Metaphors—Dangerous Undertaking

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —March 2, 2008
Filed in Business storytelling

My friend, Alison Spencer, suggested I get a copy of James Harlow Brown’s book, Dangerous Undertaken, and I have to say it’s been one of my best Amazon purchases in some time. It’s a book about personal and organisational transformation written as a dialogue between a hot shot executive and a wise mentor he happened to meet on a flight to Sydney. Full of stories within stories. It’s a wonderful example of how leaders might tell stories to help people (and themselves) to change.

I contacted James (Jm to his friends) and we talked a little about metaphors—his book is full of them. Here is paragraph from one of his emails that he said I could blog.

Metaphors are the way that human beings see and create language for things that we cannot otherwise describe, either because we haven’t seen such things before or they are, in effect, beyond description. Storytelling uses metaphors in two primary ways. First, as a major “sticky” element or tag to make the story memorable. A good example is the Holy Grail, which not only represents a precious cup but also the altar cup (to Christians) that holds the holy sacrament. Because of this metaphor, the myth of the Holy Grail points to something that transcends ordinary experience when we unpack this metaphor. Second, stories themselves are metaphors, which lead us to explore deeper meaning. The story of the search for the Holy Grail becomes every person’s search for transformation as they seek that which is most precious in life. Because of this dual use of metaphor, stories like the Holy Grail myth stay in human consciousness for extremely long times, far beyond their telling. The question is can professional storytellers construct stories as memorable as the Holy Grail myth through the skillful use of metaphor — or is there something else at work in enduring myths like the Holy Grail beyond the skillful use of metaphor?

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:

2 Responses to “Metaphors—Dangerous Undertaking”

  1. wonderwebby Says:

    trust Alison to find a book like this. Thanks for blogging about it, I’ll have to take a look!

  2. JACK ARNOLD Says:


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