One of my favorite books is called “I never metaphor I didn’t like.”
Needless to say, it’s all about the use of metaphor in language. We use them every day. She has a bubbly personality; I could eat a horse, and he’s the apple of my eye are all examples.
Metaphors are one of the most common figures of speech. In fact, if you had a transcript of your conversations over the past 24 hours, you’d probably find it littered with metaphors.
They are also one of the most useful tools for thinking. Especially when you’re trying to think in new and different ways. Metaphors can change your perspective and open up doors you didn’t even know existed.
The Power of Metaphors in Innovation
Metaphors work for a number of reasons. Here are just a few of them:
- They’re brain-friendly. Metaphors are convenient and compact. They condense a lot of disparate information into a single message. Just think about how much you communicate simply by saying that somebody has a heart of gold.
- They’re memorable. The brain finds them much “stickier” than a lot of disconnected details.
- They allow you to test for understanding. Suppose that you’ve come up with a new idea and you want to see if people are really “getting” it, particularly if you’re getting pushback. Ask them: “What would be a metaphor for what we’re talking about?” When people truly understand an idea, they can translate it into a metaphor.
- They offer clarity. Metaphors are great for defining problems. They help define the problem.
Try this the next time you need a new perspective on something.
For example, imagine you are trying to improve communications in the office.
- Think of something different. Instead of thinking of the office, think of a train, or a circus, or a zoo. Let’s pick a zoo.
- List all the ways you could improve communications in a zoo. You could let the animals out of their cages and get them to all speak the same language.
- Take each one of these ideas and see if they will improve communications in the office.
If you’re struggling to put a metaphor into words, then create a visual image. Drawing offers an easy way to access information that might escape your rational, verbal mind. Don’t get hung up on your level of artistic ability. Using stick figures and rough geometric shapes is just fine.
Have a go!
Draw a vehicle that serves as a metaphor for your team. What would it look like? If the members are in conflict about who’s in charge, for example, you might draw a car with two steering wheels, five bumpers, and a broken front end.
Now imagine the picture that clients or customers would draw of your team. Draw another picture of your team as you’d like it to be in future.
Where does your mind take you? What do the metaphors reveal that you may not have consciously seen before?
Try it—you might find that jumpstarting your innovation strategy is as easy as filling in the blanks!
Remember, I never metaphor I didn’t like.