An analogy is the use of something that is very familiar to help explain a more complex and confusing concept. The proper use of analogies, word pictures and stories are very powerful tools when trying to explain strategic initiatives and they help ensure they are remembered for a long time. I could spend time describing how similes, metaphors and analogies are interrelated but I will save that for those with a greater understanding of and care for the English language. I am a marketer.
Any chance you remember the marketing strategy for your brand in 2010? How about the vision for your company in 2008? What was the purpose of your last reorganization and the one before that one? If you can answer yes to these questions, I bet you have a working analogy that helped you remember. In today’s complex world with sensory overload, it is critical that you use every tool possible to help people understand and remember what you are trying to do.
When talking about incredibly stressful situations such as product launches or national sales meetings, I like to talk about the roller coaster analogy. I tell people that there are two types of people that ride roller coasters. The first type are those that when they hit the first hill grip on the bar, close their eyes and bite their lips until the ride ends. The second type throw their hands up in the air, open their eyes wide, scream with joy and have the time of their lives. I then say at the end of the ride both types get off safe and sound, but the second type had a lot more fun and got a lot more out of the experience. What type of person do you want to be when going through a stressful time such as a launch?
When explaining how a new organizational structure is going to be better than the old one I use a “dirt bike” analogy. I talk about the old ways of the industry being like driving a big old Cadillac down an interstate highway from Michigan to Florida. With the windows rolled up, radio going and the air conditioning turned on you had no idea what was happening in the outside environment. It really didn’t matter as everyone won in the old days and if you weren’t winning you could just raise prices. The new healthcare environment requires a different type of vehicle as you need to stay much closer to the environment so that you can respond very quickly. Today we need a dirt bike to get from one point to the next. It will be much more responsive, not quite as safe, takes more skill to drive but will be a lot more fun than just driving the big old car.
I like to describe the impact of generics, in the old days, or competition as holes in the bottom of a wooden bucket. We may not be able to fix all the holes but for the business to survive we need to keep pouring a lot of water, or new prescriptions, into the top of the bucket. When strategy isn’t properly implemented it is like a tree falling in the woods. Who knows if it made a noise or had an impact if nobody was there?
Kennedy and Reagan both borrowed from John Winthrop’s sermon to the Puritans when they used the “city on the hill” analogy to describe how our country would be an example for the rest of the world. Companies often use this to show how they need to be better, more ethical and a leader relative to their competition. When you are on a hill everyone sees what you are doing.
When times are tough and work is needed to get back on track, you will often hear plans described as the bridge or road to prosperity. When plans have 3 or 4 parts you will hear of the 3 or 4 legged stool. All the legs need to work together if the strategy is to work. A house is built with a foundation first, then it is framed and finally it is finished off. This is often used as a way to remember things that need to build on previous things.
Obviously, this could go on forever but I think you are getting the concept. I know it is very simple, but it is also quite powerful. Making sure the organization understands and remembers what you are doing is incredibly important. By using analogies and simplifying things for others, they automatically give your thinking and ideas more credibility. Try it out and I bet you will love the results. I also bet next time you are walking into a big meeting or launch presentation you will think of the roller coaster!