Similarity, difference and contrast

Dec 16 2008 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

Looking at similarity, difference and contrast in business ideas is a worthwhile exercise as all three can be used to nurture creativity.

The mental ability to use them all can boost the creative thinking process because all three are needed, in different situations, to move from one idea to another.

Similarity can be applied to concepts. Two things might be considered similar if they share an operating concept. Two things could be said to be similar if they are both expressions of the same concept. For example, because of the way they function and the value they provide, traffic lights are similar to traffic policemen.

Sometimes, you can arrive at a different idea by looking at the 'difference' aspect. Traffic lights follow their own schedule while traffic policemen follow their own estimations. Looking at this difference might lead you to the idea of having traffic lights that count the vehicles waiting to cross the junction and react directly to this count.

So you can see how two things are similar on one level, while different on another.

When we find an idea that works, we often search for an idea that is similar in value but different in nature. 'Similarity' has a great advantage in that if we know one idea works, the likelihood is that a similar idea will also work. However, that isn't always the case, as while there may be similarity on one level, there could be difference on another.

Then there is contrast. At its strongest, contrast could be an opposite. A random word exercise on supermarket shopping produced the word 'hedgehog', which suggested spikes.

This moved on to the idea that somehow spikes could be scattered around the supermarket shelves, so that when an item is picked up, the spike would prick the customer.

Then, via a contrast jump, an idea was arrived at where certain items would have a lottery reward attached to them. When the item is paid for at the checkout, some reward would be received. The movement from pain to reward was arrived at through a simple contrast jump.

Contrasts are an effective way of looking at things from a different angle. We deliberately find the contrast and see where that leads.

It can sometimes be very important to mark the difference between two ideas that seem similar. This marked difference might indicate differing values in the ideas. An entirely new idea can then be used to deliver the different values.

Looking for difference can be an effective motivator for creativity. The essence of creative thinking is the movement from one idea to another. You can use the habits of similarity, difference and contrast to facilitate this movement.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono is a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.