that companies can rent the “Flogo” machine for about $3,500 a day and waft little corporate logos into the sky at the rate of about one every 15 seconds.
The little logos will fly as far as 30 miles and as high as 20,000 feet.
Because they are little more than soap bubbles (it is the “little more” that worries me here) they are supposed to be environmentally friendly.
As I said, I think this is a creative way to advertise but I’m not thrilled about the thought of the sky being filled with little corporate logos everywhere I look.

clipped from

AP Photo

Francisco Guerra, who’s also a former magician, developed a machine that produces tiny bubbles filled with air and a little helium, forms the foam into shapes and pumps them into the sky.

blog it

Creative Mailbox

May 5th, 2008

I thought I would add a little more activity to this blog by posting links to creative websites, ad campaigns, objects, etc. that I encounter.

To begin this trend, I would like to introduce the new mailbox my husband created for the house.

Mailbox2 Mailbox3
This mailbox is creative in several ways.

  1. It is not like any other mailbox in our neighborhood (or maybe even unlike any other mailbox in our town)
  2. It is artistic as well as functional
  3. It was designed so that it fit the constraints imposed by the city for mailboxes as well as minimizing possible damage to a vehicle running into the solid steel construction.

This last was accomplished through clever use of shear pins on a cylindrical base connected to a wheel hub with intact wheel bearings. This design feature was incorporated into the structure to make sure that no matter the trajectory of the vehicle making contact with the mailbox, it would spin in such a way that the shear pin would give upon contact.

For more artistic and design innovations visit