A personal analogy involves identifying with some part of your problem and trying to see the challenge from its perspective. Imagine that you are trying to design a new clock. Ask yourself what it would be like to be the hands of a clock. The personal analogy demands that you lose yourself in the object of the challenge. Wear the problems’ clothes, talk its language, eat its food, sing its songs, recite its slogan and mottos. Become a kind of blood-hyphen with the object. The basic questions to ask yourself are: “How would I feel if I were. . . .?”, or “What would it say to me if our positions were reversed”?, or “What would it say to me if it could think and talk the way I can?”

A tiny company that markets wall coverings had the challenge of competing with enormous conglomerates. Fortunately for this tiny company, innovation is one of the few precious resources that can’t be bought; the best ideas have always been simple enough to scribble on the back of a cocktail napkin, and the CEO knew this.

This CEO kept asking himself, “What would wall coverings say to me if they could talk?” “What would their concerns be?” “What would they worry about?” “How would I feel if I were a wall covering?” He asked himself these questions every day and was finally able to imagine himself as a wall covering.

One concern he imagined wall coverings would have is the fear of fire. Wall coverings are often made of vinyl, polypropylene, and other fabrics that are highly toxic when burned. The giant wall covering companies were all selling these potentially dangerous products.

The tiny company developed its own nontoxic, fire-resistant fiberglass material. This company then sent flyers to distributors, architects, and others whose choose or buy wall coverings. The flyers detailed the high toxicity of the giants’ vinyl and polypropylene wall coverings and emphasized the danger of litigation. In the event of fire, the victims or their estate could file a class action suit naming the property owner, the architect or engineer who specified the dangerous wall covering, the distributor, and the maker.

Suddenly the tiny company was getting orders from nursing homes, hotels, casinos, prisons, hospitals, schools, and major hotel chains. The giant companies were rocked to their heels. The distributors and designers they’d done business with for years were questioning their products and moved their business to the safe little company.

Suppose you own an outdoor advertising business and are looking for creative new ways to advertise. Imagine that you are an outdoor billboard. What would you feel? What would your problems be? How would you advertise your products?

If I was a billboard, I would like to talk to the passing motorists about my products; I would like a chance to sell them my products in person. This prompts an idea.

 Display a provocative back view of a male or female model with a phone number to call. Callers would find themselves listening to real or taped sales presentations from the sexy models, extolling the virtues of the product and implying that the model could be found on a certain beach using the product.

In a recent example, a police detective wondered how he would think if he were a major drug dealer dealing with drug activities. He thought his first idea would be to increase his profit by eliminating his competitors. His idea adopted by his department was to assist drug dealers increase their profit by helping them eliminate their competitors. Poster were printed and posted around the city. The posters were titled “Attention Drug Dealers: Is Your Competition Costing You Money? We offer a free service to help you eliminate your drug competition! All the would-be clients need to do is jot down on the poster the names, addresses and dealing habits of their business rivals and mail it to the police station.

Michael Michalko


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