As an educator, I know that one of the most powerful learning techniques is that of compare and contrast. According to Dr. Robert Marzano, of the learning strategies that teachers utilize in the classroom, studies show that the use of compare and contrast yields the highest gains in student test scores. This is because of the way the brain operates. The brain learns by linking new knowledge to that already known. The stronger the association between that already known and new information, the easier the new information is assimilated. Exploiting this allows us to do astounding things with our brain. Memory experts, like Harry Lorrayne, memorize vast amounts of knowledge by using techniques that, for the most part, focus on association.
Comparing and contrasting known and unknown information can also be used in a creative drill that gives us insight into areas of study. By comparing and contrasting the known with the unknown we learn more about the unknown. This drill is taught by the Center for Creative Leadership, an institution dedicated to the development of leaders and leadership ability, with campuses in North America, Europe, and Asia. For example, try comparing and contrasting a tree (the known) with leadership (the unknown). What insights can be gained? One might see how a tree sways and bends in the wind and make the association that leaders must also be flexible and be willing to bend in adverse conditions rather than being too rigid. Another observation might be that although a tree grows high, there is a dense root structure underneath the ground that anchors the tree firmly. The link to leadership might be that skill sets that we possess and use extensively should be reinforced by a deeper understanding of what it is that we do. This allows us to adapt to changing conditions, something we cannot do unless we understand the theory behind the skills and techniques. At the same time, we also note that fruit can be picked from the tree without having a complete knowledge of the root structure. We can utilize techniques in our daily roles and gain advantages from them without completely knowing the theory behind them. Usually, the more interesting links and understandings come after one notes and dispenses with the obvious.
What can be learned if one takes the time to compare and contrast an automobile with productivity? What about comparing a digital camera with employee evaluations? How about comparing/contrasting a pizza with dealing with the emotional state of overwhelm? What can be noted if one compares a ship with employee motivation? This can result in new distinctions that one never noticed before.
Give it a try and see what you can learn by simple comparing and contrasting.