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Ask SAM: Transforming Your Train of Thought

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to help you gain greater understanding of complex issues. Reading time: 2:52

           The toy train whirls around the track. Choooo. Choooo. The wisp of smoke bellows overhead. You turn the orange knob on your electric transformer. Your toy train speeds faster and faster.

         And then suddenly your nose is assaulted. A bleach-like chlorine smell pervades.The sparks flying on the track have broken down the bonds of oxygen molecules in the air. You’re now smelling ozone.

        Using an electric train’s transformer to recreate a familiar smelling experience is the way scientist Carl Sagan taught us to better understand ozone and its chemical properties in his book Billions & Billions.

        Sagan’s analogy is an example of how the most effective leaders bring abstract ideas alive – like a sense of smell—so that audiences can more fully relate and understand the concept.

       Here’s how you can be just as persuasive in bringing abstract concepts alive. Ask SAM.

      SAM is an acrostic for Simile, Analogy and Metaphor.

      Use a simile when you describe the smell as being LIKE something else the audience is already familiar with. Example: Ozone smells like bleach.

Transformer for electric toy train

             Use an Analogy when you compare the smell to another smell experience the audience may already be familiar with. That’s what Sagan did in recalling his boyhood playing with electric train transformers and the attendant chlorine-like smell of the ozone.

       Use a metaphor to focus on a familiar image that connects directly to your abstract idea. Example: bridge to a previous experience and connect one meaning to the other.

         Compare that smell to a smell your audience is already familiar with and encourage your audience to equate the two concepts. Example: An ozone layer is so many sheets drying on outdoor clothesline. Ozone is sheets on a line (metaphor) more than like sheets on a line (simile).

       Metaphors are a bridge, a bridge of understanding that spans something we know and something we are trying to get to know.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            We need a frame of reference to understand new ideas. That’s why the first trains were called horseless carriages, the first elevators were called vertical railways, and the first headlights on the first cars were referred to as fixed stars which guide the course of every motorist.

      That’s why Aristotle said : “The greatest thing by far is to have mastered the metaphor. “ That’s why Ann Sullivan paid homage to the power of words when she said in the Miracle Worker that “Language is to the mind more than light is to the eye.” And that’s why Spanish philosopher and writer Jose Ortega y Gassett said: “The metaphor is probably the most fertile power of man.”

      At any rate, metaphors help you switch your train of thought . Without a smelly transformer.

Today’s ImproveMINT

Ask SAM – Simile, Analogy and Metaphor–to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

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