A powerful ability I didn’t realize I have until it became my main working tool, is observing surroundings and uncovering similarities where there initially seem to be none!
Take this blog, for starters. The idea bloomed in my head in a jiffy, literally out of nowhere. All it took was a short break from my maternal responsibilities, so I could get some much-needed rest. My lovely husband took care of our baby for an hour (or three), and I was granted with some me-time. A nice, long pause.
After sleeping for a couple of hours (my first real sleep in 40 days or so), I spent the remainder of my time lying quietly in bed contemplating stuff. That break I took from my rookie-mom frenzy agenda was what I needed to see through my overwhelming state of mind, and acknowledge the presence of some life-saving Analogies between work-life and family-life, powered by practical tools I could rely on.
Analogies are, in brief, comparisons. They are bound to show a similarity. In effect, they are about interferences: if things agree in some respect, chances are they agree in others as well. Generating Analogies is about conveying meaning to an audience. You get to use them as a tool that helps clarify your train of thought, and they pay you back with as many mental connections as possible. Forrest Gump got it, in his infamous “Life is like a box of chocolates” line. But he’s hardly alone in this.
Designers, that wondrous tribe of professionals whose brain is wired to efficiently conveying meanings (or so it should be), rely heavily on Analogies to empathize with their audiences and communicate their ideas. You get all worked up when they can’t tell you from the start exactly how much your new site is going to cost, but they get you to cool off when they parallelize the making of your webpage to the construction of a new building. Not because they shared additional information, but because that Analogy meant more to you. Analogy; the way of the Empathetic Ninjas!
A couple of years back, a hospital in Whales called the Williams F1 Team asking for help. They needed to get better at rescucitating babies. And who is better to help them with that? The fastest pit stop team in F1 (for that year). What the heck, right?
I mean, the Setup is vastly different: what do babies and F1 share in common after all? Who would have known that the ongoing tension, the required precision and the sharp response times would prove to be greatly Analogous? Once the Design team working for the Doctors side realized this, sparkles rose and the F1 Pit Stop gurus transformed from strangers in the night to bearers of precious insights that helped the medical team of University Hospital Whales in Cardiff get even better at the amazing things they already do, saving lives and returning smiles to people’s faces.
I could go on and talk about how Henry Ford’s assembly line was inspired by observing analogies between systems within slaughterhouses and grain warehouses, but it’s a longer story, and I think you already get the picture of what Analogies truly are, and how impactful and creative they can become. They aim at your heart, and get to target your brain. And that is one kick-ass tool in your hands as a Mother.
Rikke Dam and Teo Siang from the Interaction Design Foundation pin it down in such a lovely way, that all I need to do to pass their message down to you is quote them:
Consider a five-year-old’s question regarding why a family friend’s kidney transplant failed. You know that, despite the best predictions, the tissues around the organ developed an adverse reaction and caused the recipient to become an unhappy -but, at least, still living- statistic. To the five-year-old, however, either the doctors were “stupid” or the new kidney was “evil”.
You know the kid has a perfectly natural curious nature; you also know that, as the relatives of your friend are in earshot, you’d rather placate him as soon as possible. “It’s a bit like that hard jigsaw we made the other week,” you tell him. “Remember those two pieces that were almost the same shape and had almost the same picture?” (He nods in agreement.) “Well, her kidney was a little like that piece, only it took longer for everyone to notice she needed a different one because it looked even more like the correct piece.”
That Mom (or Dad) in our narration is, perhaps, unaware of the name of the tool she (or he) is using, but it’s undoubtedly one of those tacit abilities you can neither fully explain, nor easily verbalize. You just know it works wonders when talking to children. It gets the message across while sharpening your creativity. Every. Single. Time.
But Analogies don’t limit themselves to effective communication between a Parent and a Child. They prove themselves handy in multiple setups, especially during challenging times. In hardships, whatever you Do, See, Feel or Think becomes excessively elevated, therefore you get a big motivational boost to look for ways around them. Sometimes solutions aren’t on the obvious side, but if you persist that the truth is out there, you quickly come to realize that you can generate new ideas by drawing Analogies from other Situations.
Places, Systems, Emotions or Activities, although not 100% similar, they have a kind of relevance that may contain a hint to a possible solution. Like the doctors and the pit stop team. The Setup is incomparable (hospital vs pit lane), but the experienced Emotion (of, say, urgency) is the same. Here’s some extra ideas to get you going:
- Bringing home a new baby is thousands of miles away from bringing home a new kitten. But baby-proofing your furniture is no so distant from cat-proofing them (talking from experience here!) So, from a furniture-preserving aspect, the Space is Analogous! So, instead of trying to figure it all out from scratch, why not borrow some ideas from someone’s start with a kitten and see how it worked out for them?
- Capturing Lessons Learned is a core step during the Closing Phase of any Project. But, trust me when I say, that when you Capture Lessons Learned at home for the kid’s medical emergencies, they become a thousand times more valuable. Information like what the case was, what medication was used, how it all progressed, and what to avoid next time will help alleviate tons of stress from your shoulders should it occur again! The Activities are Analogous! So here’s a professional tool to borrow and use daily for your personal needs!
- The stress and uncertainty an expecting mom may experience some nights before giving birth, can be likened to the emotional state of a student the night before his super important final exam. “What could go right?” “What could go wrong?” “How well prepared I am for this?”, are questions that have equal chances to rise in both settings. The Feelings are Analogous. What would the student do to release some of that tension? Maybe watch a movie, listen to some music, or sleep early. Good tips for the expecting mom to follow as well!
So, dear Mom, chances are you are using Analogies more often than not in your family life. Whether it’s during those long talks with your Kids, or when you are looking for inspiration when things get tougher, you are forming mental comparisons and navigate your way through complexity thanks to that powerful ability of yours! But even if that trait is left a bit unpolished in you, hopefully this article gave you some insight on how you can boost your creative side by bringing forth your Analogous brainwaves!
As for you, dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager, if the job opening at hand requires the candidate to be creative, or a problem solver (which is, probably the most commonly mentioned requirement in 9/10 of the job postings out there regardless of country, industry or position!) make sure you interview that Mom in your list. Ask her how she solves her riddles at home. Where she draws inspiration from. What she does when she needs to communicate effectively. Look for the unexpected. Make your candidate list, but check it. Twice! Because the Space may be different, but the Activity is Analogous. Therefore the competence is (you guessed it) transferable!
Analogies fueling your Creativity? You got this!