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June 01, 2016 Wednesday 06:04:35 PM IST

Generate creative options with “forced analogy”

Creative Living

Bisociation is at the heart of creativeness

How could cartoonists generate ever new ideas for comic strips everyday, 365 gags per year? What is the secret behind their ubiquity and resourcefulness? Or what are the techniques adopted by writers to develop unexpected twists in a poem or a story? How could musicians spontaneously twist the settings in musical expressions to lead the listeners into ecstasy? Or how do some truly creative people generate numerous options always breaking away from habitual thinking? Or how do creative minds pour out thousands of ideas in a brainstorming session? According to Arthur Koestler, the secret is bisociation - a technique which is handy for creative minds.

Arthur Koestler is famous for his general theory of human creativity, which he developed back in 1964. In his path breaking work, The Act of Creation (Macmillan Publishing Co., New York), Koestler analyzed the processes of discovery, invention, imagination and creativity in humor, science, and the arts. He found that any creative act is a bisociation of two or more apparently incompatible frames of thought. Koestler called the frames of thought as thought matrices, since they possess specific number of rows and columns defined by a set of specific set of rules. Any ability, habit, or skill has the pattern of a matrix, the thought matrix. Bisociation blends different elements drawn from two previously unrelated matrices of thought into a new matrix of meaning. Bisociation is not just association of two ideas; rather it takes place through a complex process, which includes comparison, abstraction and categorization, analogies and metaphors. Koestler argues that the diverse forms of human creativity all correspond to different variations of bisociation.


A kind of forced relationship (forced analogy) is established between two thought matrices in a bisociation process, which give birth to a creative idea. The concept of forced analogy is in fact older than the concept of bisociation. Already in 1958, Charles S. Whiting speaks about forced analogy in his book Creative Thinking (Reinhold Publishers, New York). Whiting is hence rightly considered the father of the ‘Forced Analogy Method’ of creative thinking. Here, forced analogy is conceived as a process that makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It consists of seeing ordinary things in unusual ways, or unusual things in more everyday ways. A relationship is forced between two or more usually unrelated ideas or items in this method. W.J.J. Gordon modified the concepts of Whiting in his 1961 book, Synectics (Harper and Row, New York). Later on Alex Osborn developed this method into an effective tool of problem solving in business through his book Applied Imagination (Scribner Publishers, 1979). The related methods of Edward de Bono like “Random Word Technique” draws inspiration from the forced analogy method.

Hoe does Forced Analogy work?

Forced analogy technique allows one to generate unique, unusual or highly original options using dissimilar or apparently unrelated objects, elements, or ideas. It stimulates the search for a new perspective, viewpoints or combination possibilities that emerge from unexpected associations. Forced analogy acts as an effective tool of divergent thinking. It acts as a springboard for new ideas.

Forced analogy demands mastery in metaphorical thinking. Playfulness and freewheeling are essential to it. Laughter and humor is not only permitted, but also encouraged during a forced analogy round. Humor helps the participants to go beyond their initial superficial thoughts deep into much more meaningful propositions. “Be natural” is the motto of such exercises. Biomimicking is one of the basic traits of the technique. Bionics or imitation of the engineering of nature is the soul of forced analogy. Forced analogy liberates one from habit-bound thinking and protects one from being stuck in a typical brainstorming session. Forced analogy, in this sense, acts as a brainstorming enhancer.

A few examples

Robert Olson provided an excellent example for forced analogy in his book The Art of Creative Thinking (Perennial Library, 1980). He draws an analogy between a corporate organization and a matchbox, two totally dissimilar objects, generating useful insights into a successful corporate organization. Just like a matchbox, a corporate organization also has “striking surfaces”. Hence, a successful organization always protects itself from “strikes”. Just like a matchbox, an organization also needs to have a centre section which should be slidable or flexible. Just like a matchbox, organization structures need to be made out of inexpensive stuff to make it easily disposable.

In a similar vein, Betty Edwards in her 1987 book, Drawing on the Artist Within: an Inspirational and Practical Guide to Increasing Your Creative Powers (Simon & Schuster Inc., New York) draws forced analogy between a marriage and a pencil to make useful reflections regarding a successful marriage.

A computer program could be brought to forced analogy with a seed, since both of them have lot of bugs eating them away from within. You may ride a book, rather than a horse! You may spin a tale, not a web like a spider! Or you may solve the problem of “streets overcrowded with motor vehicles” using “wristwatches” as follows:

1. You may give away a free wristwatch to any driver who used public transport for a week, to promote public transport.

2. Connect a timer on the car dashboard to the engine. After a maximum of two hours use every day, the car would simply slow down and stop.

3. Create new circular roads around the city centre (that go around like the hands on a wristwatch) to relieve the congestion on some inner city streets.

All these and more examples could be explored in the www as examples of the creative technique, ‘Forced Analogy’.

Process of forced analogy technique

Forced analogy technique can be implemented systematically with the following steps:

1. State your task or problem clearly.

2. Keep the guidelines for divergent thinking (Defer judgment, freewheel, seek combinations, strive for quantity) in focus.

3. Identify objects that are not related to your task in any specific way.

4. Relate the object to the identified task.

5. Think of many, varied or unusual ways the object offers creative options to deal with the given task.

6. Focus your thinking by choosing one or more of the new possibilities, which emerge and examine in great detail.

Forced Analogy: An effective creativity technique

Forced analogy as applied to generate creative options is a versatile technique, which could be used either individually or collectively. Whenever you want to develop a large number of ideas for solving a difficult task, you may consider drawing an analogy between an object you happen to come across without any discretion and consider how that object could solve your problem at hand. As in a wonder, you will see that the object you have chosen would necessarily provide you with clues to solve the problem at hand. The precondition is that you have a sufficient amount of the skill of imagination, enough to draw powerful analogies between that object and the task at hand. The clue to the success of this technique is: Any object on earth is efficacious enough to trigger your creative spirit, which is sufficient to posit solutions to your difficult problems!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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