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Research: Analogical Reasoning, Generating Innovative Ideas With the Help of Customers

Analogical Reasoning, Generating Innovative Ideas With Customers
Published on
08 December 2017

All innovation processes begin with the generation of new ideas, the majority of which end up not being useful. To improve this process, businesses are involving customers. However, the quality of ideas generated by customers is often quite disappointing. How can companies use analogical reasoning to improve the generation of new ideas?

This article of David Gotteland, Aurélie Merle and Olivier Trendel is the sujet of the 40th Executive Summary by Grenoble Ecole de Management.

From the article

Stimuler la créativité du consommateur par la pensée analogique : comment adapter distance et contenu du transfert
David Gotteland, Aurélie Merle, Olivier Trendel
Recherche et Applications en Marketing 1–16 - DOI : 1.0.17.7/0673011701416

In innovation processes, analogical reasoning is the idea of thinking about one subject in order to generate ideas for another application. For example, you might think about hiking shoes to develop new ideas for ski boots. The researchers explored how the attractiveness of new ideas could be improved using two factors: customer expertise on the target application; and the conceptual distance between the target application and the subject of inspiration (e.g., there is lower conceptual distance between hiking shoes and ski boots than between a flower and ski boots).

How to implement analogical reasoning

The research results highlight several recommendations for companies. The general recommendation is that managers should adapt their instructions according to the customer's expertise as well as the conceptual distance between subject and target application.

The importance of conceptual distance

Thinking in abstract terms improves creativity. For example, thinking about a flower to generate new ideas for a ski boot will require significant abstract thinking. As a result, the researchers confirmed that it is beneficial to have customers think about a subject that is conceptually different from the target application.

The influence of customer expertise

Customer expertise will influence how managers encourage abstract thinking. When generating ideas for a ski boot, expert customers will immediately see the differences between shoe and boot. Encouraging them to think about similarities will promote abstract thinking.

Likewise, if non-expert customers think about flowers to generate ideas for ski boots, they will immediately think about obvious differences. Encouraging them to think about the similarities will require greater abstract thinking.

Guidelines for the analogical innovation process:

  • Measure customer expertise
  • Identify topics that can be used for idea generation and categorize them as conceptually close or distant from the target application.
  • Provide instructions to guide customers in thinking about the subject and the target application:
    • Conceptually close subject & low customer expertise: Encourage customers to think about differences.
    • Conceptually close subject & high customer expertise: Encourage customers to think about similarities.
    • Conceptually distant subject & low customer expertise: Encourage customers to think about similarities.
    • Conceptually distant subject & high customer expertise: Encourage customers to think about differences.

Key points

  • Use analogical reasoning to improve idea generation with customers
  • Improve results of analogical reasoning by encouraging abstract thinking.
  • For example, expert customers will see obvious differences between a hiking shoe and a ski boot. Encourage them to think about similarities.
  • Conversely, non-expert customers will see obvious similarities between a hiking shoe and a ski boot. Encourage them to think about differences.

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