Can Incongruities and Similarities Take You To The Same Place?

May 22, 2021 ~ Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner
Approx. Read Time: 13 Minutes

Creative Thinking

“Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain, but at the peak we all gaze at the single bright moon.” – Ikkyu

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Picasso 

I think we all agree that a clear pathway to both a better business and a more robust life is via creative thinking. Creativity is the Holy Grail in both life and business as it leads to solving difficult problems and also new perspectives on enjoyment. This brings us to the obvious question – how to foster creative thinking? In fact, I have written several articles on the mechanics of creative thinking (see Bibliography), but today I am thinking about what is the starting point and the route followed?

Surely it can’t be polar opposite points?

The objective of the Business Brain Model (now exceeding over 100 posts) remains the integration of life and business and neuroscience wherever possible. As it turns out, I believe this includes (from a holistic perspective) how we foster creative thoughts.

In my opinion, the striking aspect of this story is how completely different stimuli can follow independent paths and yet stimulates the same process – in this example, creative thinking.

creative thinking

As mentioned, I have written more than a dozen articles on creative thinking, so for this discussion, I will simply summarize by stating that we will discuss thinking about a problem or opportunity in a new way.

Obviously, the essence is open-mindedness, but how do the ‘ideas’ get to your open mind?

Finally, looking back to our Roadmap article, this falls in the category: “A statement or proposition which, despite sound, reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems logically unacceptable or self-contradictory.”


“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.” – Buddha

The anomaly here is the obvious diametrically opposed starting points taking you to the same place – obviously (as illustrated in the following diagram), the key is the intermediate step. Conversely, one might work backward from the endpoint goal of creative thinking and you realize there are different ways to get there.

Interestingly enough, it seems to me that the alternate pathways also illustrate in one case a heuristic approach and the other algorithm model. In other words, you might differentiate between solving a problem vs. developing a solution.

By way of reference: “A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to quickly make judgments and solve problems. These mental shortcuts are typically informed by our past experiences and allow us to act quickly. However, heuristics are really more of a rule-of-thumb; they don’t always guarantee a correct solution.” (#2)

“If complete accuracy is required, it is best to use an algorithm. By using an algorithm, accuracy is increased and potential mistakes are minimized. On the other hand, if time is an issue, then it may be best to use a heuristic. Mistakes may occur, but this approach allows for speedy decisions when time is of the essence.” (#2)

To be clear – I am not suggesting a situation where you necessarily choose algorithm vs. heuristic, but rather having started with a certain “observation” – these are the ‘pathways’ – clearly different, but clearly leading to the same point.

Road Map

“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure.” – Albert Einstein

In a nutshell, here is the “road map” that I am suggesting:

Starting with Incongruities

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” – Oscar Wilde

I have written numerous articles on various perspectives of laughter (see Bibliography).

The salient aspect of laughter for this discussion comes from the work of Gibson (#4) and others who have observed laughter “sparks from recognizing the incongruities or absurdities of a situation”. Even more profound in my mind – Gibson’s observation with laughter you often must believe “possibilities beyond the literal exist”.

“One of the oldest and most developed theories of humor — adopted by Kant, refined by Schopenhauer — is, roughly, that humor happens when there is an incongruity between what we expect and what actually happens.” (#7) “It activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive and social processing.” (#4)

“Beginning in the 1970s, psychologists began to revise Kant’s notion into what is now called the Incongruity-Resolution theory: People laugh at a situation not just because it’s incongruous, but because they realize that the incongruity can be resolved or interpreted in a different way.” (#7)

I would suggest “creative” could replace different in the prior sentence which I chose to underline!

“Given laughter is a social activity. It also creates ‘bonds’ with others, thus leading to – an underestimated aspect of creativity – collaboration. “By practicing a little laughter each day, you can enhance social skills that may not come naturally to you.” (#8)

“Laughter, like humor, typically sparks from recognizing the incongruities or absurdities of a situation. You need to mentally resolve the surprising behavior or event – otherwise you won’t laugh; you might just be confused instead. Inferring the intentions of others and taking their perspective can enhance the intensity of the laughter and amusement you feel.” (#5)

Again, I would add that this gives you additional perspective on understanding/solving problems.

It has been proposed: “You can actually train your emotional intelligence by deliberately adding more humor to your life.” (#8)

Starting With Similarities

“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” ― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

I have written numerous articles on various perspectives on metaphors (see Bibliography).

Again – the salient point is how metaphorical (in a sense, holistic) thinking “connect the dots” to lead to (creative) abstract ideas.

“Metaphor processing is complex and probably depends on several domains of cognition, including semantic memory, working memory, executive demands, inhibition, abstract thinking, and cognitive flexibility.” – (#1)

By reframing the situation or problem, metaphors help creative thinking in three ways (#3):

  • “By identifying similarities between two disparate problems. In doing so, new insights emerge, and can potentially be translated into new ideas to solve the original problem.”
  • “By examining the old problem in a new context. Here, a new or different perspective might reveal unusual approaches or potential alternatives to solve the original problem.”
  • “By looking elsewhere for answers, particularly outside our existing body of knowledge as well as our comfort zone. As we distance ourselves from our current situation, we give ourselves freedom and clarity to question our assumptions or stereotypes. By breaking these biases, we often can see new solutions to solve the original problem.”

