For your reading pleasure this week, it’s a dose of classic Red Thread Newsletter nuttiness. Yes, that’s right, we’re diving back into the Swipefile, those links to stories, studies, and other interesting stuff you can use that I share every week on various social platforms. While there are some true winners in the mix this time around—seriously, don’t miss the story on Charles Ponzi—I want to take “nuttiness” and “mix” literally and put a spotlight of attention on the “Brazil Nut Effect.”
The story: X-ray scans explain how the “Brazil Nut Effect” works
You’ll see this is a super short article about something you’ve likely noticed yourself: somehow, no matter where they start, Brazil nuts always seem to end up on top in a container of mixed nuts. (Side note: I see the same effect with the big strawberries that work their way to the top of a bag of frozen mixed berries. The result, of course, is that I have to make my way through the not-my-favorite strawberries before I get the berry goodness of the blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Sigh.)
Here’s what you might want to know in the article:
- The phenomenon of larger items seemingly defying gravity to move to the top of some mixtures isn’t limited to nuts, even though it’s named after them. In addition to my bag of frozen berries, it also occurs with some cereals [Lucky Charms FTW!] and with space rocks.
- While you may be justified in asking, “why would anyone study this?!” understanding the effect “could help manufacturers create more uniform mixtures of ingredients for food processing, or more even distributions of active ingredients in medicine tablets.”
- It’s been difficult to find an explanation for the effect because it’s hard to see what happens in the interior parts of a mixture. That’s why the researchers used X-ray CT scans to track individual peanuts and Brazil nuts in a container. As they shook the container, they could see the behavior of each individual nut. [There’s a cool video that shows what the researchers were looking at.]
- Here’s what happens: When nuts are first poured into a container, the Brazil nuts tend to lay on their “side,” so that they’re longest horizontally. As the container shakes, though, the Brazil nuts bump into the peanuts, which nudges the Brazil nuts vertical. As the Brazil nuts start to point upward, the smaller peanuts would tumble down along the newly opened space. The peanuts collect in the bottom, which essentially pushes the Brazil nuts the rest of the way up. [Neat, right?]
How you could use it…
If you don’t know already, I love a good analogy. In fact, it’s why I started #swipefiling originally… because I used to be crap at it. I always envied how some of the people I worked with (e.g., Tim Pollard of Oratium) and, in other cases, lived with (my husband, Tom) always seemed to have such great and unusual stories and analogies to illustrate concepts and ideas.
I wanted to do that, too, but to be honest, business school may teach you to managerially effective (maybe), but it doesn’t exactly teach you to be interesting. So, I decided to start reading outside of my own area of expertise in search of things I could use, both for my clients and myself. I quickly discovered that I found way more than I could ever put in my own messages and content. So about eight or so years ago I started to share the links to what I found, and the Swipefile was born.
This “Brazil Nut Effect” article is just the kind of thing I love to find. First, it’s an experience just about everyone has had (even if not everyone has questioned why it happens). That’s always a good start for a potential analogy—since you’re usually using an analogy to explain something else, you don’t want to have to explain the analogy, too! Second, it’s not a frequently used illustration, which makes it more interesting to your audience, and potentially, a way to reveal more about you, the message-maker. Third, the explanation of the effect has components that are also familiar to audiences:
- Mixtures of “big” things and “little” things. This could apply to ideas, to goals, to people, to the potential impact of an initiative, etc.
- Hierarchies. Whether you’re talking about physical space, or status, or something else, we’re surrounded by situations where there’s a “top” and a “bottom.” The difference between the two could be synonymous with success, top-of-mind-recall, effectiveness, etc.
- Questions about how “big” things end up on top (or “small” things end up on the bottom). That happens in all sorts of places in our lives, right?
When you put those elements together, you’ve got some great raw material for a super useful (and quirkily interesting!) analogy. Some thoughts on what you could use it to illustrate:
- What needs to happen to defy the odds (or gravity!)?
- How some things (or even people) end up on the “bottom”
- The kind of difference a simple change can make (horizontal to vertical)
- How “collisions” and interactions can create big change
Those are the ideas that make it to the top of the nut mixture that’s my brain. What about yours?The Brazil Nut Effect is just the kind of article I like to find. It's an experience just about everyone has had. That's always a good start for a potential analogy. Click To Tweet
Please note that many of the links are affiliate links, which means if you buy a thing I link to, I get a percentage of the cost, and then donate it to charity.
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