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Sim designer tip: The best subject matter experts talk in visual metaphors.

Some very smart people use a lot of very big, intellectual, and conceptually precise words and phrases to describe a situation (such as "Orthogonal" and "Force multiplier").  Others may introduce classic metaphors (such as "Manifest Destiny" and "The Sword of Damocles"), often based on cultural literacy.  But I have found the best subject matter experts (SMEs) for creating educational simulations and serious games speak in highly vivid, simple, visual metaphors.  They use basic examples or abstractions to make complex processes very clear.

For whatever reason, the military cultures do this incredibly naturally.  Here are some metaphors I heard, including common and more obscure, over the last month that led me to know I had identified the right expert.

  • Put out the bait and see if he bites.
  • I don't have a dog in that fight. 
  • I started poking the bear...
  • ...Too much fog of war...
  • That was the secret sauce...
  • That dog won't hunt.
  • Take out the calipers and measure...
  • ...Looking to scratch that itch.
  • Wire brush the bolts...
  • Get a shoe box and put in a bunch of 3 X 5 cards...
  • Crash and burn.
  • That idea ricocheted around the room...
  • Just a vacuum cleaner, sucking up data...
  • If we just wanted to lay bricks, we would...
  • It went through the process like a pig in a python...
  • At that point we were just pounding sand...
  • There are three kinds of people: racehorses, clydesdales, and donkeys...
  • (And, of course, many sports analogies.)
Some experts talk based on a value put on knowing something.  For sim designers, we need experts who, instead, talk based on a value put on doing something.

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