In other words:

  • “Metaphors make the strange familiar”
  • “Metaphors make the familiar strange”

“Inspired by recent advances in the understanding of body-mind linkages in the research on embodied cognition, we explored whether enacting metaphors for creativity enhances creative problem solving. Our findings from five studies revealed that both physical and psychological embodiment of metaphors for creativity promoted convergent thinking and divergent thinking (i.e., fluency, flexibility, or originality) in problem solving.” (#6)

“We provide the first evidence that embodiment can also activate cognitive processes that facilitate the generation of new ideas and connections.” (#6)

I would say the above is pretty convincing stuff!


“Opposites are not contradictory, but complementary.” – Niels Bohr

We can look at the proceeding from the two perspectives – empirically we have identified (some of) the ‘mechanisms’ to help foster creative thinking. From a scientific perspective, one can’t help but (once again) stand in awe of the brain as it takes conflicting input/approach and generates the same “product”. Perhaps knowing the process, there is scope to create a synergistic benefit? However we get there (for whatever the application), thinking creatively is an essential process.


  1. Anjan Chatterjee MD, FAAN – Brains on Metaphor
  2. Kendra Cherry – The Algorithm Problem Solving Approach in Psychology
  3. Andy Eklund – How To Use Metaphors to Inspire Creative Thinking
  4. Janet M.Gibson – No joke, folks! Laughing is seriously good for your mind and your body.
  5. Janet M. Gibson – Laughing is good for your mind and your body – here’s what the research shows
  6. Angela K.-y. Leung, Suntae Kim, Evan Polman, Lay See Ong, Lin Qiu, Jack A. Goncalo, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks – Embodied Metaphors and Creative “Acts”
  7. Nina Shen Rastogi – 5 Leading Theories for Why We Laugh—and the Jokes That Prove Them Wrong  
  8. Jessica StillmanScience: You Can Laugh Your Way to a Higher EQThis is the kind of feel good, dead simple self-improvement advice we all need in 2020.

Relevant Business Brain Model articles:


  1. How To Exercise Your Decision Making Muscle
  2. What Does the Greatest Polymath and Creative Business People Have in Common?
  3. How Funny is This? The Benefits of Laughter in the Workplace
  4. Creating Innovation: A Recipe for Innovation Stew
  5. The stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones
  6. How Embodied Is Your Cognition -What is principle
  7. A Neuroscience Perspective on Enhancing Innovation
  8. Augmented Cognitive Performance – Part 2 Tried and True
  9. Something to Chew On?!
  10. Expect The Worst? It Doesn’t Mean You Are Pathological
  11. TPN vs. DMN – Neural Mechanisms and Mindfulness
  12. Would you like to leave the kitchen or learn how to deal with the heat?
  13. Hooked on Hedonics: Is Happiness the next Holy Grail of Business?
  14. Rapport: Part Two – Your “How To Guide” to Building Rapport
  15. Passion: Part Two – How to get Intimate with Your Passion
  16. Your Brain: By the Numbers
  17. Business vs. Science: Are you losing this fight?

Laughter (Some of these cross over with creativity)

  1. How Funny is This? The Benefits of Laughter in the Workplace
  2. Look Up, Look Down, Look up…..
  3. How To Use Your Vagal Lifeline
  4. How To Brew a Cocktail That Will Make You Feel Better
  5. “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened” – Mark Twain
  6. When is the best time to decide why you failed?


  1. A Metaphor For The Times
  2. Look Up, Look Down, Look up…..
  3. A Powerful Arrow For Your Catastrophe Quiver
  4. Makers & Takers: Why Can’t We Get This Right
  5. Creating Innovation: A Recipe for Innovation Stew
  6. Augmented Cognitive Performance – Part 1 Hi-Tech
  7. How Embodied Is Your Cognition -What is principle
  8. Something to Chew On?!
  9. Would you like to leave the kitchen or learn how to deal with the heat?
  10. Positioning Between the Poles: Is right really right and wrong really wrong?
  11. Your Brain: How “committees” on terrorism, concerts and weddings guide you
  12. Rapport: Part Four – Storytelling: It’s Not Just for Bedtime Anymore
  13. Body & Brain: Part One – Did You Know You Have Two Brains?
  14. Fulcrums + Levers = Strong Business
  15. Thinking Errors: Part One – Is your Radar set to Detect Cognitive Traps?

About the Author: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 50 years of business success. He is not a scientist or an academic but he does have a diversified exposure to neuroscience, psychology and related cognitive sciences. Generally speaking, the ideas he expresses here are business-angled expansions of other people’s ideas, so when possible, he will link to the original reference.