Harnessing analogies for creativity and problem solving

By Christian Schunn

Christian Schunn (biography)

What is an analogy? How can analogies be used to work productively across disciplines in teams?

We know from the pioneering work of Kevin Dunbar (1995), in studying molecular biology labs, that analogies were a key factor in why multidisciplinary labs were much more successful than labs composed of many researchers from the same backgrounds. What is it about analogies that assists multi- and interdisciplinary work?

The advice that follows comes from a decade of research involving intensive analyses of hundreds of hours of interdisciplinary science and engineering teams, following the minute-by-minute processes of the teams, and using advanced statistical techniques to look for robust patterns in behavior over time and across teams. In general, our research has shown that creative teams generate twice as many ideas per unit time when they use analogies than when they do not.

So, what is an analogy?

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