If we know that X does Y when Z, is it possible that A does Y when Z, too? That’s often how innovations get their start, in the lab and elsewhere: by taking a familiar starting point and using it as a launch pad to explore new territory.
I find analogies illuminating and instructive. I like the treatment in this talk by AMP and I appreciate the explanation of how much traction analogies can develop when exploring or problem-solving.-- Lou
"There’s a popular notion that innovation arrives like a bolt out of the blue, as a radical departure from previous knowledge—when really, most new ideas are extensions, twists, variations on what’s come before. The skill of generating innovations is largely the skill of putting old things together in a new way, or looking at a familiar idea from a novel perspective, or using what we know already to understand something new.
I say “skill” because we don’t have to leave these encounters up to chance. We don’t have wait for lightning to strike. We can, right now, hone our ability to deploy analogies. Analogies—comparing one entity to another, apparently different entity—is one of the most powerful tools humans have for understanding our world and for generating new knowledge.
In their book Mental Leaps: Analogy in Creative Thought, cognitive scientists Keith Holyoak and Paul Thagard point out how many intellectual advances through the ages have been built upon analogies:
The first-century Roman architect Vitruvius compared the sound of actors’ voices in an amphitheater to the movement of water in a pool, the first of many thinkers to compare sound waves to water waves.
The seventeenth-century scientist William Gilbert compared the earth to a magnet, advancing knowledge of the earth’s gravitational force.
The eighteenth-century chemist Antoine Lavoisier compared respiration to combustion, clarifying how breathing turns oxygen into carbon dioxide.
Even the great nineteenth-century biologist, Charles Darwin, built his theory of evolution on an analogy between artificial selection—the deliberate mating of animals by breeders—to the natural selection that goes on in the wild...."
By Annie Murphy Paul