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7.5.2. Association: Just Like That


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 7. How The Brain Works > 7.5. Association: Just Like That > 7.5.2. Association: Just Like That

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If I see a plant I have not seen before, to create a new classification I typically start with plants I know which are similar to the new plant. New classifications are often held as ‘like A but with differences X, Y and Z.’ A zebra is like a horse with stripes. An eel is a cross between a fish and a snake. Jane looks like Susan, but with black hair. This makes classification easier, although this connectivity can cause problems: if I change my understanding of horses, should that also change my understanding of zebras?

When we understand things in terms of other things, we are using analogies and metaphors. The use of metaphors is so common, we often do not realise we are using them, for example when we say an experience was ‘brilliant’, we do not mean it gave off light. At its most extreme, every word is a metaphor, as the word is a representation, not the actual thing.

The question, ‘What’s it like?’ is a powerful tool for bouncing ourselves out of uncreative holes. If I were trying to come up with ideas for a home security business, I might think start with, “A person’s home is their castle” and then link to “It’s like building an impenetrable wall around the house,” which could lead me to thoughts of toughened glass or a secondary toughened door (the ‘portcullis’) that comes down behind the normal door.

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