4.4.1 What is Analogical Reasoning

Experiences we have had and knowledge we have acquired help us to orientate and to adapt our actions. We go back to information we have stored in our brain in a given situation to make a decision or to act in the most efficient way.

"I remember that when I was a child I was very afraid of injections. One day, my mother took me to the hairdresser. As the hairdresser was dressed in a white coat, which was traditional at that time and the same as the doctor had worn when he gave me the injection, I turned around in the doorway and ran away as fast as I could…"1

We try to find parallels to situations/problems which are structured similarly. In conclusion, an analogy is a comparison of two things that are essentially dissimilar but are shown through the analogy to have some similarity.2

Analogies are comparisons of the similar features of two things- they are also mental telescopes through which you can spy ideas. When using analogies to solve a problem we look at two unrelated things- one of which is from the problem and the other is from an unrelated field. We find the relation between them and tease from the comparison a new idea. Analogy often goes to the heart of the problem.3

For instance, consider the following examples:


The hummingbird can also hover and fly backwards.

Hypodermic needles: The scorpion uses the pointed tip of its tail to inject poison.

Anaesthesia: Many snakes use venom to paralyze and desensitize their prey before eating it.

Most of us are threatened by the strange and unfamiliar and have a need to understand it. When confronted with something unfamiliar, we tend to break it down and analyze the different parts to see if this will allow us to understand it or make it familiar. Our minds compare the unfamiliar object with things that are familiar and this process can convert the strange into the familiar. 5

Analogical Reasoning is a creative method and has nothing to do with thinking “we have always done this successfully in this way, so we will continue doing it this way”, which often blocks new and innovative solutions.

Why don’t you take five minutes to find one or more analogies to see if it works for you!

1 InnoSupport: Supporting Innovations in SME. 4.2 Brainstorming, 2005
2 Higgins, James M (1994) Creating Creativity
3 Jeff Mauzy, Richard Harriman (2003) Creativity Inc. Building an Inventive Organization
4 Photos: Source: openphoto.net, Helicopter photo taken by David Martin, hummingbird photo taken by Marek Novotný, injection photo by Dušanzidar and scorpion photo by Fibobjects
5 Michael Michalko (2006) Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques