Using Analogy For ‘Idea Generation’ -Creativity Technique Examples -Part 01

Many inventors have spent an enormous amount of time in a deep trance, thinking about a possible solution to their chosen problem. Their subconscious mind was always occupied by the problem. In those situations, some of those inventors got an inspirational solution from unlikely places — Or, We could say that they got inspiration from very common objects, places, events which every one of us would encounter in normal part of our lives — The only difference — they could see those ordinary things in a new way.

Philo Farnsworth wanted to develop a device that could display moving images with sound. In other words, he was exploring the ways to add pictures electronically to Radio. He had been struggling for months to find a solution until inspiration came from an unlikely place.

The unlikely place — Plow lines in his father’s agricultural field. After seeing that linear pattern, he felt that it would be possible to build a device that could read or scan an image line by line. Thus ‘Television’ was conceptualised.

Reginald Fessenden had been working hard to find a solution for communicating wirelessly over long distances, particularly across oceans. He knew that radio waves could be used for long distance communication but he had to find a reliable way of generating those waves.

Fessenden had been using spark-gap technology to generate artificial radio waves but he encountered many problems. The radio waves produced by spark-gap method faded quickly and it could not efficiently carry voice signal. Also, the waves were accompanied by a terrible noise.

He was struggling to find a solution. And then, he encountered an inspirational solution from an unlikely place — He was sitting near a lake, throwing stones into the water and watching those ripples.

Fessenden saw how those ripples were moving continuously. Suddenly, a thought dawned in his mind — He realised that as long as he kept throwing stones into the water, the waves would never stop — The wave would be continuous. He envisaged that if he could create continuous unbroken waves… If he could create one strong continuous wave… that wave might carry a sound, a human voice for 1000s of Kms…

Fessenden was aware that he could use a powerful alternator to create such a continuous wave.

In January 1906, Fessenden successfully demonstrated the first two-way transmission across the Atlantic.

Many inventors had successfully managed to lift the plane off the ground but failed to control while in flight. Wright brothers realised that control of plane’s manoeuvrability in the air is essential for successful flight.

Wilbur observed that birds controlled the flying by shifting their wing tips. He began thinking of ways to implement wing-shift in the plane. It was quite challenging as none of the other inventors had succeeded.

Wright brothers had been selling bicycle spare parts in paperboard boxes. One day, he was about to throw an empty box and then the fate intervened.

He saw that the box structure could be twisted easily in opposite directions and on the removal of the force, the structure would retract to its initial position. Taking inspiration from this paperboard box, he explored whether he could twist the trailing edges of the wings in opposite directions similar to the twisting of cardboard packaging.

And the break-through ‘Wing-Warping’ concept was born. The above image shows wing bracing and strings attached to hand-held sticks used for warping the wing while in flight.

Nikola Tesla was of the belief that DC power transmission would waste a massive amount of energy as the friction between those metal parts was rendering the generator inefficient and could not be relied upon for long distance transmissions.

He thought that the better option would be to harness the naturally flowing alternating current. He began working on building an AC motor, a new radical way of generating alternating current. Even after years of hard work, the solution, somehow, evaded his mind.

Then one day, it happened — He was walking in a Park and staring at the setting sun. The sun and the invisible glow, invisible electromagnetic waves around it… Suddenly a solution flashed like a lightning in his mind.

He took a DC motor, eliminated mechanical metal components which rubbed against each other, put a copper cylinder in the centre and then sent an electric current through outer ring. AC motor was born and transformed the world.

Willis Carrier was working for a heating and ventilation company. He had to solve a problem faced by publishing houses. As there would be extreme heat and humidity in the printing room, the quality of printing suffered. The papers became wavy and inks caused spots. He had to find a way to reduce the temperature and humidity in the printing room. Though temperature could be reduced, none had found a reliable way to reduce the humidity.

Carrier began working on the problem. Weeks passed. He was yet to figure out “How to reduce the humidity of the room without making it dry?”

One day, in the early morning, he was waiting for a train in a foggy railway station.

Suddenly he realised that fog was nothing but air saturated with 100% water. He immediately envisioned that instead of trying to reduce the humidity he could create 100% humidity and then add enough dry air to reduce the humidity to 55%. He went to his office, made a small prototype and experimented. Thus Air-Conditioner got introduced to our world.

In the mid-nineteenth century, trains were getting faster, but the frequency of accidents increased and a lot of people were dying. The reason being that there was no quick and reliable way to stop the train. Those days every freight car had an individual brake. On hearing the horn, brakeman would jump and turn a wheel to apply the brake. A risky and time-consuming process. George Westinghouse was upset with the loss of lives and determined to solve this problem. Many inventors had spent years on finding an efficient mechanical brake system for the trains. But nothing succeeded.

One day, George Washington came across an article in a French magazine which mentioned about successful drilling of a 12km tunnel(Fréjus Rail Tunnel) in the mountain alps using air. He was surprised that air could be used to hammer a drill bit into the hard rock.

He immediately began working on applying air to stop the train. Many thought that he was crazy and laughed at him. On March 05, 1872 he successfully patented the safer air-brake for railways. His device could apply brakes simultaneously on all the cars. This transformed the railway industry as more people could travel and more goods could be transported.

Gillette and Emery Nickerson had been working hard to design an affordable, disposable razor. They encountered a problem with the engineering of the blade. As the product had to be inexpensive, they began experimenting with the sheet steel. Unfortunately, the sheet steel is too soft to retain the sharp edge. It could not be forged, could not be hardened.

Gillette and Nickerson tried uniform cooling of the steel, patterned perforations to distribute the lateral stress… but nothing worked. They approached MIT and other reputed colleges but everyone told them that his dream would not work, as the metal had its limitations.

One day, they were having breakfast. Nickerson took the sandwich to eat.

Then the idea dawned on him — How about sandwiching sheet steel between other types of metal similar to filling between slices of bread?

They sandwiched sheet steel between a set of copper and iron plates. The assembled set of sheets were then heated, cooled and sharpened. The final output blade was thin, sharp, strong and cheaper.

References: Content and Images from the following documentaries — Genius documentary by Paul Abascal, Inventions That Shook The World by Discovery Channel, Canada, Westinghouse documentary by Mark Bussler, Tesla-American Experience by PBS Nova.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store