What Is Metaphorical Thinking? Metaphorical Thinking In A Nutshell

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.

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?

Metaphorical thinking encourages creative thinking by reframing the situation or problem in three ways. That is, metaphors:

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

While the applications of metaphorical thinking in business are limitless, there are two broad ways they can be used.

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.

Key takeaways

  • 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.

Connected Decision-Making Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and any eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework gives context to decision making and problem-solving by providing context and guiding an appropriate response. The five domains of the Cynefin Framework comprise obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic domains and disorder if a domain has not been determined at all.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

Personal SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is commonly used as a strategic planning tool in business. However, it is also well suited for personal use in addressing a specific goal or problem. A personal SWOT analysis helps individuals identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Blindspot Analysis

A Blindspot Analysis is a means of unearthing incorrect or outdated assumptions that can harm decision making in an organization. The term “blindspot analysis” was first coined by American economist Michael Porter. Porter argued that in business, outdated ideas or strategies had the potential to stifle modern ideas and prevent them from succeeding. Furthermore, decisions a business thought were made with care caused projects to fail because major factors had not been duly considered.

Comparable Company Analysis

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

SOAR Analysis

A SOAR analysis is a technique that helps businesses at a strategic planning level to: Focus on what they are doing right. Determine which skills could be enhanced. Understand the desires and motivations of their stakeholders.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Pestel Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

DESTEP Analysis

A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

Paired Comparison Analysis

A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF

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