The metaphor

The metaphor is taken as it is basic to our way of thinking generally.
Change: Do you think it is easy to change? Ah, it is very hard to change and be different, for you have to go through the waters of oblivion.
D.H. Lawrence
Here forgetting is imagined as flowing water.

Metaphorical thinking widens our capacity for creative yet disciplined thought. We usually use the metaphor whenever we attempt to understand one element of experience in terms of another. When we say "that man works like a horse" or "the camel is the ship of the desert", we use the image of the horse or the camel to draw attention to certain qualities of horse or camel; the horse is the idea of power as in 'horse power', the camel is used for transporting cargo. The metaphor helps us to understand how hard the man works or the use of the camel, albeit in one particular way, or a partial, one-sided angle. The metaphor helps us to see and at the same time pushes other aspects to the background. Of course we highlight only one particular aspect, because the man may at the same time be a male chauvinist pig, a wise man, a nincompoop, a bore or highly intelligent. By drawing attention to the fact that the man is a hard worker we do not say anything about the other aspects. In this manner the metaphor can be used for inventive search and idea generation. We limit ourselves to certain aspects, not because they are the only ones, but because we want to focus on them in order to find a new perspective. Both brain halves are used: images, imagination as well as logical analysis.

Sir Alec Issigones, the brilliant car engineer who designed the Morris Minor and the mini, preferred working by himself and disliked large teams. He once described a camel as "a horse designed by committee". The statement draws attention to one particular aspect of committees: the difficulty to make people agree and the consequent result and one particular aspect of the camel: the ungracious appearance. Sir Alec missed the 'streamline' thereby forgetting that it is uniquely designed to survive in the desert.

The effectiveness of our seeing depends on an ability to see how one particular aspect co-exists with other aspects. Because seeing one particular aspect very clearly, often makes other aspects invisible. The other aspects may seem complementary or even paradoxical. Metaphors can help us to understand paradoxes.
In the statement "the true leader follows" (Lao Tzu) we can observe such a paradox: to "lead" and "follow". It teaches us that true leaders look at the needs of people, want to help them in order to reach the objectives set by the leader. However, this only becomes visible after thinking and reflection of this particular statement.

By using different metaphors to understand the complex and paradoxical character of organizational life, we are able to manage and design organizations in ways that we may not have thought possible before. The new images complement the traditional images, which in no way means that the old are not valid anymore. The alternatives augment our view and help us to look at an organization from different angles.
A good starter is the book "Images of Organization" (Gareth Morgan) which can be seen as a treatise on metaphorical thinking that contributes to both the theory and practice of organizational analysis. It goes outside the traditional boundaries of organizational theory and deals with diverse sources such as biology, psychoanalysis, holography or political thought. It is presented as a manner to cope with the increasing complexity of the world we live in. We should not close our eyes to this complexity and pretend that everything is simpler than it is. The real challenge, according to Morgan, is to learn to deal with this complexity. Exactly in complexity and diversity the opportunities are to be found.

The proper start -for each participant of a brain storming session- is to map out all metaphors on a big white sheet (mind map). Create pictures for each metaphor and add the main characteristics. By thinking and discussing the pictures you will create awareness of what you already know and the associative powers of the brain guarantee new ideas. It will be amazing how easily new viewpoints and ideas can be found.

For an idea generation session it is suggested to proceed as follows:
- Start with a metaphor, and not with the actual situation.
- Describe the metaphor as extensively as possible.
- Make an inventory of all aspects that come up.
- Then switch to the actual situation and see how the aspects found, bear on it.
- The points found are worked out for the actual situation.

For an example see, the shark metaphor

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