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How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas

By John Pollack
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Shortcut by John Pollack

Analogies are powerful and persuasive tools of communication. They can deceive us, or lead us to the right conclusions. Shortcut is all about how analogies work, how to use them effectively and how to differentiate between the good and bad.

Key idea 1 of 9

Comparisons between unrelated things – analogies – can play a key role in creative innovation.

You probably know a bit about the history of the modern assembly line, where an unfinished product moves along a line of employees who each perform the same task over and over again. It's well-known it was invented by the Ford automobile company.

You might not know, however, how the Ford company managed to come up with this. The idea for the assembly line was actually inspired by an analogy.

In broad terms, an analogy is a comparison between two unrelated things. It offers explanation of the terms, or creates deeper understanding of them.

We use analogies everyday. For example, we compare the horrible sound of nails on a chalkboard to things we find annoying or grating. If we want to express that a group of people is noisy or destructive, we can compare them to a pack of wolves or other animals.

What does this have to do with the invention of the assembly line? Well, a good analogy can help kickstart great innovation.

The inspiration for the assembly line came when a Ford engineer named Bill Klann visited a Chicago slaughterhouse in 1913. While he was there, he noticed how the animals were quickly transported on trolleys through the various stages of the butchering process.

He compared this to the way his company produced cars at the time. Before the assembly line, each worker was responsible for putting together all the parts they needed, which was not especially efficient.

Klann imagined the workers approaching the cars like the butchers approached their meat instead. The assembly line was a huge success. The time it took to produce a single car was reduced by eleven hours, and several other industries in the country quickly followed suit.

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