"The perfect analogy makes things as simple as possible, but no simpler."

- Shortcut, page 182

Analogies are shortcuts for our mind, where we use something familiar to explain something unfamiliar. These mental shortcuts help us to persuade, make people understand complex topics and according to Pollack “help us see novel connections and relationships-insights that can unlock unrealized potential.”

Analogies are everywhere and are an efficient way to process the flood of information that we face each day. In John Pollack’s Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell our Greatest Ideas, he helps us to recognize them, and to know when to use them to persuade, innovate or increase someone’s understanding.

Pollack is a former Presidential speechwriter and journalist, and has written three other books. He also built and sailed a 22-foot ship made entirely out of cork and is currently a consultant and writer in New York.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Effective analogies use abstractions

"In any analogy, there are going to be similarities and differences between the objects of comparison. The key is determining which are most relevant."
- Shortcut, page 123

When coming up with an analogy or mental shortcut, the connections we identify between two unrelated topics can be instrumental in persuading or convincing someone. The author uses the example of the 2005 confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Judge John Roberts.

During his hearing, Roberts used a baseball analogy comparing judges to umpires to convince people that, given his conservative philosophy, he would be a fair and unbiased judge. He said, “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them.”

Roberts “psychologically anchored” his argument, convincing listeners about the similarities between judges and umpires and overlooking the main difference: that judges can in fact change laws. This analogy was effective because of the associations that come with using it. Everyone is familiar with baseball and the umpire’s role in the game. Pollack believes that once this shortcut was planted in the listener’s mind, “the burden of disproving it falls on those who doubt its accuracy.”

Since our brains are programmed to look for patterns and similarities to what we already know, emphasizing the similarities between two unrelated topics is what makes analogies so effective. Adding emotions to them can boost persuasion, as we’ll see in the first GEM.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Emotional analogies are compelling motivators

"Emotions, once triggered, are like a genie released from a bottle--hard to recapture and cork. And given that emotion often trumps reason, this is one reason why analogies can be so hard to parry."
- Shortcuts, page 127

Good, memorable analogies resonate emotionally and are loaded with powerful connotations and subjective ideas. The feelings and emotions that they trigger makes them powerful persuaders.

The author believes this often happens subconsciously, without us realizing it, adding “The battle between fact and feeling commonly takes place beyond our awareness, as our subconscious searches out evidence that makes us feel good about what we already think.”

The most convincing mental shortcuts often use arousing sentiment generated by emotions to overcome logic. If combined with a memorable anecdote, the analogy is even more forceful.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Use narratives or stories to enhance comprehension and retention

"As humans, we generally dislike uncertainty. To address this dislike, we construct coherent stories to help us structure the constant flood of incoming data we encounter, and then infer meaning from those stories."
- Shortcut, page 125

A narrative can make an analogy more memorable and understandable. Stories help with the flow of information constantly coming at us, providing our brains with a shortcut. Narratives respond to how our brains work.

The reason that narratives work so well is due to the way people use their cognitive resources. The author cites research stating that the use of cognitive efforts requires glucose and our brains, wanting to conserve glucose, are programmed to follow the path of least resistance. When our brain stores new information, remembering stories is an efficient way to remember since analogies are basically condensed narratives. Pollack adds, “People’s minds seek efficient ways to compress mental data.”

According to the author, a clear and articulate story is easier to understand and “when stories are easier to grasp, listeners are more apt to accept both the storyteller and their story’s conclusions as credible.”

This book is highly recommended, as it can improve your decision making and increase awareness of when analogies are used to persuade. So, the next time you’re trying to influence someone, add a short and easy to understand analogy to make your point more convincing. Combine it with a coherent story and an emotional appeal to boost your credibility and persuasion power.

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John Petrone

ABOUT John Petrone

I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada and moved to Chicagoland at twenty-six. As an auditor, I travelled the world and lived in Europe for six months, applying my Italian and French speaking proficiencies...
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