Keen followers of Agatha Christie’s fictional character Miss Marple will be familiar with her technique of mapping happenings of the wider world with things she could understand that occurred in her own village of St Mary Mead. So already we have a list of things that metaphors can help us with:
- Giving explanations to those unfamiliar with a concept
- Examining problem situations from an alternative perspective
- Reframing situations
- Communicating concepts to a wider audience
- Learning or making sense of a concept that we are not currently familiar with
Another interesting use for metaphor is within stories and for use as a more sophisticated business tool but that is an article all of its own. But how about the application of metaphor, will it work for everyone and will it work everywhere?
We can use metaphor directly in:
- Creative Industries and the media
- Any other areas that rely on human interaction
Metaphor works best when individuals can ‘connect’ easily with metaphors i.e. they are used to metaphor or storytelling and their lives are not littered with distractions. In developed countries we are buried underneath mountains of gadgets which we either rely on to automate our lives or which we take great delight in exploring in detail – we either want it to work or we want to read the instructions in detail. We do not wish to know that our new MP3 player is like a pepperoni pizza (or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor). I am speaking generally here, those who are emotionally intelligent will be using metaphor regularly.
In developing countries there is less technology and less complexity in life generally (but life is often very hard) and so people are often closer to their emotions. Storytelling and metaphors will work well here and have a very powerful effect.
But what makes a good metaphor? During a recent debate it was suggested that a good metaphor for a modern organisation was a jigsaw puzzle. I was not sure about this as it suggested to me that everyone has their place when in fact people can continue to contribute in many different ways. The originator of the metaphor then proceeded to explain it to me. When I suggested that a good metaphor should not require explanation they got a little upset!
A good metaphor should not require explanation. When someone suggests that a task or project is like ‘wading through treacle’ we instantly understand (unless we do not know what treacle is). Good metaphors should work for those who respond to different types of stimuli (audi, visual, kinaesthetic …) and be easily modified and shared. Imagine the details of a house given to you by an agent. You like the garage, your partner likes the bathroom and the kids like the garden. You all know that you are sharing the same idea but have different perspectives. Others can also share and modify different aspects (the dog loves the garden!!).