Creative thinking requires the generation of associations and connection between two or more dissimilar and unrelated subjects. When the Israeli air force needed a way to speed up the healing process for wounds, an analogy was drawn between the wound and a severed electrical cord. To restore the flow of current, the wire had to be spliced back together. The solution took the form of a revolutionary bandage containing magnesium, an element known to conduct electricity. The increased flow of electrical current through the body helped the body speed up the healing process.

Another technological breakthrough based on a visual analogy to nature is the Velcro fastener. George deMestral became curious about why no one had improved the common zipper. He spent time thinking of how things in nature fastened themselves to other objects. One day while walking his dog he noticed how burdock burrs fastened to his dog’s fur with tiny hooks. He figured out how to produce the same effect artificially, and now shoes and countless other objects are fastened with burr-like hooks and cloth-like loops with Velcro. Incredibly, Velcro became a technology that even drew on a natural analog was later used as a source analog. Thus the hook-loop concept led o discoveries such as abdominal closure in surgery, epidermal structure, molecular bonding, antigen recognition, and hydrogen bonding.

Here is an easy technique that with a little practice will have you creating novel ideas in a short period of time.  First, contemplate the problem and see if you can determine its essence. For example, the essence of “How to improve the can opener?” is “opening things.”

(1) Now consider how things “open” in other worlds such as nature, business, sports, government, personal relationships and so on.

(2) Make a list of how things open in other worlds. For example:

  • Oysters open by relaxing a muscle.
  • Valves open by steam.
  •  You open your mail with a letter opener.
  • Ripening weakens a tree bud and the seams open.
  •  You open a window by pulling down or pushing up.
  •  You open a car’s accelerator by pushing a pedal.
  • You open your email by clicking an icon.
  • You open a door by pulling on the doorknob.
  •  You open a fish’s mouth by squeezing at the base of the mouth.
  • You open a basketball game with a jump ball.
  • You open a book by flipping the cover.
  • Ripening weakens the seams on a pea pod and it opens.
  • While sleeping, a noise or light will open your eyes.
  • You open your ATM account with a credit card.
  • The right combination will open a combination lock.
  • You open an egg by cracking it.
  • You open your personal computer with a password.
  • You open a parachute by pulling on its ripcord.

(3) Make analogies between the instances and improving the can opener. Look for connections, relationships and new associations. For example, one new association might be to “open cans by pulling a weak seam (like a pea pod).” Instead of an idea to improve the can opener, we produced an idea for a new can design. Take a few minutes and see what kind of can opener you can create.

Michael Michalko


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: