Analogies Can Lead to Breakthroughs

Thursday, December 10, 2020

As Ben Bayer and Elan Journo of ARI recently discussed at length regarding science, attacks on expertise have become quite common in our culture, and I suspect a major reason for this is due to our failing educational sector. How can anyone who has never really mastered anything or truly understood an area of knowledge comprehend what it would take or mean to do so?

Long-term, the solution is, of course, to work towards a freer and more effective educational sector.

In the meantime, are there ways of countering the problem as one works, one mind at a time, to improve one's immediate cultural surroundings, even if only as part of living life? Can we help others see experts (including ourselves sometimes!) as fellow human beings who have to learn things (and so might know what we are talking about), just like anyone else?

One way might be to leverage the fact that, although the educational system is a failure, even it can't completely prevent people from learning things. Most people become good at, or very interested in something, and that can serve as a hook.

A good example of this came recently from Clients From Hell, when a web site designer realized during an initial consultation how he could communicate the idea that a quote for a web site needs specifications, just like anything else.

A client in construction thundered, "I want something nice and simple! How hard can it be to give me a price, it's not rocket science!" The following dialog straightened him out:

Not rocket science covers lots of territory. (Image by Brett Jordan, via Unsplash, license.)
Designer: Let's put it this way: how much does a house cost?

Client: Well what do you want? I can make a plain-level one-bedroom place with a small but open kitchen and living room, or I can make a larger 3-level home with a double garage, three bathrooms ...

Designer: I JUST WANT A HOUSE! How much does it cost? Why can't you tell me? It's not rocket science! [minor edits]
However limited the client's education or intellectual experience was, the designer broke through the client's ignorant disdain of his somewhat abstract area of expertise and was quickly able to get on with a constructive conversation.

And who knows? Maybe the builder gained a modicum of respect for knowledge workers that day.

-- CAV

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