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Published on February 12, 2018

How to Explain Difficult And Abstract Concepts (The Smart Way)

How to Explain Difficult And Abstract Concepts (The Smart Way)

Albert Einstein said,

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

But a lot of times, we struggle about how to explain some difficult, or even abstract concepts to others.

In this article, I will provide you with a solution: metaphor. Explaining and examining concepts using metaphors improves our thinking.

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Metaphorical thinking is a great way to analyze and synthesize abstract concepts such as cyber security. In a report issued by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy, a research team explored metaphors for cyber security. By thinking metaphorically, they found it improved their thinking and discussion of cyber security in four ways:[1]

  1. They gained a clear understanding of the value and limitations of cyber security concepts.
  2. Using less common and new metaphors sparked their imagination.
  3. Metaphors that work well might be developed into new models for approaching cyber security problems.
  4. Metaphors serve as a heuristic purpose, bringing a clear understanding of abstract concepts from the field of cyber security into domains with which the non-specialist may be more familiar.

What exactly are metaphors?

Before we examine some metaphors, let’s first define what a metaphor is. In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson define metaphor in this way:

Conceptual metaphors are grounded in everyday experience. They are abstract. Our conceptual systems are not consistent overall, since the metaphors used to reason about any concept may be inconsistent. We live our lives on the basis of inferences we derive via metaphor.

On the other hand, Zoltan Kovecses defines a metaphor in Metaphor: A Practical Introduction as:

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Metaphor is defined as understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain. Examples of this include when we talk and think about life in terms of journeys. A convenient shorthand way of capturing this view of metaphor is the following: conceptual domain (A) is conceptual domain (B), which is what is called a conceptual metaphor. A conceptual metaphor consists of two conceptual domains, in which one domain is understood in terms of another.

Metaphors = High Definition Thinking

    Let’s examine some metaphors to help with the understanding of cyber warfare and cyber security. My inspiration for the creation of the format for my ideas that follow came from Bigthink.com.

    Cyber Warfare // Wei-Chi

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      For more information on this concept, read In Athena’s Camp.

      Cyber Warfare // Pests

        For more information on this concept, read here Lessons from pest control: Why the popular metaphors in cybersecurity are broken.

        Phishing // Fishing

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          Malware Scan // Health Screening

            Worms or Virus // Infectious Disease

              Thinking about concepts using metaphors leads to a deeper understanding of an idea and leads to new and creative approaches. They are a way for us to fill in the gap and create connections in our mind regarding a concept.

              Using the ideas above, what are some metaphors you can think of for difficult and abstract concepts?

              Featured photo credit: Kaboompics via kaboompics.com

              Reference

              [1]Karas, Moore, and Parrott: Metaphors for Cyber Security

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              Last Updated on September 17, 2018

              How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

              How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

              Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

              Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

              All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

              Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

              How bad really is multitasking?

              It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

              Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

              This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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              We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

              So what to do about it?

              Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

              Now, forget about how to multitask!

              Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

              1. Get enough rest

              When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

              This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

              When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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              2. Plan your day

              When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

              When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

              Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

              3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

              I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

              I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

              Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

              4. When at your desk, do work

              We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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              Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

              5. Learn to say no

              Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

              Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

              By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

              6. Turn off notifications on your computer

              For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

              Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

              7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

              Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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              You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

              The bottom line

              Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

              Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

              Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

              Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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