The Power of Analogies

Image of chat bubbleCommunications challenge all of us. When trying to communicate in our best form, with a group of familiar people, in person, only a moderate percentage of the people listening actually understand what you are trying to say. And tomorrow, even fewer will remember what you had to say.

Communication in a scientific setting, where accuracy and precision are very important, is critical. I re-read a peer-reviewed article that ImageIQ authored in Applied Clinical Trials magazine, and I noticed how many analogies we used in that article to try to get our points across. We used the analogy of a traffic stop, a chef, and a pilot. We did that to connect the things that are familiar to people with new and unfamiliar concepts in imaging analytics.

For example, when we are creating new imaging analytics or productivity software for our clients, we use analogies when trying to communicate the regulatory requirements that the client expects ImageIQ to deliver. I inevitably ended up using car analogies. “For some reason, if we were building a car…” It proves very effective. Not to mention fun. Who wouldn’t want to think about building a new car from scratch?

Sometimes the car analogy works particularly well during contract discussions, where two parties are trying to understand how design, intellectual property, “the idea,” or implementation ownership and rights work.

So here’s my Helpful Blog Suggestion of the Day: Spend some time out of your domain. Think outside your science box, and use a simple and familiar analogy to explain the complexities of your work. For analogical practice, try to explain to your parents exactly what it is that you do for a living – without getting into the scientific detail.

After you’ve convinced your parents, move on to helping the world (or maybe just your work group) better understand and appreciate your message.

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    That seems like very good advice, Tim. I’m a nuclear pharmacist who compounds radioactive pharmaceuticals for diagnostic imaging or therapy. When our son was very young, he said a friend asked him what I did for a living, and sonny had said that I made radioactive waste. Evidently I had done a poor job of telling by not explaining with analogies!

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