Thursday, April 16, 2009

Similarity and contrast

From Edward de Bono: 

There are similarity, difference and contrast. All three enter into the creative process. Our mental ability to use all of them improves our creativity because all three are needed, at different times, to move from one idea to another. 

Similarity usually works through concepts. Two things are similar if the operating concept is the same in both cases. Two things are similar if they are both expressions of the same concept. Traffic lights are similar to a traffic policeman because of the way they function and the value they provide. 

We could arrive at a different idea by moving to a ‘difference’ aspect. Traffic lights follow their own schedule. A traffic policeman follows his own estimations. A different idea would be to have traffic lights that counted the vehicles waiting to cross the junction and reacted directly to this count. 

So on one level the ideas are similar, while on another they are different. When we have an idea that works, we often look for an idea that is similar with regard to its value but perhaps different with regard to its nature. 

The great advantage of ‘similarity’ is that, if we know one idea does work, then it is likely that a similar idea will also work. That is not always the case, because there may indeed be similarity on one level but difference on another. 

At its strongest, a contrast can be an opposite. A random word exercise on supermarket shopping was given the word ‘hedgehog’. This suggested spikes.

From this came the idea that somehow spikes could be scattered around the shelves, so that when a customer picked up an item, that customer would be pricked by a spike.

From this, by way of a contrast jump, comes the idea that certain items would have a lottery reward attached to them. When the item was taken to the checkout, some reward would be given. The jump from pain to reward is a simple contrast jump. 

Contrasts force us to think and to look at things in a new way. We make the contrast deliberately and then look around to see what happens. 

Sometimes it is very important to note the difference between two ideas that seem similar. This noted difference may indicate differing values in the ideas. These different values may then be delivered by an entirely new idea. 

Seeking difference is a great motivator. 

The essence of creative thinking is the ability to move from one idea to another. The habits of similarity, contrast and difference are some of the ways of getting this movement.

No comments: