No. 56 (Dec. 2001/Jan. 2002)
Working with Metaphor
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Ninety-five percent of your brain works in sensory images, only one to two percent in words. Hence, most of your intelligence is based where there is an issue in translation. We can figure out some things, working from specific point to specific point in our word-based consciousness, but not most; and too often we fail to take enough into account, trying to do it all from our word-thinker.
But because our word-thinker is loud and focused, running with nice strong signals, we usually do try to do it all from there when what we most need is the reverse path: taking information from non-verbal observations into that verbal portion to bring it into focus. So it is rare when any of us brings much of our own actual intelligence to bear on anything, whether learning or teaching or solving problems and figuring out things.
So we have a great deal of keen understanding, each of us, but are seldom aware of even any part of it. When some tiny portion of understanding does work its way through our various internal noise and barriers and into our loud focused word-conscious, it's such a rare thing that we call it inspired creative genius.
A way for some tiny portion of our own understanding to slip through into our word consciousness is when that consciousness is asleep and inner noise levels are down: some of our dreams carry understanding from our main intelligence. But the main processing language of that intelligence is images, not words, so we are left with a translation issue that of understanding what the dream meant.
Moreover, we sleep through so much of the performance that we usually have forgotten the parade of messages given us in our dreams by the time we awaken.
Dreaming as a route to understanding and inspiration is as old as history itself and likely older: our Judeo-Christian and western heritage (as well as that of the Muslims) traces back in large part to a time when an obscure lad, sold into slavery by his own brothers, won his way to the top administrative position in ancient Egypt and from there eventually saved his family and tribe, as well as Egypt itself, because he had a knack for accurately making sense of dreams.
The keys to some of the major discoveries and inventions shaping our own times were "received" in dreams. As we noted in the book, Discovering The Obvious, in our more recent history Elias Howe received the crucial piece of insight in a dream which enabled him to invent the sewing machine. Even more recent are the accounts of how some of the computer whizzes at M.I.T., very near here, have learned to "dream computer dreams" which teach them the answers they are seeking.
Another, more easily controlled way to bring our intelligence and our consciousness into closer contact is to deliberately work with imagery and metaphor. Sometimes insights will "leap across" into consciousness when we
treat a problem or issue metaphorically: "What if this problem were a
crab-apple? Who or what in the problem would be the stem? Who or what the
fruit-flesh? Who or what in the issue would be the seed or pit? What would
the coloration be which signifies ripening? Hey, what would 'ripening'
consist of in this matter? " and so on, structuring out the problem in
sensory ways, in various ways consciously puzzling through the thing making
such comparisons in hopes that your conscious mind will come close enough to
your intelligence that a spark will jump across the gap.
"If Your Problem Were a Crabapple"
The procedure (with a partner)
Chances of getting good answers to a given problem this way, within 2 to 3 object-metaphorizings, are pretty fair. Trick is:
"Walk in the Woods"
This historically "tried-and-true" procedure for creative problem-solving is very similar in its basic principles to our preceding exercise on metaphor, "What if the Problem Were A Crab Apple," but its application and form differ. It's another way of bringing your word-consciousness and your (non-verbal, sensory-imaging) main intelligence close enough together for a spark to jump across and become an a-HA! This "Walk in the Woods" procedure has the further advantage of having a built-in "ranging" device:
With a real electric spark, as you got close to what would let it jump, you could feel your hairs rising from the buildup of electric potential. The "ranging" device in this present procedure is simply that whatever catches your attention as you walk around this place with a problem in mind, is likeliest to in some way "resonate" with the issue and bring your conscious mind to where the spark of inspiration/ideas/solutions can jump across into consciousness. So that what catches your attention in your surroundings, as you walk around in reference to a given problem issue, is even likelier to produce your a-ha! than were the arbitrarily chosen objects in the "Crabapple" experience.
This procedure can be done either with a live partner, note pad, or tape recorder, or with some combination of these. The version below is written for notepad but is readily interpolated into the other recording device(s).
Advanced problem-solvers also like
Originally, I developed these very simple, concrete metaphor ways of solving problems because a lot of the schoolteachers I have to teach each summer are very concrete-minded (these work even for the most concrete-minded of these, hooray!) and because, in both my own creativity-training programs and in sitting in on those of others, I had often seen people for various reasons experience some difficulty in getting into effective use of metaphor or otherwise getting loose enough from a virtual death-grip on whatever problem to be able to look up and see alternatives.
Happily, these two very concrete ways of using metaphor have turned the trick that is why we now reference these among our battery of arguably the world's best problem-solving methods, in the CPS Techniques section of this website.
Unexpectedly, and even more happily, even the more sophisticated, experienced and advanced professional creative problem solvers also appear to delight in these two very concrete methods.
Originally I had envisaged these two techniques as an entry point to introduce people to creative solution-finding, using these two methods mainly as intermediary steps leading toward the "real" methods I'm nowadays used to using. Yet these two methods work so well all by themselves that we can offer them here in their own right as major ways you can effectively and creatively solve your problems.
The apparent success of these two concrete methods has led us to seek out other very simple and concrete ways also for solving problems (and for bringing about other desired effects). One of the latest examples of these is the very simple, direct Windtunnel method which we published last month as Winsights No. 55, which is also part of the CPS Techniques exhibit of the world's best creative problem-solving methods. We are building this exhibit to become a world resource freely available to anyone on the planet who would like to solve a problem or discover an answer. As in the present instance with "Crabapple" and "Woods-Walk," each method is laid out step by specific step in self-taught form.
"Crabapple," "Woods-Walk," and all these dozens of other methods can sit gathering dust on the (metaphoric) shelf, or you can actually use them and get some benefit from them. Once you've done so and found them to be what they are, we'd appreciate your steering to them others who can use them. Thank you for your attention.
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