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Oh. Wow. Metaphors are becoming serious business. I read in The Atlantic this week an article called “Why Are Spy Researchers Building a ‘Metaphor Program’?”
“Every speaker in every language in the world uses them effortlessly, and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity wants know how what we say reflects our worldviews. They call it The Metaphor Program, and it is a unique effort within the government to probe how a people’s language reveals their mindset.”
So. Metaphors reveal our mindset. Wow.
You already knew that of course. Metaphors are a central theme on The Project Shrink.
People can talk about projects as if they are conducting a war. They are using words like “marching orders” and “the troops”. If a Project Manager has a mindset like this, war as a metaphor, his mind is thinking in friends and foes, allies and enemies. You are either with him or against him. This view of the world will make it very difficult to collaborate with this person if you disagree.
In management circles a famous metaphor is that of a machine when looking at an organization (thanks Taylor!). Every employee is looked at as one of the many gears or bolt in the machinery. Talking about pure efficiency this is a powerful metaphor. However, within this mindset, it can also mean neglecting the individual character of every employee.
In The Atlantic article, an example is quoted from The Metaphor Program’s manager, Heather McCallum-Bayliss:
“Metaphors shape how people think about complex topics and can influence beliefs. A study presented participants with a report on crime in a city; they were asked how crime should be addressed in the city. The report contained statistics, including crime and murder rates, as well as one of two metaphors, CRIME AS A WILD BEAST or CRIME AS A VIRUS. The participants were influenced by the embedded metaphor… if people were given the crime-as-a-virus framing, they were more likely to suggest social reform and less likely to suggest more law enforcement or harsher punishments for criminals.”
So. Metaphors also effect reality.
If the model is powerful enough and wide spread among more people, the model will even become a reality.
This reminds me of an article I read 4 years ago. If models can have such an impact on the performance of reality, you almost have to be aware of the images that people try to fill in your head.
Sumantra Ghosal writes in “Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices”:
“In courses on corporate governance grounded in agency theory … we have taught our students that managers cannot be trusted to do their jobs -which, of course, is to maximize shareholder value- and that to overcome “agency problems,” managers’ interests and incentives must be aligned with those of the shareholders by, for example, making stock options a significant part of their pay… Why then do we feel surprised by the fact that executives in Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco and scores of other companies granted themselves excessive stock options…?”
So. Metaphors have a large impact on how we think and what we do.
So. Switch metaphors and we change how we think and what we do.
This is the whole concept behind Temporary Tribes. It’s an adventure travel metaphor for groups pursuing the fulfillment of a certain outcome. For crews conducting interventions in host organizations.
Sometimes we need that.
For problem solving. To avoid people answering in ways they assume is expected, you can use a metaphor for your endeavor and frame all activities in an entirely different setting. One where there are no rules about how people ought to behave.
To create a more attractive association, to be less intimidating. If the association you have with “Project Management” is putting you off, you might be missing out on something beneficial to your business or work.
Some people truly need a travel guide for their organization.
Some people would love to think about what their tent looks like.
But changing mindsets is hard.
Especially when you are saying you are going to change it.
Say to someone: “I am going to change your mindset!” and he’ll yell: “NO YOU’RE NOT!”
It’s the same as organizations changing culture by saying their are changing the culture.
“You join a new organization and you are required to sing the corporate hymn at the start of every meeting.
Someone next to you is humming a catchy tune. Cheesy. Or stupid. But catchy. He is humming this in the background once in a while.
First way is “creating” a culture. Waaaaaaaah. Yuk. Argh.
Second way is “revealing” a culture.”
If you are trying to reveal a culture, you should focus on making people aware of the visible traits of their current culture. The habits, the rituals, the in-groups and out-groups, the language.
Uhm. Yes. The metaphors used.
At least, that’s what I think.