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Education

Analogies have hidden powers (and traps)

John Pollack says it's important to tell true analogies from false ones.
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We use analogies every day. Yet we rarely think about them. They're just part of our vocabulary and our speech. 

But for John Pollack, analogies are not something to be ignored.

Pollack is the author of the new book Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connection, Spark Innovation and Sell Our Greatest Ideas. He believes analogies often have big consequences on how we view the world.

For example, Pollack says there are a lot of analogies that ring true that actually turn out not to be true. 

Pollack mentions the case of the "domino theory" President Eisenhower used in 1954.

The analogy convinced Americans that if they didn't intervene in Vietnam, democratic governments across Southeast Asia would topple like dominoes.

While the analogy translated something complex and far away into everyday language, it falsified the situation: When U.S. forces withdrew from Hanoi in defeat, the neighboring countries didn't topple like dominoes.

"Countries have different cultures, politics, leaders, geography, and dominoes are little square table top blocks. That mistake was very costly," says Pollack.

In the book, Pollack also offered a few tips to help us interpret and use analogies. He talked about three of them on Stateside today:

  • Always question the argument that an analogy makes
  • Effective analogies play on our emotions
  • Try exploring multiple analogies when explaining a situation

*Listen to our conversation with John Pollack above.

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