Things aren't always black and white. Find out how you can use metaphors to express ideas.
"Time is money." How often have heard that statement? Probably many times and in various contexts. By thinking about time as money, you can create some powerful images. Time wasted is money down the drain. Time well spent is an investment. The seconds are ticking away.
A direct comparison between two unrelated or indirectly linked things is called a metaphor. And as we see in the example of "time is money," metaphors can create strong images that can be used to great effect in everyday communications and thinking.
The manager who stands up in front of his team and says, "We need to finish this work quickly", creates considerably less impact that the manager who opens his comments using the metaphor: "As we all know, time is money." The English language is littered with metaphors, and this is testimony to the their power.
So metaphors can be used to improve communications: They can add impact or can help you explain a difficult concept by association with a more familiar one. Metaphorical thinking can also be used to help solve problems: Use and extend metaphors to generate new ideas for solutions.
The simple metaphor format is "A is B", as in "time is money". Metaphors can also be indirect or implicit: "That's a half-baked idea". This metaphor compares ideas with part-cooked food – without mentioning the food!
And, by the way, metaphors sometimes get mistaken for "similes". A simile makes a comparison too, but uses the word 'like', as in "time is like money"; "the idea is like half-baked food". Similes often sound more powerful than metaphors, even if the idea is the same.
Explaining Complex Ideas
By associating an unfamiliar idea with one that is commonplace, you can spark better understanding of complex ideas. Let's say you want to explain the concept of the business cycle. You could use lots of words, definitions, and drone on for five or ten minutes leaving the audience bored and confused. Then you could use graphs and diagrams, to help improve understanding and interest.
Or, you could explain using a metaphor: The business cycle is a pendulum, swinging back and forth from peaks of prosperity, down through economic troughs, and back up again.
The metaphor captures the essence of the business cycle – the listener immediately relates to the continuous back and forth movement. The vivid image helps people understand and also remember the idea. So, simply and in just a few words, everyone suddenly "gets it": To use another metaphor, the light bulb suddenly goes on.
Metaphors are great for creating impact and making something memorable. So making use of them is a technique often used in marketing and advertising. But it's just as effective for making impact in your presentations, speeches and even in everyday discussions.
With metaphors, you help people get the idea quickly and efficiently. Here's a marketing example: In a pitch to sell a vacuum cleaner, you could go on and on about how great the new cleaner is and why people should buy it. But, see how much more impact can you create with metaphors: "This vacuum cleaner is so powerful, it can suck the light out of a black hole". The vivid image helps your product and pitch stand out, and so can help you make that sale.
Make sure your metaphors are understandable to your audience. If there's any risk that your metaphors will sound like jargon , think again. The secret is to use a metaphor that instantly rings true with your audience.
- Identify what you are trying to communicate.
- Determine the essence of the message.
- Think of other instances in life where that same characteristic, idea, emotion, state, etc. applies.
- There may be many metaphors for the situation you are describing – choose the one that will best relate to your audience.
Thinking Outside the Box
When you use a metaphor to link two ideas together, you are combining elements that have little or no logical connection. By breaking the rules of logic in this way, metaphors can open up the creative side of the brain – the part that is stimulated by images, ideas, and concepts. So metaphorical thinking can help you with creative problem solving: To use another famous metaphor, it helps you "think outside the box".
Take the problem of how to cut production costs. You could attack the problem logically, and research new technologies or analyze inefficiencies in the production process. You might come up with some cost saving, but will you hit the jackpot?
Problem solving often starts with brainstorming and bouncing ideas back and forth with your team. Brainstorming is great for getting the creative juices flowing; it can open up a floodgate of ideas (. more metaphors!) However, people may still be constrained by the images they have of the current problem, or by their preconceived notions about the potential solutions.
When using metaphors for solving problems, you link the problem to something seemingly unrelated. Doing this allows your brain to see the issue from a completely different perspective – one that you may not even have known existed. If the problem is how to cut production costs, you could use the metaphor of someone wanting to lose weight. The next step is to generate solution to the problem of losing weight rather than the problem of shedding production costs. As you identify various solutions to the metaphorical problem, you can then relate these back to the real problem. Chances are, you will come up with something creative ideas for solutions.
Here are the steps for using metaphorical problem solving, using our product costs example:
First identify the metaphor for your problem or challenge.
There's no "right metaphor" – the ideas can be as unrelated as you like. If the problem involves increasing something, make sure the metaphor relates to an increase as well, otherwise it can become too difficult to visualize.
Increase sales > Build larger muscles
Decrease recruitment costs > Lower the price of bread
Attract more investors > Harvest more corn
So here's the metaphor of our example:
Problem: Cut production costs
Metaphor: Lose weight
- Now it's time to generate solution ideas for the metaphorical problem, in this case, losing weight. Brainstorming is a good way to facilitate this.
