April is Analogy Month

Analogies have been on my mind this week.

It first came up in a discussion thread. I’ve been taking a Coursera course about leading innovation in an organization, and part of the MOOC learning experience is participation in weekly discussion forums. This particular forum topic was about making sense in groups. I responded to a comment from a fellow student who was told that she talked “too smart” for a group. I offered some communication suggestions that included using less jargon and more analogies. Another person responded that it’s difficult to come up with analogies especially for technical concepts. I agree. Easier said than done for me personally.

But I really appreciate a good analogy, and I wish I was better at coming up with them. So I decided to focus this month on analogies. I’ll use Evernote and my journal to keep track of good ones and come up with new ones of my own.

Icebergs vs. Hippos

I already found a good example.

Which analogy is better?

Which analogy is better?

On Wednesday I attended a free seminar at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle about Designing for the Greater Good. Rebecca Richards-Diop discussed the creative process behind her project for PATH, a global health nonprofit organization. She designed an interactive traveling exhibit about Project Optimize, which is an initiative to improve the vaccine delivery process in developing countries. Her challenge was to explain a complex, 14-part vaccine supply chain while encouraging visitors to collaborate and share their ideas.

It seemed like an amazing project to work on with loads of unique challenges. (I especially loved the Project Optimize video. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to it online, but I’ll keep looking for it.) One of the most interesting tidbits was how she used an analogy to explain the hidden costs of vaccine development. She originally thought of using the “tip of the iceberg” analogy, which is a widely used and a very familiar analogy to Westerners. However, this exhibit was traveling to African countries. Icebergs wouldn’t translate, but hippos would! Like icebergs, hippos are mostly submerged underwater. Only their little ears, ears and nostrils are visible above the water. From this vantage point, they appear harmless. But something much larger — and potentially menacing — is lurking out of view. If my memory serves me, Rebecca mentioned that this was one of the most popular parts of the exhibit.

Proof of the power of a good analogy!


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