We tend to think of inventors as another species—geniuses—who have sudden flashes of insight. I can’t think of a single instance when a light bulb went off in my head, leading to some killer new idea. Is that because I’m an uncreative dud? Perhaps. Alternatively, it might be because Eureka moments are the stuff of legend. According to historians who specialize in the development of inventions and the thought processes of inventors, innovation is often a slow and iterative process.
And what, exactly, is involved in said process? One decades-old theory says that the crux of creativity lies in making analogies. Yes, just like those SAT questions: Crumb is to bread as…splinter is to wood. Medicine is to illness as… law is to anarchy. Creative people, the theory goes, are constantly connecting old knowledge and experiences to new situations. Edison’s kinetoscope, for instance, owes a lot to analogy.