We’re our own worst enemies when it comes to imagination. The very tool we use to be creative, also stifles our imagination. Yep, our own brain puts us in a creative box.
Here’s how it works: Our perceptions are formed by things we see and experience. And because we see and experience a lot of stuff, it puts a lot of strain our our brain’s resources. The brain, trying to be as efficient as possible categorizes the things we see and then uses these categories to take shortcuts. Shortcuts save time and energy. Unfortunately, these shortcuts also streamline our thinking and our creativity because our perceptions are limited to the categories created by our brain. Consequently, we get stuck in a creative rut and tend to think the same thoughts over and over again. But there is a way out.
In his excellent book, Iconoclast, Gregory Berns gives us the key:
“…imagination stems from the ability to break this categorization, to see things not for what one thinks they are, but for what they might be.”
So there’s the key. We have to forget all our neat little categories in order to see things for what they might be. That means we need new categories to shift our perception. Berns says that perceptual shifts can be accomplished through new experiences, both visual and physical. Do you ever need to get out the office to “clear your mind” or “free your thinking?” Now you know why. You are intuitively trying to bust free from your categories and shift your perception. New experiences are one way, but there are other ways to shift your perception, and that’s where metaphors come it.
Metaphors jolt your perception by introducing new categories to your brain. You’ve heard the metaphor “time is money.” That metaphor gets our brain to thinking of money differently. But that metaphor is old and most people have it categorized in their brain. What if you chose a different metaphor for money, like water: Money is water. How would that stimulate your imagination about money? Money flows like a river, winding this way and that. How could you navigate those financial rivers like boats do the Mississippi River? Large amounts of water are collected by damns, and let out in a smaller, steady flow. How could we control the flow of our money like a damn controls the flow of water?
Practical Application of Metaphors
Now how does this apply to your business? Your business has been categorized by the world, and by your brain, into a certain industry. For example if you own a company that tows vehicles, you are thought to be in the wrecker services business. Your imagination, when it comes to new ideas for your business, is limited by the categories of the wrecker services industry. But what if you decided you were in a different business?
Let’s say you used the metaphor of concierge service for your wrecker service company. Rather than a towing company, you are a concierge service. Not literally, of course, but let’s just pretend. Suddenly, you have dashed all those neat little categories your brain set up for your business to save time. Your brain doesn’t know what to think. And that’s a good thing, because now you can think outside your brain box. Instead of a tow truck, you are now a caretaker. Instead of just towing broken down vehicles to a repair shop you now must take care of the car and the owner. What would a concierge do? Imagine the possibilities, because with a metaphor, now you can.
Stuck in a creative rut? What metaphor can you use for your business to stimulate your imagination?