A Figure of Speech

By Susan Jedrzejewski

While the phrase "think outside the box" may sound cliché or overused, it still captures the essence of creative thinking and trying new things. That's because metaphors have the unique ability to create a point of similarity. 

When you link together dissimilar ideas, concepts, or thoughts, you are not only fostering your own creative ability, but you are providing a shared perspective. The mutual understanding of a shared viewpoint can help others to better understand and connect with the message you are trying to convey. 
While poets have mastered the written form, metaphors are much more than a literary device. Artists use them to create meaning and convey emotion through visual representation, allowing the viewer to process information based on what they see. 

The Social Science Research Networks reports that about 65% of the population are visual learners and have a preference to digest information that utilizes colors, charts, images, or maps.
Give it a try.
Take out a pen and a sheet of paper for the 4 Lines, 1 Circle exercise. Your challenge is to create a visual metaphor for the word “suspense” using only four lines and one circle. 

Because creativity loves constraints, here are a few more rules: 
(1) each line must be straight, 
(2) each line must be the same size, 
(3) lines can touch but they cannot intersect, and 
(4) the circle must remain intact.
After you’ve finished, challenge yourself with other words or see how many different examples you can develop for one noun or adverb. Better yet, invite your coworkers to participate and see just how many different pictograms you come up with for a given word. Our office has a communal whiteboard so we tried the exercise ourselves the results were vast and impressive. (See image at the top of this post.) You might be surprised by yourself or with others!  

How else can your team or organization benefit from different responses or pathways to success? The Innovation Institute can help. Contact us to start a conversation.


As a reward for trying the 4 Lines, 1 Circle exercise, enjoy this TED talk on the figure of speech by James Geary called “Metaphorically Speaking.”

Susan Jedrzejewski is the Program Manager of the Innovation Institute at McColl Center for Art + Innovation.