Apples To Apples (And Oranges, And 8-Balls)

Sometimes comparisons are fair, sometimes they’re not. Other times they’re appropriate, and even other times they’re perfectly suitable but maybe a little bit strange. The comparison we use should be chosen carefully.

Apples to apples are for easy comparisons. We use these when two problems are in the same class and category.

Apples to oranges are almost comparable, but not quite. It’s when two problems are in different classes but still the same category.

Apples to 8-balls are not really comparable at all except only in the loosest of ways. It’s when two problems might share a similar shape, but are in totally different categories. These comparisons force our minds to stretch (in a good way when we’re our understanding is being enhanced, in a bad way when our understanding is being manipulated).

If somebody has a problem and we want to use an example to help them understand, we have a choice.

Do we want a clear understanding to give a similar instruction? Use apples to apples. “When ordering office supplies, we use as many pens as we do pencils.”

Do we want a similar metaphor to help reframe the problem? Use apples to oranges. “Stocking up on office supplies is a lot like back to school shopping for kids.”

Do we want an analogy or parable to stretch their understanding of the problem? Use apples to 8-balls. “Stocking up on office supplies is like stocking a pantry. There’s the stuff for the meals you know you’re going to make, and then there’s the stuff that once in a while you’re going to want or need that you should get too.”

There’s more than one example we can give to help someone understand a problem, instruction, question, etc. Our job is to choose carefully and with intent to help.

So what’s it going to be – “apples to ______?”

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