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Last Updated on January 30, 2018

Boost Your Speed of Thought With This Technique

Boost Your Speed of Thought With This Technique

Are you looking for a way to increase your speed of thought? If so, you should start using metaphors and analogies. They are powerful tools that drive and steer the way we think and act.[1]

The use of metaphors and analogies assist us in connecting the dots. Jane Hirshfield describes them as a way to feel and know something differently. She says that they are a way to talk about one thing by describing something else.[2] Essentially, they give words a way to go far beyond their meaning.

Let’s take a look at how metaphors and analogies create the handles to open doors to new understanding.

Cognitive Jigs: Simile, Metaphor, and Analogy

In Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems, Derek and Laura Cabrera describe cognitive jigs as common underlying structures of systemic thought which can be used over and over again to create meaning and understanding.

Cognitive jigs save us cognitive effort and increase our speed of thought.

Let’s take a brief look at the three types of cognitive jigs: simile, metaphor, and analogy.

Simile

The Cabrera’s explain the difference between three specific cognitive jigs in a series of videos found at the Cabrera Research Lab.

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So, what is a simile? I built a diagram to further my understanding of a simile (using the videos via the Cabrera Research Lab). Let’s take a look.

    Metaphor

    The “conduit metaphor” explained by Michael Reddy is a great example of how a metaphorical concept can hide an aspect of our experience.[3]

    Reddy explains how our language about language is structured by this complex metaphor. Let’s take a look at the parts of the “conduit metaphor” then the metaphor itself.

    • Ideas (or meanings) are objects.
    • Linguistic expressions are containers.
    • Communication is sending.

    Reddy explains this metaphor in more detail,

    “The speaker puts ideas (objects) into words (containers) and sends them (along a conduit) to a hearer who takes the idea/objects out of the word/containers.”

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      Analogy

      The Cabrera’s discussion of analogies as cognitive jigs provide us a remarkable way to view what they call – analogy-technology. They explain that,

      “The genius behind the invention of analogies was that they gave us a mental model of a common way we understand things by comparison to a known thing.”

      Furthermore, they provide a simplistic (yet extremely helpful) view of the structure of an analogy: A is to B as/like C is to D.

        Let’s take a look at a few examples of innovative metaphors and analogies.

        Brain Internet Metaphor

        A great resource for using, sharing, and understanding analogies and metaphors was developed as a Wikiversity Learning Project by the Global Education for Sustainable Development found at GlobalESD.org.

        They offer a list of example analogies and metaphors. Let’s take a look at one: Brain Internet Metaphor. As a society, we typically look to the latest technological advancement to compare the brain to. It’s popular to compare the brain to a computer; however, comparing it to the Internet seems to be more appropriate.[4]

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        In this metaphor, we are referring to the Internet and not the World Wide Web. The Web is merely an application used on the Internet. The Internet, like the brain, is a network of interconnected links.[5]

        In essence, we can learn more about the brain by comparing it to the vast number of interconnected links within the Internet.

        Biomimicry

          In her book Biomimicry, Janine Benyus defines Biomimicry as imitating or taking inspiration from nature’s forms and processes to solve problems for humans. Biomimicry is a phenomenal field, one that has the potential to completely reshape our entire reality.

          The team at GlobalESD.org identifies the following: Biomimicry is adapting the designs of nature to solve the design challenges facing humans. Furthermore, they discuss how we can think of it as a way to develop and refine analogies between nature and society.

          Benyus demonstrates this by way of analogy. She argues that we should run our businesses like a redwood forest. She says that a mature forest is a fully self-sustaining producer of diversity and abundance. Instead, we seem to run our businesses similar to invasive weeds.

          Center of Gravity

          Famous military strategist Carl von Clausewitz introduced a physics analogy into warfare in his magnum opus On War. He wrote,

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          “Just as (in physics) the center of gravity is always found where the mass is most concentrated, and just as every blow directed against the body’s center of gravity yields the greatest effect, and – moreover – the strongest blow is the one achieved by the center of gravity, the same is true in war.”

          The center of gravity in physics is the point where the forces of gravity converge within an object – the spot for which an objects weight is balanced in all directions.[6] For the most part, military strategists have taken this analogy literally. Right or wrong, it does offer some merit.

          I recently came across an article on this topic from the Naval War College Review. In the article, Lieutenant Colonel Antulio J. Echevarria provides a deep look into the center of gravity analogy. He presented what was, to me, an extremely interesting discussion on where the center of gravity of a boomerang is located. Regarding a boomerang, the center of gravity does not lie on the actual object, but in the V-shaped space between a person’s arms.

          My question is, if taken literally, is this a more appropriate example of a center of gravity in warfare? Meaning, could the center of gravity be unseen and not visible (i.e. ideology or culture)? This question demonstrates the profound impact an analogy can have on just about anything.

          Finally, in her TEDEd video The Art of the Metaphor, Jane Hirshfield describes how metaphors give words a way to go beyond their own meaning. She ends her video with a deep and profound metaphor,

          “Metaphors are handles on the door of what we can know, and what we can imagine. Each door leads to some new house, and some new world that only that one handle can open. What’s amazing is this: by making a handle, you can make a world.”

          Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

          Reference

          [1]Analogies for Sustainable Development: Wikiversity
          [2]Jane Hirshfield: The art of the metaphor
          [3]George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: Metaphors we live by
          [4]Baronchelli, Ferrer-i-Cancho, Pastor-Satorras, Chater, and Chrisiansen: Networks in Cognitive Science
          [5]Chris Woodford: The Internet and the Brain
          [6]Echevarria: Clausewitz’s Center of Gravity. It’s not what we thought

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          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

          It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

          Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

          “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

          In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

          New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

          There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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          So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

          What is the productivity paradox?

          There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

          In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

          He wrote in his conclusion:

          “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

          Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

          How do we measure productivity anyway?

          And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

          In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

          But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

          In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

          But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

          Possible causes of the productivity paradox

          Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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          • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
          • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
          • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
          • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

          There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

          According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

          Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

          The paradox and the recession

          The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

          “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

          This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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          According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

          Looking forward

          A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

          “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

          Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

          “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

          On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

          Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

          Reference

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