Working with analogies: using analogies in the innovation process
You don't have to start from scratch every time you're looking for cutting-edge innovations. There may already be solutions to your problem in analog industries and specialist areas. In this blog post, former LEAD Innovation Innovation Manager Daniel Zapfl answers the main questions on the subject of "Working with analogies" and gives numerous practical examples.
What is "working with analogies" in the context of innovation?
Basically, in addition to our customers, we also involve analog LEAD users in the development of innovations in a LEAD user project. This means that we are looking for advanced users or users from problem related or analog fields who have already dealt with our customer's problem very intensively. The LEAD User Method therefore derives its effectiveness in particular from the use of analogies. We are looking for innovative people, technologies, skills and potentials in analog areas and industries for the respective task.
Take an automobile manufacturer, for example, who wants to use a new braking technology to create an innovation for himself. Depending on the desired abstraction level, analog fields are now searched for, which also deal with brakes and deceleration. The analog field or product should have a higher performance than the product for which an innovation is to be created.
At a low level of abstraction, for example, one chooses another automotive industry as an analog field and thus remains in the same industry. The next near analogy in this case would be truck construction. You can also go into model making, as sports model vehicles also have to brake and decelerate. If you want to work in analogy at a significantly higher performance level, you can use Formula 1. Or you can go one step further into aircraft construction. The braking force of an aircraft is much higher due to its weight. In addition, compared to a car, an aircraft has only three points of contact on the road and has a much higher speed when the braking process is initiated. For example, an airplane lands at a speed of 360 km/h, and a car may only have 1,800 kilos.
To search for analog fields at a higher level of abstraction, one can take a look at other industries. If you release the button on a cordless drill, for example, the rotary movement of the drill is abruptly slowed down. One completely detaches oneself from braking in a vehicle and then looks for a drill with a higher speed than a car, for example.
Analogies should - regardless of the level of abstraction - always be chosen in such a way that the analog market environment (advanced analogous field) is higher than the own problem.
How does the search process for analogies work in practice?
In a milestone meeting at the end of Phase 2 of the LEAD user project, we are currently working with the client to identify analogies and problem-related areas. In doing so, we focus very strongly on the problem relationship.
In the run-up to this milestone workshop, all LEAD Innovation project managers will be called together for an internal creative session to prepare analog fields and stimulating challenging questions for the workshop based on the experiences of past projects and our network.
In the milestone meeting we then work out corresponding analog fields together with the customer on the basis of these questions. In the case of one of our customers, whose goal was to manufacture an energy-efficient circuit breaker, for example, we did not ask "Who still has to monitor electricity? Then one can refine this and say "Who needs to save energy in addition to the monitoring state" and "Which analogy is there or where else is there this problem relationship that something should be very vigilant, which causes an interruption in an emergency and consumes only little energy? Challenging questions that break patterns of thought and encourage people to leave their own business area are an important point in this process.
Thus, in the example of the circuit breaker, the analogy of the pacemaker emerged. The pacemaker is built into the body and is equipped with a battery that only needs to be replaced every few years. Thus, a pacemaker has a very long service life and also offers 100 percent medical care. The step to blood glucose monitoring or other analogies in medical technology was not far away in the course of the brainstorming, as a new industry and perspective was opened up.
The exact definition of the search field and the determination of the relevant analogue areas forms the conclusion of the milestone meeting and at the same time the basis for phase 3: The search for suitable LEAD users, i.e. persons, organisations or companies who have specific knowledge in the selected analogue field.
In a further step, we establish the appropriate contacts and invite the LEAD user to the LEAD conference in order to generate concrete solution concepts together with our customer.
In the company's example, which was looking for an energy-efficient circuit breaker, the decision was made on the analogy of the pacemaker. Together with the LEAD user, the company then took a close look at how a pacemaker monitors the heart rate and adopted solutions that were successfully integrated into the circuit breaker.
What are the advantages of working with analogies?
When we contact a LEAD user who comes from the analog field and briefly sketches the problem, we very often hear the sentence "That's no problem at all, we've already solved that".
1. Knowledge transfer from an analog industry
The customer's team often cooks in their own juice and cannot find a solution to the problem at hand, as development teams generally tend to prefer local knowledge to find solutions. However, LEAD users from analog industries have often already solved a very similar problem.
Sometimes a solution from another industry is recognized by itself, but usually the big AHA experience comes in the milestone meetings when it comes to identifying analogies. Similarities between a car brake system and a rechargeable drill or a dental drill that can handle even higher revolutions are suddenly recognized. As a result, the dental drill can make a massive contribution to the breakthrough innovation of the brake system.
