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Analogies can help career thinking

30 September 2019

Analogies are powerful.  In my book - In the Loop - I tell the story of an ancient philosopher, Thales and his crazy idea to buy all the olive presses in the city of Miletus.  In the book this story introduces a chapter on the importance knowing yourself plays in career development (Thales is famous for his answer to the question of what is the hardest thing to do, to which he answered Know Thyself).  The story though, also serves as an analogy to spur different thinking about self knowledge.  

That is the power of analogies.  They help you get around short term and fixed thinking to consider topics and problems from different perspectives.  

The ‘problem’ of career is something that many people get stuck thinking about.  They get caught in unhelpful fixed loop thinking that tends not to lead to new insight.  

If this type of thinking is something you are stuck in, here is a fun activity to have a go at that challenges you to think about your career ‘problem’ through various crazy prisms.

Start by writing up the career dilemma you are facing as succinctly and clearly as you possibly can.

Then one by one examine each of the following for any new insight the analogy can give you on your career ‘problem’.

  • The melting icebergs in Antarctica
  • Tram travel in Melbourne
  • Party crashers
  • The Salem witch hunts
  • Oranges, lemons and mandarins
  • The McDonalds business model
  • How William the Conqueror united England
  • The keen observational powers of Sherlock Holmes 
  • Prussian military strategies
  • The phenomenon of the Dutch Tulip Mania
  • Sweating
  • Sourdough bread making

Take your time doing this exercise and write at least one thing for each of the areas.  For example the analogy of the Dutch Tulip Mania might give you an insight into how your current career choice is like an economic bubble that is about to burst...

Looking at a problem through distant analogies is a proven way to generate new ideas.  The above list is a very random one and you could use any array of analogies.  The value of this exercise is that it helps you get outside of your problem, rather than be stuck in circular thinking about it.  This outside perspective often leads to new thinking.

As always wishing you a flourishing career.




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