Saturday, October 17, 2009

the power of metaphors

Love boatsImage by fataetoile/ Cinzia Rizzo via Flickr

I'm always amazed by the power of metaphors. Sometimes I try to 'cook' one myself and then it doesn't work so formulating or rather designing a good metaphor is not easy. In Ghana, people were generally strong in using metaphors, but unfortunately I didn't write them down. But if you like proverbs too, you can follow the twitter stream of African Proverbs.

Some strong metaphors I've come across: We all know the metaphor about marriage as a sailing trip. You step into the marriage boat and you will face rough weather, storm and the boat will rock. A little overused, but probably popular because it appeals to couples.

A very strong one that I still remember, even though I've come across it some years ago, is about the integration process by immigrants in the Netherlands. There is a lot of political debate about integration and integration problems and usually the immigrants are blamed for not speaking the language, not adapting etc. Then a person said: "it is like the highway; you can try to merge with the traffic on the highway, but you need to be given the space to pull your car over". This is such a good metaphor because it show that it is a two-way process.

And two weeks ago Irene Guijt gave a presentation about accountability at Partos Plaza. What I now recall from her presentation is the metaphor of the goose and the golden eggs. Talking about accountability she explained that you need to be aware of not only counting the golden eggs (the results) while killing the goose at the same time. Because you will not have any golden eggs in future. I think that's a strong metaphor to warn about for looking short-sightedly at (short-term) results without caring for the organisations and other actors that produce the results.

Do you have any metaphors that stick with you? What makes them so strong?
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Steve said...

In my KM work, metaphor is the most valuable item in my toolkit. My favorite metaphor is knowledge as energy. Energy is "the ability to do work." Energy comes in different forms, such as potential and kinetic. And knowledge--as light--is focused when we act as apertures, imprinting the light as it passes through us. You could even say that knowledge, like light, is simultaneously particle and wave.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Steve, nice metaphor!