For our customer, who wants to work with analogies within the LEAD-User method, the enormous advantage is that he gains insight into a more advanced industry and can transfer solution proposals from this analog industry into his own product. Knowledge transfer is one of the greatest advantages when working with analogies, since this advanced analogous field has already solved our customer's problem.
2. No competition between customers and LEAD users
A positive side effect of working with analogies is the lack of a competitive situation within the framework of the LEAD User conference. Because if an automobile manufacturer is working on an innovative braking system and calls in an engineer from Airbus or Boeing as LEAD user, then there is no competition problem here. One doesn't want to build airplanes and the other doesn't want to build cars. The transfer of knowledge is very easy and the exchange is extremely unproblematic.
3. Expansion of the customer network
After completion of the project, we often learn from our customer that his development team is still in regular contact with the LEAD User in order to coordinate and ensure that they are on the right track. Therefore, even after the conference our customer still has the advantage of a network expansion with a very valuable contact, which probably would not have come about so easily under other conditions. The conference will very quickly break down barriers and possible mistrust between the participants, which will also make future cooperation much easier.
4. LEAD Users benefit from the exchange
The advantage of working with analogies is mutual, since it is also the motivation of the LEAD user to exchange ideas with participants from an analog, problem-related field and possibly to bring back a solution approach to his own industry. For example, the exchange of knowledge between a textile company producing medical compression stockings and a LEAD user from the analogous industry of aircraft seat manufacturers can lead to quite interesting findings for the seat manufacturer.
5. Savings in R&D costs
The more research work is involved in an innovation, the riskier the projects. By working with analogies, lengthy development processes can be shortened. This also reduces the risks and costs of innovation development.
For which areas of application is the analogy technology suitable?
Working with analogies is not only excellent for a product innovation, but also for a service and process innovation. An example of a process innovation is the transfer of the sintering process from an analog industry to the glass-ceramic industry:
Due to temperature problems in the manufacturing process, a manufacturer of glass ceramics for dental use was looking for an innovation for the sintering process for the production of glass-ceramic blocks, which are ultimately processed into dental crowns. Sintering is not only a field used in glass ceramics, but also for metals. For example, brakes and brake pads in cars or for racing are also sintered, but under different temperature ranges. Basically, the process is the same, but by sintering other materials, the material properties are completely different. There was a company specializing in sintering tools sintered together with diamond tips. In the case of glass ceramics, one speaks of temperatures of around 500 degrees Celsius; diamond tips require 1,500 degrees Celsius (= advanced analogous field) so that they can be sintered. The analogy here was the process, so process experts for glass ceramics and metal were brought together to generate a solution for the glass ceramics manufacturer.
Another example would be the innovation of a logistics process. Here one could consider an analogy, for example, how the freight container of a ship is filled logistically, since much less time is available for loading and unloading a ship than, for example, for a stationary warehouse. One could also break this down and ask "Who organizes themselves in bionics, i.e. in nature? A colony of ants, for example, also organizes itself logistically. One could therefore team up with a biologist who has a sound knowledge of ant research.
Working with analogies in the development of innovative services also works. For example, if you want to develop new software but still have no idea what needs to be integrated and what benefits the user of the software should have, then you look for companies that have already integrated a very good solution in the company.
For example, a manufacturer of refuse collection vehicles faces the following challenge: "What can the software look like for a scheduler who plans 1,000 refuse collection vehicles? One could then look for a company that already has similar software in operation, such as Car2go. The company rents cars via App and now has a fleet of more than 1,000 cars in Vienna alone. The garbage truck manufacturer can learn how Car2go organizes itself so that a vehicle or the tank is not permanently empty, or the service is carried out on time. An employee of the Car2Go software department could therefore be very well involved in the development of the software for the garbage truck dispatcher. You don't have to reinvent everything there either, but can bring ideas from the car sharing industry into your own company.
Conclusion: Using the creative power of analogies
Use the potential of creative analogies for your innovation process. Bringing in knowledge from other industries and specialist areas using systematic methods and creativity techniques as well as the involvement of LEAD users creates new perspectives that not only create original and innovative solutions, but also spare your budget and bring with it numerous other advantages.
Daniel Zapfl was born in Graz. After graduating from high school, he gained professional experience in the transport and logistics sector, first at DB Schenker, then at Dachser Logistics in the air and sea freight sector. Through his personal interest in inventions and innovations, he completed a Bachelor's and Master's degree with a focus on innovation management. Former innovation manager at LEAD Innovation he works now as a partner.
Born and raised in Vienna. Since 2012 she has been in charge of Business Development at LEAD Innovation with the functions marketing, sales and communication.