Home Comforts not Sun Tzu

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —November 2, 2005
Filed in Business storytelling

CookingThe military metaphor is dominant in many organisations. How many times have you heard colleagues talking about doing battle, gathering the troops, working in headquarters, having Chief EOs, FOs, IOs, OOs. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is often suggested reading for new managers. Here is an alternative metaphor—the organisation as a tumultuous household. Hillary Johnson’s article is funny and insightful. She recounts her experience as a new manager and the wisdom to be found in  Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. Here are some of the pearls:

  • Learn how to make a meal without looking at a cookbook
  • In the old days, laundering was done on Monday, after the Sabbath rest, because it involved such backbreaking labor that you needed to be fresh and rested to get through it.
  • Having a meal is not the same thing as simply eating something
  • Avoid walking around with knives.

What are some of the alternative metaphors you can think of which can help us understand how an organisation works?

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. says:

    Sun Zi, home comforts

    Shawn at Anecdote posted the other day on the topic of “Sun Tzu and Home comforts”. He’s making a common mistake, which is to assume that the Sun Zi Bing Fa (孙子-兵法) is about war. One of my lecturers in Singapore was the same,saying that in busine

  2. Emlyn says:

    Hi Shawn,
    Just got my site’s comment queue sorted out and finally saw your reply.
    You’re right that that I didn’t address the main point of your post, which is one that I quite agree with! It just started a train of thought about Sun Zi that I wanted to run with.
    However, I guess I can justify it by responding to your question: what other metaphors can we use? From my viewpoint here in Beijing, we can ask whether an organisation is a rigid Confucian hierarchy where authority and tasks are rigidly defined, or a collection of Daoist hermits collaborating according to their insight, need, and nature. Sun Zi is very much about finding the appropriate level of control and flexibility according to the time and the prevailing conditions.

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