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Association by invocation

Associating is the skill we use in the moment we come up with a new idea. It is as simple as that, except that its workings remain largely mysterious. However, there are tools and techniques we can use to help it and foster associating. One such technique consists in opening a different perspective by invoking role-models or new settings.

To invoke role-models, we might ask the question: “what would X do in this situation?” where X might be Churchill, Richard Branson, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, etc. In addition to forcing us to look at the issue with different eyes, we also access a new level of resourcefulness by tapping into the power of the role-model.

To invoke a different setting, we might ask the question: “how would they resolve this issue in Y?” where Y might be the jungle, the arctic, China, California, the space station, etc. In some cases, resetting the issue in a different context may give us new tools to address it, in other cases it may on the contrary take away so much that it forces a radical rethink.

When scientists developed an adaptive molecule that changes shape to perform different functions when the temperature increases, the issue was: how could it be translated in simple and memorable language that the Sales force could understand and remember. Asking the question “how would they do it in a jungle tribe?” threw out of the window powerpoint, brochures, webcasts, etc. An answer that came up was: they would create a ritual dance to mimic the workings of the molecule. And so the team created a molecular dance that not only got the message across but was a lot of fun to perform and created a lot of shared energy.

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