When forced to make an apples to oranges comparison, what’s a good approach to take?
The MBA responds…
Thanks for the question! Before I go any further, let’s take a moment to make sure everyone understands the question and set some expectations by breaking the question down.
- “When forced…” – translate this to, you are giving a presentation and someone strongly believes you are comparing two unrelated items and forces you to make your case.
- “apples to oranges comparison…” – considering the diverse reader population, I want to clarify what this means. In many parts of the world, this expression is used to indicate that someone is comparing two items or groups of items that cannot be validly compared. Subject to interpretation.
- “what’s a good approach to take?” – translate this to, define a thought process in responding to someone who says you are making an apples to oranges comparison.
Now that that is out of the way!
Who hasn’t ever encountered the person in a meeting vehemently argue, “You’re comparing apples to oranges. This doesn’t make sense!” This counter argument shows up a lot during corporate presentations and meetings. So, let’s jump into how you should respond.
- Understand the underlying attributes – When somebody says “You’re comparing apples to oranges.”, your response should immediately be “Before we jump to conclusions, let’s explore the underlying attributes.” To clarify, let’s consider the example of comparing Apples and Oranges. Each of these items possess various underlying attributes and associated values. Once you understand these attributes, they become your comparison points. I will be honest and say this is the hardest part. You have to use the knowledge, intuition, and understanding of the items being compared to be able to identify the underlying attributes.
- For example, consider the attribute Growth Setting, the value for both the Apple and the Orange would be Fruit Tree.
- Another example, consider the attribute Average Calories, the value for the Apple would be 117 calories and the value for the Orange would be 112 calories.
- Identify the similarities/differences – Once you’ve understood and shortlisted the underlying attributes, identify the similarities and differences between the items being compared. Continuing the example above…
- Both Apples and Oranges grow in the same settings.
- Apples and Oranges differ by 5 calories in terms of mean calories.
- Articulate your argument – Now, armed with your attributes and similarities/differences, articulate your argument using the following format.
- First, reiterate the items being compared so everyone can follow your logical argument. In our example, the items being compared are Apples and Oranges.
- Next, enumerate the attributes you will be using to compare the items. In our example, the attributes would be Growth Setting and Mean Calories.
- Finally, take the audience through the similarities/differences between the comparison items for each attribute.
The prescribed approach only works if you are able to identify attributes for comparison. If you cannot, then you have to consider the fact that maybe you truly are comparing apples to oranges. If this is case, simple accede and carry the conversation forward.
Hope this answers your question and as always, I’d love to hear your comments!