The other day, Hayden, my youngest son who is studying computer science, tried to explain some computer programming process that he was working on for a class. He compared the process to putting books on a library shelf and explained how the books go on different shelves and contain different information. Eureka! As a former librarian, his comparison made the process super easy to understand. Now don’t get me wrong -- I would never be able to write the program he described, but I did (sorta) understand what was going on. Using a comparison or sharing an analogy makes understanding so much easier, especially if you make it relatable. Crayola is an expert at comparisons. Think about it -- many of the Crayola crayon names are comparisons to help us better understand the actual color. You know the old favorites: Forest Green, Lime Green, Lemon Yellow, and Sky Blue. If your eyes were closed when you heard these colors, you could easily see the color described. But have you ever seen the Macaroni and Cheese crayon? It’s an orangey-yellow color and totally reminds me of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. What about the crayons named Asparagus or Granny Smith Apple or Robin’s Egg Blue? Can you picture those colors? Absolutely -- the comparisons make it super easy! Analogies (extended or more elaborated comparisons), metaphors, and similes are tools that can help explain a more complex idea or problem or can create images for better understanding. And we use them ALL the time -- as cool as a cucumber, as big as an elephant, as busy as a bee. Great writers created timeless comparisons like Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 - “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Sounds easy, right? But there are some issues to remember when using comparisons. First, make sure your audience is familiar with the comparison. My engineer husband will many times work to explain something by comparing it to an engineering concept, way out of my comfort zone. Or if anyone tries to compare things spatially, like saying that the thing is as long as a bus or as wide as a football field, I’m totally lost. I am spatially impaired and can’t even pick the proper Tupperware for the amount of leftovers after dinner. Take into account any cultural or even geographical differences as well. Texans have their very own comparisons that are misunderstood by most like: “If dumb was dirt, he’d cover about an acre.” Next, don’t force the comparison. Some things just should not be compared. You can find online hysterical comparisons created by high school students on actual essays that illustrate this rule. Some of my favorites include: “Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides compressed by a Thighmaster”; “She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh like the sound a dog makes just before it throws up”; and “The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.” I crack up everytime I read those very “creative” but ineffective comparisons. Finally, allow your comparisons to support or explain your ideas but never use as your reasons or evidence. etc Strategies believes that comparisons are a great tool to better communicate your ideas, concepts, and projects. Work for strong connections, universal ideas, and easily understood processes, but don’t overuse. Using comparisons is like using salt. Just enough can add flavor to your communication and offer a taste that your audience can enjoy, but too much can create an unpleasant experience for all. See -- using comparisons can be easy and fun!