How can I explain difficult concepts better?

Answer: Use analogies.

Richard Feynman, Nobel prize-winner and founder of Quantum Mechanics and explainer extraordinaire, used analogies all the time. He is famous for his brilliant analogies. If they’re good enough for him to use, they should be good enough for us to try to master!

Practical ideas on how to improve your analogy-generating skills:

  1. Copy Richard Feynman’s example  and automatically create analogies of what you’re reading as you go. Not only will this practice help you understand what your reading better, but you’ll be giving yourself lots of analogy-creating practice.
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  2. Watch Richard Feynman’s analogies in action. (Type in Feynman in the Practical Savvy search box to call up lots of Feynman videos). As you watch him, listen for the analogies.  Jot them down. Stop the video and try to recall the analogy word for word. Do whatever you can think of to deep-learn the Feynman analogy technique.
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  3. Keep a collection of fine analogies you stumble across in your general reading and listening. Revisit your list often just to remind you what a good analogy looks like. You can tell an analogy is good if it worked for you i.e. the analogy helped  you understand the tricky concept better.
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  4. Practice generating colorful and effective analogies. Generating analogies can be as much fun as punning. Here are some clever analogies/metaphors/similes:
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    • You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. (to explain that making superficial or cosmetic changes won’t succeed in disguising the true nature of something.)
    • Friends are like melons; shall I tell you why? To find a good one, you must one hundred try. ~ Claude Mermet
    • Many people have a good aim in life, but for some reason they never pull the trigger.  ~ Unknown
    • Most people never run far enough on the first wind to find out they’ve got a second. Give your dreams all you’ve got, and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you. ~ William James
    • A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.  ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
    • If you shoot for the stars and hit the moon, it’s OK. But you’ve got to shoot for something. A lot of people don’t even shoot. ~ Confucius
    • Cherish your vision and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements. ~ Napoleon Hill
    • Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. ~ Erich Fromm
    • In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~ Albert Schweitzer
    • When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. ~ Leonardo da Vinci
    • There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others first. When you learn to live for others, they will live for you. ~ Paramahansa Yogananda
    • Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece. ~ Ralph Charell
    • The average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain. ~ Colin Wilson
    • Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls atention to an unhealthy state of things. ~ Winston Churchill
    • Habits start out as cobwebs and grow to be cables. ~ Spanish proverb
    • Vision is not enough. It must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must also step up the stairs. ~ Vaclac Havel
    • Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. ~ Buddha
    • Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. ~ Sutta Nipata
    • To build a friendship is to build wealth. ~ Buddha
    • Forget about the fruit; nurture the root. ~ Unknown
    • If farming were to be organised like the stock market, a farmer would sell his farm in the morning when it was raining, only to buy it back in the afternoon when the sun came out. ~ John Maynard Keynes
    • Wars are won in the general’s tent. ~ Stephen Covey
    • Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. ~ N. Eldon Tanner
    • The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore. ~ Dale Carnegie
    • The worst bankrupt in the world is the man who has lost his enthusiasm. Let a man lose everything else in the world but his enthusiasm and he will come through again to success. ~ H.W. Arnold
    • To the man with a hammer, every problem tends to look pretty much like a nail. ~ Unknown
    • You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
      Love like you’ll never be hurt,
      Sing like there’s nobody listening,
      And live like it’s heaven on earth. ~ William W. Purkey
    • Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So. . .sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain
    • Choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems. There are no problem-free candidates. ~ Daniel Wile

Here’s a great blog article by Lisa Jeffery that gives more practical tips on how to create analogies like Richard Feynman:

The Art of Explaining Things–Richard Feynman Style

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