My fourth-grade teacher wasn’t particularly effective. That’s what I most certainly would have said to you when I was nine.
Nearly three decades later, I can assure you that the fourth-grade Brandon had it all wrong. Mrs. Blimline (a name I could never forget) was a remarkable teacher. She had a beautiful way of communicating to her students. Teaching is a gift, and she was truly gifted.
I didn’t see it. I didn’t want to see it. She was so very hard on me. And that created a gulf between us that might as well have put us miles apart.
Despite all of that, I managed to pay attention during our English lessons. Maybe it was my personal fervor for reading. Who knows? But for those 40 minutes during the longest days, set inside the longest academic year of my life, I would pay remarkably close attention to what she said.
That year she introduced the analogy.
Now, had she told me, “Brandon, this is going to improve the way you reach people,” I might have unhardened my heart to her. Perhaps even begun to like her. But that wasn’t our path. I was arrogant, and she was so very hard on me.
After all these years, I understand why.
She saw a storyteller in me. In the way that I spoke to my friends – in the way I gave presentations – and, even in the way I spoke to her. In effect, she saw my future before I could see my future. I suppose wisdom provides such insights.
She was right. About everything. But I wouldn’t learn that until much later.
The analogy, as she explained it, was an element of communication that brought emotion into our stories. That, in turn, touched the hearts of all parties involved.
I could resonate with that. It was, after all, the hearts of those closest to me in which I was most interested.
There was a particularly poignant analogy she used one day to describe my obstinacy in her class, and how that might inhibit my potential. I remember that day like it was yesterday (though I will have to paraphrase … it was, after all, 28 years ago):
“Your gift to understand things and connect things isn’t much different from a man who created the first production car: Mr. Henry Ford. Your rejection of the norm is no different than Henry’s rejection of the idea that cars needed to be built one at a time. People rejected the assembly line at the time, but he insisted that it was going to revolutionize the industry. Your love for people and knowledge and your pushing against all things favoring conformity is your assembly line. What you will be forced to figure out before this life is over is how your assembly line is going to change the world.”
The best advice I would ever get in my 37 years happened when I was nine years old … and, I didn’t even say thank you.
But I’m doing so now by discussing how this small story is literally changing how I communicate in my everyday business life. I break things down, like she did, with analogies.
Simplicity. Drawing connection through opposing themes to reinforce a point. It’s a subtly brilliant concept, and yet we’ve dropped its use in mainstream, corporate communication.
I had the privilege to speak last year at my Leadership Harrisburg Area graduation, and Mrs. Blimline was my literary inspiration. My whole speech was one, ginormous analogy that relied on a rhyming syntax taken from Dr. Seuss, who was often cited in Mrs. Blimline’s class as a model for communication.
Storytellers are analogists. They draw convergence through contrasting themes. And I’m seeing this impact in my work today.
If you were to walk into my office, literally walk up to anyone in that office, they could quote at least one or two of my more clichéd analogies.
Sure, they can be a little lame. But, the point is people remember. And if they can remember a story because of an analogy, they are far more likely to utilize its message when speaking in the future.
And if we are so lucky as to have a good message to share, we’ve now equipped those individuals with the tools to pass that story along in a way that can be received well and retained.
If our leaders can continue to communicate with analogies, breaking things down simplistically, information flow will assuredly improve, and the barriers to communication will fall away naturally.
Thank you, Henry Ford, for the assembly line. But, more importantly, thank you, Mrs. Blimline, for forcing me to find my own assembly line.
Brandon Rogers is a partner at LinkBankcorp Inc., a startup bank in Cumberland County. His past experience includes finance roles at Giant, Highmark and JPMorgan.