How analogous inspiration can solve your strategic deadlock

Alya Hazell, Research and Insight Lead at Designit
Alya Hazell, Research and Insight Lead at the Wipro company, Designit, insists there is much value to be had in exploring the road less travelled

Senior leaders across the globe have seen their plans scuppered over the past couple of years for a variety of reasons: banking crises, the rising cost of living, geopolitical uncertainty and the rapid development of technology, to name a few. 

Amid challenging times, agile and creative thinking has arguably become more crucial than ever before. 

Alya Hazell, Research and Insight Lead at the Wipro company, Designit, says most organisations are tempted to “play it safe” in these situations and react in a similar manner to peer groups. 

However, she insists there is much value to be had in exploring the road less travelled and suggests the application of ‘analogous inspiration’, an approach enabling businesses to flip tactics from diverse fields, reimagine strategies and create innovative solutions. 

Analogous inspiration in action

In essence, Hazell says, analogous inspiration is the practice of looking to seemingly disparate places for inspiration, rather than staying in the same frame of reference.

She describes its use in a variety of environments, including at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital back in 2006. 

“While watching a Formula 1 race, Dr Martin Elliott, a heart surgeon at the hospital, realised the pit crew worked together in an incredibly similar manner to his team when they transferred children from the operating theatre to intensive care,” Hazell explains. 

“After consulting with senior leaders at the racing team on how they approached their pit stops, Dr Elliott introduced some of those same procedures and techniques into the ward to make those transfers safer, more efficient and more consistent."

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She also points to the British inventor James Dyson and his use of analogous inspiration when he was dissatisfied with the performance of his vacuum cleaner in the late-1970s.

Dyson sought inspiration from a local sawmill that used cyclone technology to separate sawdust particles from the air, and saw this could be scaled down for household use.

He then constructed a crude prototype using cardboard and attached it to his vacuum cleaner – resulting in the birth of a multi-billion-dollar business.

“The salient point in these examples is that both Dyson and Dr Elliot didn’t just take a process or concept from one environment and attempt to Frankenstein it into another precisely as it was,” Hazell goes on. 

“Instead, they looked to understand why the concept worked in that environment, took those building blocks and reconstructed them in another environment to address the specific challenges of that particular environment.

“Within a business context, analogous inspiration starts with looking at the fundamental characteristics of your company and exploring which other industries share analogies.”

Learning to look and see

While analogous inspiration might arrive in a moment of serendipity, Hazell’s belief is that it can also be sought out.

Designers and design researchers, for example, are experts in the intentional use of analogous inspiration. 

“Drawing on experience working across a wide range of industries,” Hazell adds, “they’re able to identify fundamental components of the systems used by one business and see the parallels with another.

“While design teams may not be the obvious port of call for leadership figures facing difficult decisions, they can use tools like analogous inspiration to provide a new way of approaching a challenge and a clear path for creating change.”

Breathing new life into business strategies

Evidently, as businesses attempt to navigate turbulent waters, decisions on what actions to take become increasingly hard. 

Falling back on traditional thinking may be the default response, but it is not the only answer. 

“Adopting analogous inspiration is a way to breathe new life into tired business strategies,” concludes Hazell. 

“Companies should take the bold step of looking beyond their industries and drawing from more diverse sectors. In doing so, business leaders can access fresh insights, creatively solve problems and seize vital growth opportunities.”


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