- Count calories
- Monitor food intake
- Limit intake of certain food categories
- Fill up on low calorie foods
- Drink lots of water
- Join a slimming club
- Then, the next step is to see how the solution ideas for the metaphorical problem might relate back to the real problem:
|Solution ideas for the metaphorical problem||Solutions ideas relating back to the real problem|
|Count calories||Control expenditure on inputs|
|Exercise to burn calories||Use up all of their inputs (recycle, remanufacture, etc.)|
|Monitor food intake||Control inputs|
|Limit intake of certain food categories||Save costs by carefully choosing certain suppliers|
|Fill up on low calorie food||Find low cost substitutes|
|Drink lots of water||Flush out duplicate processes|
|Join a slimming club||Share ideas and support with other similar departments|
Don't get too hung up on how well the metaphorical solution ideas map back. Metaphors that map too well can stifle the creativity you are trying to generate! The whole idea is to generate solutions ideas that you may not have otherwise thought of, so just let the ideas flow without too much scrutiny.
- Use the solution ideas you have generated for the metaphorical problem to find a workable solution to the real problem.
Metaphors are powerful shortcuts to instant and memorable understanding. They evoke vivid images and allow us to "see" things from a new perspective, and so are useful tools for creative problem solving. Use metaphorical thinking to help explain complex ideas, create impact in your presentations, and think outside the box.
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“Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible. This important skill allows people to look past their own views of the world and to better understand the opinions of others.”
The following description of critical thinking from the wise geek website is very clear and straightforward. Critical thinking is an essential approach to creative problem-solving, similar to what some call systems thinking. An observation from the comments area worth pondering: “Doesn’t it seem like the people in power, whether it be in business or government, often have the worst critical thinking skills?”
“Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible. This important skill allows people to look past their own views of the world and to better understand the opinions of others. It is often used in debates, to form more cogent and well-rounded arguments, and in science.
The ability to think critically is essential, as it creates new possibilities in problem solving. Being “open-minded” is a large part of critical thinking, allowing a person to not only seek out all possible answers to a problem, but to also accept an answer that is different from what was originally expected. Open-minded thinking requires that a person does not assume that his or her way of approaching a situation is always best, or even right. A scientist, for example, must be open to the idea that the results of an experiment will not be what is expected; such results, though challenging, often lead to tremendous and meaningful discoveries.
Another aspect of critical thinking is the ability to approach a problem or situation rationally. Rationality requires analyzing all known information, and making judgments or analyses based on fact or evidence, rather than opinion or emotion. An honest approach to reasoning requires a thinker to acknowledge personal goals, motives, and emotions that might color his or her opinions or thought processes. Rational thought involves identifying and eliminating prejudices, so that someone can have a fresh and objective approach to a problem.
Critical thinking often relies on the ability to view the world in a way that does not focus on the self. Empathizing with a person usually involves a thinker trying to put himself or herself in the place of someone else. This is often done by students of history, for example, in an attempt to see the world as someone would have while living in an ancient civilization or during a violent conflict. Communication skills, teamwork, and cooperation are typically improved through empathy, which makes it valuable in many professional fields.
How to Apply It
Effective critical thinking often begins with a thinker analyzing what he or she knows about a subject, with extra effort made to recognize what he or she does not know about it. This forms an initial knowledge base for consideration. The thinker can then look at what research has been done on the subject, and identify what he or she can learn simply by looking over such work. This approach is often used in science, as it allows a scientist to determine what people do not yet know or understand, and then look for ways to discover this information through experimentation.
When someone applies this approach to his or her own life, he or she often places more emphasis on finding prejudices and preconceived notions he or she holds. This lets the thinker strive to eliminate or avoid these opinions, to come to a more honest or objective view of an issue. Someone struggling with a fear of heights, for example, might strive to determine the cause of this fear in a rational way. By doing so, he or she might be better able to deal with the root cause directly and avoid emotional responses that could prevent self-improvement.
Critical thinking is used in many situations. Students often use it to evaluate the plot of a book or a character’s motives in a literature class. Members of a debate team frequently think critically about a subject to form a strong argument and anticipate points their competitors might make. Diets using common sense, in which the focus is on how weight is gained and lost through calories and exercise, can require that the dieter thinks critically about his or her lifestyle. Many people use open-mindedness and empathy in their professional lives, allowing them to work better with others and complete tasks more effectively.
Teaching This Skill
School systems in the US usually teach critical thinking from elementary school up through college-level courses. Teachers encourage students to learn through writing assignments and problem solving. For example, younger students might be asked how their lives would be different if they were born in another country or in a different time period. Such assignments push students to let go of what they know about the world around them, to better consider other perspectives and apply new ideas to their own lives.”
Text source: Wise Geek: What is Critical Thinking Image: source
About Christopher ChaseCo-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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