Do you want the secret to creative breakthroughs? Do you want to write original essays? Books? Theses? Deep within, we all do. The hunger to think creatively hides in the heart of humankind. But some people bubble over with innovation after innovation: Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking. How do they do it?
Dr. Roberta Ness unveils your innermost genius in her book Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas.
Ness says metaphors guide the ways we think about the world. Metaphors also lock us into tiny truths. Yet, twisting a metaphor or an analogy can rupture our view of the world. And give rise to a miracle.
So, whatever truth prevails, threaten it. Tug at it. Ask it for one last Cha-cha.
As Ness implies, new truths come to light from fresh metaphors. Even in the hard sciences. You see, widespread truths are often stories that get repeated?until we believe. And I believe we can find a case, evidence, or fact to back most any story.
Let’s take a closer look at my claim. Ask yourself, Is the knowledge arising from universities foolproof? Certainly not. Universities can riddle themselves with profs fearful of documenting their thought processes. Fearful of being found as frauds. Their research—their stories—amount not to truths nor to facts. And even facts fade and twist with time. And truth? Truth can have 7.5 billion nuanced interpretations. Even Einstein’s theory trembles in the quake of quantum physics.
And That’s where the mavericks get bold. Take the case of Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling writer. He tugs at the truth that IQ and hard work predict mastery. Instead, he suggests your birth-month may be a bigger predictor.
So, how might have Malcolm Gladwell developed this insight? He may have made a simple observation: the oldest and biggest have a team advantage. And he pinpointed birth-month as a cause. In other words, It’s best to start school as an older five-year old rather than a younger five-year old. The littlest guys do less well in the long-run.
What did he do next? He might have sought research to support his view. How much supportive research did he need? Not much. You see, in my grad program, a single case study held as valid research. That means even outliers—the oddball cases—yield truth. In other words, you can find support for most any view. Typically, the more support, and the fewer naysayers, the stronger your claim.
But mavericks tread new ground. To do so, they twist metaphors, observe details, and defy biases (to name a few characteristics) writes Roberta Ness.
Let’s return our focus to solely metaphors—namely, twists in metaphors. Take the view of gender identity. Feminists turned foreign language genders into metaphors for sex classification. As a result, the old ways of classifying sex no longer hold. Instead, we have arbitrary genders—multiple ones or none if we so choose. So, gender subverted sex. One metaphor for identity replaced another.
But, I learned how to make metaphors from the master Pat Patterson in his book Song-Writing Without Borders. He can take any object and find hundreds—even thousands—of different metaphors. He does so by “asking the two questions: 1. What quality does my object have? 2. What else has that quality?” (p. 89). The more qualities you can find in common, the stronger the metaphor.
For instance, consider the word “peace.” What quality does it have? For one, officers, as in peace officers. So, what else has that quality? Business. Businesses have officers: CEOs, CFOs, COOs. So, business and peace have “officers” in common.
Let’s take that metaphor and craft something new: Chief Peace Officers. What then, if Chief Peace Officers formed in businesses? How might the role of Chief Peace Officers mutate over time?
But Pat Patterson can take any two objects and tie them into metaphors. So, does that imply that any two objects can combine into metaphors—and change the world? Yes, when it comes to innovation. Perhaps this world’s limitations might get pushed to no limit. So, play with metaphors until you fuse discovery.
If metaphors can lead to breakthroughs, and we can find metaphors for most anything, what limits us? Roberta Ness says there is one caveat to metaphor innovation: the new metaphor must be beneficial. If not, why bother?
Who and what defines the word “beneficial”? I believe the beneficial lives in spiritual laws that cross all religions. But, you might prefer other views on ethics. Or you might whip up metaphors that reshape the field of ethics. A paradox? I call it a creative spark!
ReferencesGladwell, Malcolm. (2002). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Little, Brown and Company. Ness, Roberta. (2012). Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas. New York: Oxford University Press.Pattison, Pat. (2011). Song Writing without Borders: Lyric Writing Exercises for Finding Your Voice. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.