A is to B as C is to D
December 18, 2010 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm seeking a creative analogy to explain situations where someone who has a distinct set of skills attempts to apply those skills in a brand new context with the potential for relatively good results if they also acquire new context-specific knowledge and terminology.

It would be awesome if there was a widely known movie or story that illustrated this type of situation. And, by "this type of situation", I mean someone who is proficient in some type of career or set of tasks (a pastry chef, for example) moving into a completely new context where they can use some of their skills to be successful (perhaps our pastry chef can use their attention to detail in measurements as a chemist?)

The pastry chef > chemist example is pretty awful, which is why I'm looking for a better one.

A friend suggested using the example of our other friend, who is a landscape architect in the Midwest. When his wife was transferred to Hong Kong, he decided to go to school there to learn a new way of landscape architecture in another culture, had to learn new names for familiar things, etc. This doesn't really meet my needs because he is still practicing in the same context, outside in a garden, even though the technique and language might be different. But if he was using his design, long-term planning, growing live things skills in a brand new context (in a lab, for example), it would be a better fit. But I can't think of a great new context for that example.

Something in my wonky memory for movies tells me that there is a comedy formula of someone like Tom Hanks or Bill Murray being adept in one career and being shipped into a new context where they use their old career proficiencies to master a new situation. (Much laughter over disconnects in terminology between old situation and new situation, excitement over discovering that patterns of activity in the old job look this way in the new job, ultimately triumphs in the end, roll credits.) However, they aren't just practicing what they used to do in a new foreign culture. So, successful (insert job title here) from U.S. moving to Samoa to do (same job title translated into Samoan) in new culture doesn't work.

Anyone got any ideas?

(Sorry for the vague, hand-wavy question. Too little sleep, not enough coffee.)
posted by jeanmari to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"A man whose only tool is a hammer sees the world as nails that need to be pounded."
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:15 AM on December 18, 2010

Your question brought to mind a similar example but in the reverse direction. I'm much more familiar with the anecdotal example of a scientist using their method to become a great chef.

Here is an example from just a cursory google search. (Which means there might be even better examples out there.) I did the search using this string "chef former scientist"
posted by oddman at 8:22 AM on December 18, 2010

I have married friends in the military. She is about to deploy; he'll stay behind as Major Dad to his two little ones. Dude, *he has them out of the house* by 6:15. A.M. Dressed, bathed, brushed, fed, equipped for the day with their gear (lunches, snacks, diaper bags, etc.).

If *that's* not a hilariously re-purposed skill set, I don't know what is.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:30 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds so familiar that I thought I'd see it over at TV Tropes, but couldn't find an exact match. This is bugging me now.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:33 AM on December 18, 2010

The closest trope I could find is Workplace Aquired Abilities as a type of Chekhov's Skill.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:40 AM on December 18, 2010

The one that immediately springs to mind, but maybe doesn't quite fit your scenario, is, oddly enough, Kindergarten Cop. The Governator has to take over teaching a kindergarten class for whatever reason, and first he fails miserably, but then he uses his police training to marshall the little children into orderly behaviour. It's not a career switch situation, though.

I think there are probably quite a few instances in films where people with military background drill sergeant their way through real life, but I can't actually think of any off the top of my head. Still, I feel like I've seen that plot about a zillion and 86 times, so there's got to be at least a few examples of it.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The first thing I thought of was Peter Sellars's role in Being There, where he's this gardener who everyone thinks is a business/management guru because of his homespun, anecdotal bits of wisdom (although he's actually this kind of halfwit who doesn't really know what's going on). Example: he mentions how in gardening there's a time to sow and a time to grow, and people interpret that as meaning companies need to ride out the business cycle. I don't know if it's quite what you're looking for, though. If you stretch it a bit, though, it might kind of fit.

Spitballing here, but the Karate Kid kind of uses this idea … somewhat.

Tom Hanks finds that his experience as a kid makes him really good at picking out toys other kids with like (in Big).

I think the use of science (Science!) to gain an advantage is a common trope: Michelle Trachtenberg uses her knowledge of physics (Physics!) to gain a competitive edge in ice skating.

I'm actually a little frustrated myself, because I'm sure this is a common trope, but not exactly in the way you describe it. I feel like there should be a movie where a lawyer uses his oratorial skills to coach a youth hockey team or a shipyard worker uses the skills he learned hoisting crates to become a champion boxer, or something. Sorry I can't do better, but maybe one of these examples will trigger someone else's memory.
posted by Busoni at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2010

Oh, actually, I just remembered Eddie Murphy's character in Trading Places, who's just this street hustler who's never gone to college or anything, but it turns out he's really good at playing the stock market, just based on street smarts and what have you.
posted by Busoni at 9:13 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Kindergarten Cop."
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2010

I'll just mention two more examples: Breaking Bad, where a chemistry teacher turns to producing and dealing meth, and Bored to Death, where a novelist with writer's block moonlights as a private detective. I thought the latter would involve the writer's attention to detail as well as his second-hand knowledge of the crime and noir genres to help in his sleuthing, but the actual show doesn't really involve so much of that. But as an analogy, it might work.
posted by Busoni at 9:22 AM on December 18, 2010

This isn't an official term anywhere, but I tend to call these things transferable philosophies or transferable strategies. A philosophy or strategy is an attitude of HOW to approach a process, project, or activity, in a broad context. Very often while the skills are specific, the broad attitude can often be very useful to apply to new fields.

(I usually talk about this in context to games- general strategies for some games carry over well to other games, even if they're not in the same "family")
posted by yeloson at 10:04 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

How's this: a budding chess prodigy who picks up tai chi and becomes world champion?

His name is Josh Waitzkin, and the book (and movie) "Searching for Bobby Fischer" are based on his early life (before he "burned out" of the chess scene). He's written a book "The Art of Learning," which describes how his persistence in picking up a totally new field paid off.
posted by akprasad at 10:55 AM on December 18, 2010

This is kind of the "hook" for the TV show Castle. Nathan Fillion plays a crime writer who's so good at it that it's a helpful skill for solving actual crimes. (It's better than it sounds.)
posted by ErikaB at 11:40 AM on December 18, 2010

Erin Brockovich uses the skills of self-presentation, persuasion and determination which she developed as a beauty contestant to successfully investigate and negotiate a major legal case.

I had a friend who has been an actor, a teacher, and a trial lawyer at various times, all successfully, all based on the same skills and work habits.
posted by Corvid at 11:41 AM on December 18, 2010

There was a movie I saw once (which I thought was called "SFX" but IMDB says I'm wrong) about a movie special effects guy involved in a crime investigation, who used his knowledge of setting up special effects to effect a trap on the bad guy.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2010

Chocolate Pickle: F/X?
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:27 PM on December 18, 2010

I thought the latter would involve the writer's attention to detail as well as his second-hand knowledge of the crime and noir genres to help in his sleuthing, but the actual show doesn't really involve so much of that.

FWIW, this is similar to the plot of Castle. He's still a writer, and not blocked, he just solves crimes with the NYPD for inspiration for his books. But I think that might still be a little more on-the-nose than what the OP is looking for in terms of skills transfer.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2010

MonkeyToes, yes, that was the film. Not high art, but a lot of fun.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:25 PM on December 18, 2010

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