Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's the question?

Yesterday I got asked out of the blue, "How would you describe the sun to someone who's been blind from birth?"

What a great question! Something I'd never considered before.

It would have been easy to answer a different question, "Describe the sun to someone..." but that's not what I'd been asked!!

My questioner was wondering how good I am at conveying complex concepts to people unfamiliar with the complexity and subject matter. I described my approach, my strategy, which is to evaluate the situation and try to find some area of common understanding with which I could draw an analogy.

For example, the sun is not just a source of light (which the blind from birth have little concept of); but it's also a source of heat which they can have felt on a summer's day; of nurture, nourishment and so on. It could be said that the sun is the most important part of the mechanism to nurture and provide what's needed by planet earth in the way that a parent cares for a child...

Years ago I wrote a school essay on the difference between analogy and metaphor. Frankly, now I can't remember the distinction. I'm too immersed in the pragmatism of getting the job done instead of splitting hairs. But yesterday I got another sharp lesson in checking, on the fly, that I'm answering the right question and focusing on the right things, principles and processes.