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Using Analogies to Solve Your Problems

 Sunday, March 30, 2014 


Sometimes when you get stuck trying to solve a problem, all you really need is to have a new pathway open up that will get you pointed in the right direction. But if you're stuck and at a dead end, how do you move forward?

What if I told you that you need to look at another problem?

No, I'm not joking. I realize you probably have enough problems already and aren't looking for any more. But by looking at another problem, especially a problem with many similarities to your situation, you may very well find the key to solving your problem. Please let me elaborate.

Definition of an Analogy

First, let's define an analogy. An analogy transfers information or meaning from a source object to a target object.

For our purposes, the source object is the problem (or thing) that you select that is similar to your problem. The target object is your problem.

Analogies and Structure

These objects may share many types of structural features, such as, factors, effects, patterns, relations, actions, ideas, and language.

Analogies and the Structure of Language

Analogies can best be viewed through a systematic feature of our language that shows an interdependency of words. Examples of this in our language are:  compare, similar, like, resemble, associate, exemplify, relationship, metaphor, simile, allegory, and parable. Using language that conveys interdependencies is a time-tested method for understanding problems.

Secrets of the Analogical Process

  • Cognitive process of selection - selecting the source object to be used as your analogy, selecting the relevant information in your source and target objects, and selecting how you analyze the shared aspects.
  • Perception - of both your source and target objects. Use all of your sense to perceive your problem and your analogy.
  • Mental models - that represent both your source and target. Examine and test your mental models regarding both your source and target objects to ensure your preconceived notions are surfaced and understood.
  • Analytical process of pattern recognition - to find the shared features of your source and target objects.
  • Mapping and alignment - from your source object to your target object. This mapping and alignment can be done between a single individual relationship or between complete domains of knowledge.
  • Drawing deductions and conclusions - about the structures of your problem and the problem your comparing it to.
  • Apply the underlying logical structure - from your analogy to your problem.
  • Interpretations - that lead to minimizing the amount of information needed to solve your analogy.

Make Sure You Use Analogies


Using analogies to solve your problems is a good approach. You may not have spent a lot time thinking about how analogies work, but it's a process that you're already quite familiar with since you've been using analogies for most of your life. It's a time-tested approach that's used extensive in schools.

Any time you face a difficult problem, you should use analogies to solve it. If it doesn't lead directly to a solution, it may lead to new ideas that can serve as a bridge to your eventual solution.

Here are some links to my problem solving tools that use analogies:  Analogies, Similarities & Differences, Structured Analogies Matrix, Synectics, Observed & Merged Viewpoints, Metaphors, Excursions, and Role Playing.

Find the Best Analogy

The most important aspect in using analogies is to select the best analogy. Selecting the best analogy provides you an economy effort that makes it easier to find your solution.

by Keith Glein, Founder & CEO