A couple of years ago I spoke at a BHP Billiton planning day. My talk was at the end of the day so I sat up the back and listened to all the other speakers. While listening I was struck by the language the BHP Billiton people used: “we need to turbo charge the process, turn the cogs, grease the wheels, dig deeper …” The dominant metaphor was that of a machine. I mentioned this to them in my talk and made the point that organisations can become trapped by the metaphors they use. If you view your organisation and its issues as a machine you will only devise machine-based responses.
After this experience I kept a keen ear out for dominant metaphors in other companies and discovered a bunch of examples: an investment bank where gambling was the major metaphor: let’s roll the dice, we came up trumps, what are the odds …; a road traffic authority that, you guessed it, uses road metaphors: we’ve got a green light, this is just one way traffic, we have a clear road map …
Are you aware of the dominant metaphor in play at your organisation?
To help you get started identifying metaphors, Gabe Mounce has written an article called Metaphors are Mindfunnels with a couple of colleagues in the US Airforce. It reviews George Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By and is a good introduction to the issues. You can find a link to the article at Gabe’s blog post.
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:
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