1. Confronting change and innovation
- To better understand the full meaning of anything new, employ a wide range of diverse analogies and maintain an open mind. This is much easier to achieve with a staff that can draw from a broad spectrum of work, personal, educational and cultural experiences. Depth of experience in one area may be more harmful than helpful, as it may prevent the richly diverse analogies that breadth of experience frequently engenders.
- Avoid relying too heavily on certain analogies and overlooking the benefits of others. Developing a list of diverse analogies makes it less likely that any specific one will be associated with a particular individual or group, limiting its perceived applicability.
- To build momentum during the assimilation phase, concentrate on analogies that emphasize the familiar. Focus on similarity of function, rather than appearance. Obvious surface features may obscure important similarities at more structural levels.
- Be prepared to change analogies as the new technology becomes more familiar. Transition to analogies that highlight what is distinctive about the innovation. This will help ensure that high-potential attributes are not overlooked.
2. Marketing new products and services
- Marketing communications should initially present what is novel but focus on the familiar to generate wide user acceptance.
- Subsequent messaging should emphasize that which is novel to communicate the full benefit and value of the product or service.
Analogies can be highly effective tools for coping with significant change and innovation. Most organizations, however, engage them fairly loosely. By examining in-depth how one industry applied different types of analogies to the introduction of the computer, we see that it is possible to use analogies in a deliberate way to increase their effectiveness. In a competitive marketplace, where change is always either present or around the corner, using this tool more effectively may give companies and organizations an important advantage.
By Christopher B. Bingham is the Phillip Hettleman Fellow and associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Steven J. Kahl is an associate professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.