Metaphorical thinking describes a mental process in which comparisons are made between qualities of objects usually considered to be separate classifications. Metaphorical thinking is a mental process connecting two different universes of meaning and is the result of the mind looking for similarities.
|Metaphorical Thinking||Metaphorical thinking is a cognitive process in which abstract or complex concepts are understood, explained, or represented by analogies to more familiar or concrete concepts. It involves drawing parallels between two unrelated domains to gain insights or understanding.|
|Description||– Metaphors are figures of speech that highlight similarities between two seemingly dissimilar things. Metaphorical thinking extends this concept to the way individuals understand and make sense of abstract or complex ideas.|
|Usage||– People use metaphors in everyday language and thinking to explain or convey abstract concepts. – Metaphorical thinking is employed in creative problem-solving, communication, and conceptual understanding.|
|Examples||– Describing time as “money” (e.g., “Time is money”) is a common metaphorical way to highlight the value and limited nature of time. – Viewing an organization as a “well-oiled machine” suggests efficiency and coordination.|
|Benefits||– Metaphorical thinking can make complex or abstract ideas more accessible and relatable. – It enhances creativity by encouraging novel associations and insights. – Metaphors can aid in conveying complex information effectively.|
|Limitations||– Overreliance on metaphors can lead to oversimplification and may not capture the full complexity of certain concepts. – Different metaphors can lead to contrasting interpretations, potentially causing confusion.|
|Metaphors in Culture||– Metaphors are prevalent in cultural expressions, literature, and art, shaping how societies perceive and understand the world. – They can reflect cultural values, beliefs, and perspectives.|
|Cognitive Science||– Cognitive linguists and psychologists study metaphors to explore how they structure thought and influence decision-making. – The “conceptual metaphor theory” is a prominent framework in this field.|
|Metaphorical Creativity||– Metaphorical thinking is fundamental in creative processes, such as poetry, advertising, and art. – It enables the recombination of ideas and the exploration of novel perspectives, fostering innovation.|
|In Sum||Metaphorical thinking is a powerful cognitive tool that aids in understanding, communication, and creative problem-solving by drawing connections between unrelated domains. It enriches language and thought, providing new ways to interpret and relate to the world.|
Understanding metaphorical thinking
An expert metaphorical thinker can sense the hidden connections between these classifications in a way that is creative or even poetic.
Each connection is made by identifying similarities, which is a natural tendency of the human mind.
When director Ridley Scott was pitching the idea for his new movie Alien, he described it with the three-word metaphor “Jaws in space”.
Here, Scott made an apparently unrelated connection between a previous movie about killer sharks and outer space.
In addition to connecting unrelated objects, metaphors similarly connect problems with unrelated or dissimilar problems and situations. Metaphorical thinking can be used to address predominantly logical thinking, which can stifle the creative process.
Lastly, metaphors themselves help the individual approach something from a different perspective or encourage their audience to do the same.
How does metaphorical thinking help creativity?
Identify similarities between two disparate problems
By analysing seemingly unrelated problems, new insights may emerge which have the potential to solve the original problem.
Examine the problem in a new context
In this case, a new or different perspective may reveal a viable alternative or unusual approach to solving the original problem.
Force practitioners to search outside their existing body of knowledge and comfort zone
Metaphorical thinking allows the individual to put distance between themselves and their problem.
This important sense of perspective gives them the freedom to question their assumptions, habits, biases, or stereotypes in search of a solution.
Metaphorical thinking in business
1 – Metaphors make the strange familiar
Here, businesses help consumers make sense of the unfamiliar by comparing it to something relatable.
In technology, metaphorical thinking was used to describe new products such as the mouse, desktop, Windows, and Facebook.
During brainstorming sessions designed to solve problems, teams may also benefit from reducing the problem or process into something so familiar a child could comprehend.
2 – Metaphors make the familiar strange
Organizations can use this approach to help employees or consumers gain a new appreciation for something they’ve taken for granted.
For example, a company selling shampoo in a market where consumers tend to stick with one brand may use metaphors to encourage consumers to try something new.
That is, marketing campaigns may be based on metaphors describing resistance to change, such as:
- Getting children to eat their vegetables.
- Trying to give the cat a bath.
- Converting people to a new religion.
Brainstorming can also be used here to force teams into multiplicity, or the process of analyzing a problem from multiple points of view.
When the team is forced to look at an old problem with a fresh perspective, the likelihood of finding a solution increases.
The “new point of view” brainstorming technique is one such example. It advocates the creation of metaphors by imagining how professionals in vastly unrelated fields might solve the problem at hand.
