How to make something complex familiar

With so many new technologies in our lives, it’s no surprise many folks are becoming overwhelmed. The sheer volume of information is pushing a growing number of people into overload, and even when we know something will provide a benefit to us, we groan at the thought of having to learn yet another new thing.

There’s a particularly effective approach for helping people understand something new and unfamiliar without overwhelming them. It’s connecting that unfamiliar object or process with something that’s very familiar and quite simple.

Back when mobile device technology was brand-new (and phones were the size of bricks), many people didn’t understand how they could stay connected while traveling down the road. Since they didn’t understand the technology, they were hesitant to invest in it. I helped one large wireless carrier overcome those concerns by comparing a cell phone to the batons used in relay races. The baton is handed off from runner to runner during a race, but it is always in at least one runner’s firm grasp. Similarly, wireless towers hand connections off to the next tower, but not until both towers ensure that the call remains connected.

Another example? When automakers began to use molded rubber as a gasketing material for oil pans, many technicians were wary. The new gaskets looked and behaved very differently from the cork gaskets those technicians had installed for decades. Why would anyone pay more for this unfamiliar material? Molded rubber’s primary advantage was its inherent memory, which kept it pushing against the surfaces that needed to be sealed. I explained the concept of memory by using a very common object: a rubber band. You can stretch, twist, or crumble a rubber band, and it will snap right back into shape. Molded rubber gaskets work the same way. That explanation was more convincing than any engineering argument could be.

Make the explanation simple, and make it familiar, and you’ll overcome fear and resistance every time.