Is analogies helping companies to make better innovations?

AnalogiesInnovation

When faced with something new, we usually look for similarities to the familiar. And the more commonalities we find, the more readily we accept the new.

But is creating similarities to the familiar always a good approach? Surprisingly, the answer may be no. Following analogies too closely can cause similarities to remain undetected or, even worse, be falsely assumed to exist.

Alternatively, a close-fitting analogy may make the new seem overly familiar. Concentrating too much on similarities can cause organizations to overlook what is unique about the new — particularly those aspects that might offer important advantages and opportunities.

Organizations can rely too heavily and too long on a favored analogy, which carries significant risks. One analogy might be a poor fit relative to others; by using it too long, the company might deprive itself of the insight a better analogy would provide. This may result in diminished competitive advantage, since rivals that use better analogies can adapt more rapidly to change and innovation.

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Lessons for Leaders

To better understand the full meaning of anything new, employ a wide range of diverse analogies and maintain an open mind. This is much easier to achieve with a staff that can draw from a broad spectrum of work, personal, educational and cultural experiences. Depth of experience in one area may be more harmful than helpful, as it may prevent the richly diverse analogies that breadth of experience frequently engenders.

Avoid relying too heavily on certain analogies and overlooking the benefits of others. Developing a list of diverse analogies makes it less likely that any specific one will be associated with a particular individual or group, limiting its perceived applicability.

To build momentum during the assimilation phase, concentrate on analogies that emphasize the familiar. Focus on similarity of function, rather than appearance. Obvious surface features may obscure important similarities at more structural levels.

Be prepared to change analogies as the new technology becomes more familiar. Transition to analogies that highlight what is distinctive about the innovation. This will help ensure that high-potential attributes are not overlooked.

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About olivierlehe

Passion for Innovations

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