- Technology Product Names: Companies often use metaphorical thinking when naming new technology products. For instance:
- Mouse: The computer mouse is named after the small rodent because of its physical resemblance. This metaphor makes the device’s function and usage more relatable to users.
- Desktop: Referring to the computer interface as a “desktop” creates a metaphor that helps users understand how to organize and interact with digital files, much like a physical desktop.
- Windows: The term “windows” in computing is a metaphor for the graphical user interface, where users can open, close, and view different “windows” into their digital world.
- Marketing Campaigns: Metaphorical thinking is often employed in marketing to make products or concepts more relatable or appealing:
- Shampoo Marketing: A shampoo company may use metaphors to encourage consumers to try a new product. For example, they might compare switching shampoos to convincing a child to eat their vegetables, highlighting the benefits of change.
- Insurance Advertising: Insurance companies might use metaphors to explain complex policies to customers. They could liken a policy to a safety net or a shield, making the concept of insurance more understandable.
- Problem-Solving Workshops: During brainstorming sessions or problem-solving workshops, teams can benefit from metaphorical thinking in two ways:
- Making the Strange Familiar: When dealing with complex or unfamiliar problems, teams can use metaphors to simplify the issues. By comparing the problem to something familiar, like a child’s game or a common household task, they can gain new perspectives and insights.
- Making the Familiar Strange: To encourage creativity, teams can use metaphors to challenge conventional thinking. For instance, they can imagine how professionals from completely unrelated fields might approach the problem. This “new point of view” brainstorming technique promotes innovative solutions.
- Corporate Culture and Communication: Metaphorical thinking can help shape corporate culture and communication strategies:
- Culture Shaping: Leaders can use metaphors to describe the desired culture of the organization. For example, they might use metaphors related to teamwork, such as “we’re all rowing in the same boat,” to emphasize collaboration.
- Internal Communication: Metaphors can be used in internal communications to make complex strategies or changes more accessible to employees. Comparing a new initiative to a relay race, where each department passes the baton, can help employees understand their role in a larger process.
- Product Development: Metaphorical thinking can play a role in product development:
- Design Inspiration: When designing a new product, engineers and designers may use metaphors to inspire creative solutions. For example, a team working on a camera might draw inspiration from the metaphor of the human eye.
- User Experience: Metaphors can guide the user experience of a product. Smartphone interfaces, for instance, often incorporate metaphors related to physical objects like books (e-books), files (file management), and folders (digital organization).
- Metaphorical thinking is a mental process connecting two different universes of meaning and is the result of the mind looking for similarities.
- Metaphorical thinking unearths the hidden connections between problems, objects, or situations in a way that is creative or even poetic.
- Metaphorical thinking was used to introduce less-understood technological products such as the mouse, desktop, and Windows operating system. The concept can also be used to increase new product visibility and consider a problem from multiple points of view.
Metaphorical Thinking Highlights:
- Definition: Metaphorical thinking is a cognitive process that involves making comparisons between qualities of objects typically considered separate classifications. It connects two different realms of meaning by identifying hidden similarities.
- Expert Metaphorical Thinking: Expert metaphorical thinkers can creatively perceive connections between seemingly unrelated classifications. This is achieved by recognizing shared characteristics, which is a natural tendency of the human mind.
- Creativity through Metaphorical Thinking:
- Identifying Similarities: Metaphorical thinking identifies similarities between disparate problems, leading to new insights and potential solutions.
- New Context Exploration: It examines problems from different contexts, revealing alternative perspectives and innovative approaches.
- Outside Comfort Zones: Metaphorical thinking pushes individuals outside their comfort zones, enabling them to question assumptions and biases for novel solutions.
- Application in Business:
- Making the Strange Familiar: Businesses help consumers understand the unfamiliar by comparing it to relatable concepts. Technology product names like “mouse,” “desktop,” and “Windows” used metaphorical thinking to bridge understanding gaps.
- Making the Familiar Strange: Organizations use metaphors to provide fresh perspectives on familiar topics. Marketing campaigns can leverage metaphors to encourage consumers to try new products or approaches.
- Brainstorming with Metaphorical Thinking:
- Brainstorming sessions can employ metaphors to approach problems differently.
- New Point of View Technique: Imagine solutions from the perspective of professionals in unrelated fields.
- Key Takeaway: Metaphorical thinking is a powerful cognitive tool that uncovers hidden connections between disparate concepts, fostering creativity, fresh perspectives, and innovative problem-solving. It is widely applicable in business and various problem-solving contexts.
Connected Thinking Frameworks