How to make complex topics understandable? 

1: Adam Levine struggled in school.  He “found it impossible to sit still, stay focused, or finish his schoolwork.  He was hyperactive and impulsive,” Carmine Gallo writes in The Storyteller’s Secret.

Years later, as an aspiring musician, he continued to have trouble focusing – not in class, but in the studio.  “I had 30 ideas floating through my mind and just couldn’t document them…  When I can’t pay attention, I really can’t pay attention,” Adam recalls.

He was diagnosed with ADHD and decided to “own” his treatment.  “With renewed focus Adam threw himself into his music career, and together with his band Maroon 5, went on to win every major music recognition, including Grammy, MTV, and Billboard music awards,” Carmine writes.

Now, as a host of The Voice, he has become a media sensation.

“Adam Levine is lucky.  Eighty-five percent of adults who have ADHD don’t even know it,” observes Carmine.  “Many are in prison.  Many bounce from job to job.  Many have experienced a string of failed relationships.

ADHD is a well-known condition within the medical community.  Within our larger society, however, it is surrounded by “myth and misunderstanding,” writes Carmine.  “ADHD is a grossly misunderstood medical condition.  Some parents chalk up their child’s inability to focus as a normal part of being a kid.  Some parents think their child will grow out of it.  Wrong and wrong.

“By openly sharing his story, Adam Levine helps thousands of people recognize the symptoms in themselves and encourages them to seek out an accurate diagnosis,” Carmine writes.

2: Carmine asks: Which of the following statements do you find more compelling?

“ADHD is a neurological disorder associated with a pattern of excessive inactivity in the frontal lobes of the brain.  It is characterized by distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.”

Or…  “ADHD is like having a Ferrari engine for a brain with bicycle brakes.  Strengthen the brakes and you have a champion.  People with ADHD are the inventors and innovators, the movers and the doers, the dreamers who built America.”

The second statement is from Dr. Ed Hallowell, a leading psychiatrist and best-selling author.  His approach has made him a “media darling,” having appeared on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

3: Ed makes complex topics understandable.  How?

By using analogies.

An analogy is simply a comparison of how two things are similar.  Analogies make abstract concepts more concrete.

“With ADHD, a list of symptoms doesn’t show the power of the traits these people have – they are creative and imaginative,” Ed says.  “Who would get on a boat in the 1600s and come over here?  You’d have to be a visionary, a dreamer, and a risk-taker.  That’s why our gene pool is loaded with ADD.  I see it as the American edge.”

Here are some of the other analogies Ed uses to explain ADHD.

“As ADD folks, we have new ideas all the time.  It’s like a popcorn machine.”

“The mind of an ADD person is like a toddler on a picnic.  It goes wherever the mind leads it without any regard for danger or authority.  Sometimes it goes off and gets into trouble, other times it’s discovering penicillin.”

“Telling someone with ADHD to try harder is like telling someone who’s nearsighted to squint harder.  It’s not a matter of effort and will, it’s a matter of how you’re wired.”

Why do analogies work so well?

Because they simplify complex topics.  

They “help us understand material we know little about because we can associate the content with something we do know something about,” writes Carmine.

As storytellers, we use analogies to create mental pictures in the mind of our audience.  

In fact, the science shows “simply reading metaphorical language activated areas of the brain associated with sights and smells.  For example, when the subjects read words such as ‘cinnamon,’ ‘perfume,’ or ‘coffee,’ scientists could see regions associated with smell light up the MRI machine,” Carmine writes. 

The storyteller’s secret?

Great storytellers use analogies to create a vivid portrait of an experience or event.

More tomorrow.

____________________

Reflection:  Think about a complex topic I struggle to describe.  What is a useful analogy to make it more concrete?

Action:  Be intentional about using an analogy today to make a complex topic more understandable.

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