Photo by Bob Brewer on Unsplash

On Analogous Inspiration

To achieve more creative results, diversify your inputs

Clark Boyd
4 min readJan 17, 2022

How do birds fly in perfect formation?

How do they coordinate movement among thousands of their feathered friends, without any external instruction?

I’m sure most of us have seen a flock of birds overhead and wondered about this.

Some intrepid researchers tried to find out.

They found that the birds have no conception of the broader structure. In fact, they only respond to their nearest neighbours. These local interactions lead to alignment of the whole.

But what sets this in motion?

Another study of pigeons found that the leader sets off and uses a combination of magnetic cues, smell, and their own internal compass to set the direction. This path then works its way through the group, with each bird responding to those in its immediate vicinity.

There is still a lot of mystery about the way this magnetic field interaction works. I asked a few pigeons to elaborate, but they weren’t very coo-operative haha.

That’s interesting, I know, but this is normally the point where someone says, “So what?”

We have made a virtue of such questions and those who spell out the responses in patronising detail are rewarded. Templates, tips, bullet points.

But the people who are really at the top of their fields know the power of analogous inspiration.

If you can take a lesson from nature and apply it to your organisation, for example, you will gain an advantage that few others have.

If these lessons are spelled out for you, they’re spelled out for everyone else. You can take all the cold showers you want and fill your gratitude journal to bursting, but you won’t get ahead of the pack by doing what they do. You’ll just be cold and bored.

Sports teams are excellent at integrating analogous inspiration.

They know that they need to keep up with the competition, but this only leads to incremental change. To take that extra step, they look beyond their traditional boundaries for ideas.



Clark Boyd

Tech/business writer, lecturer (Columbia), and data analyst. >500k views on Medium. I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was.