The power of metaphor

What is a metaphor?
“A metaphor is a figurative expression in which a concept is temporarily replaced by a concept that is similar to the original concept. Similarity depends on context and metaphors therefore only work when the listener has access to the context. One of the most important functions of metaphor is that it promotes the innovation of language and plays a role in thinking and concept formation.” (wikipedia)

A metaphor contributes to and reinforces a message you want to get across through figurative comparisons with the message you are referring to.

“Don’t throw stones in glass houses ” – Don’t blame someone for your own shortcomings.
“I can’t see the forest for the trees ” – Sometimes when we have too many details (impressions) in front of us or in our heads, it can be easy to miss the big picture.

“What goes around comes around” – Take responsibility for your actions. Here I would like to replace “man”(yesterday’s post) with who it actually concerns. Ex. As I make my bed, so shall I lie in it. it becomes even more concrete who should take responsibility for their actions.

Why should you use metaphors? – The power of metaphor
Using metaphors that make sense and also fit the context (is it a bunch of athletes or an IT systems management team I’m talking to?), often leads to better understanding and integration of what has been said. Your meeting participants, colleagues or sports team may not remember everything you have said, but if you have used some really good metaphors, there is a good chance that they will remember them and thus get your overall message across.

When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them that I “systemically develop teams, leaders and individuals”. System development is what most people think of when they think of IT systems, apps, etc. That is also my purpose, because what do we do with these systems? Yes, we develop them and maintain them by restarting them from time to time. If we don’t, they will crash one way or another. So why should we humans be different? We are a whole of several different systems in the body, and part of the whole around us all the time (and even then a whole within the whole). So in my way of coaching (road show) individuals (private), employees and leaders, they are systemically developed into an even better version of themselves. They become more sustainable and perform better, contributing to more resourceful businesses. I like to think that this metaphor makes more sense in a crucial context than if I had simply said that I coach people.

Metaphors can also be a good way if you have a desire for how the people you are speaking to should feel. If you want to take them into an emotional state, a story as a metaphor can be a good idea to use.

Example of a metaphorical story – one of my favorites.

“Four people would fly in a small propeller plane from one village to another. There was the pilot, a priest, the smartest man in the world and a little boy. After a short time in the air, the pilot announces that they have problems with the engines and that they will crash. He tells them to put on their parachutes and jump, then ejects himself from the plane. In fact, there are only two parachutes left and three people on board.

The world’s smartest man quickly grabs one of them and exclaims:
– I am the smartest person in the world, I have to survive”, and he jumps.

The priest then says to the little boy.
– Take the last parachute, son. I’ve lived a long, good life and I’m at peace with my destiny.
The little boy replies:
– We can each take a parachute, says the boy. The smartest man in the world took my backpack!”

The spirit of this one. No intelligence in the world beats complete presence and attention.

With that, I want to highlight (as a brief aside), that we often walk around with so much in our heads. Both what has happened and what is going to happen next, that we forget to be here and now.
How do I want to be right now?
What opportunities do I have for what I want?
And, what can I influence right now to move in that direction?

More metaphors
Another metaphor I like is:
“You can’t build a house until you have a solid slab to build it on.” – If we try to lead change without knowing where we have ourselves, what our values are and come from, which intentions which is our driving force and whether we are in the the right context and with the right conditions, there is a risk that the change will not happen. Or that it fails, or that it goes ahead but with a worse result.

One last one before I end this post was heard while listening to my brilliant Communicator colleague, Lars Evertsson. He talked about comparing ourselves (our inside) to a garden, where you are the gardener. Do you care for the flowers in there? Remove the weeds you don’t want there. And what new flowers, trees and shrubs do you plant. Care for your own garden (your interior) as you would care for your garden as a gardener. Very brief description of the metaphor, but I hope you understand its purpose. We need to get better at cleaning up our inner garden so that everything beautiful can grow and take its place. The second one we can get rid of.

– Think about everyday events that you can use as metaphorical stories to reach deeper.
– Think about whether you use proverbs that act as metaphors?
– Were there any of the metaphors I used above in the text that you adopted immediately? Which left an impression?
– Remember to modify a metaphor depending on who you are speaking to/with – to make it relevant and possible for those listening to you to understand the analogy.

Tomorrow I’ll write more about patterns – how they contribute to resisting change and how we can use pattern breaking to break through.

Take care of yourself!


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