Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ideas and Metaphors

If you were describe how ideas spread in a society, which picture would you fashion?

Would it be of a wild fire sweeping across a plain? The slow dripping of water on sandstone? A new machine that, once fully assembled, almost miraculously solves a problem? Would it be a fungus or a cancer cell, a wolf or a horse, a checkpoint or a springboard, a mole or a bird? Is speed a component or does substance dominate? Is it at once transparent and then begins to form or is it the reverse?

I ask because I'm uncertain. I've watched how various ideas are formed in organizations and have been fascinated by their reception. What causes some ideas to take hold and survive while others quickly perish from lack of attention?

Part of the problem stems from the initial question. The people in the room may be seeing a different picture. One may see a cancer cell where the others see a magical machine. Determining the nature and form of the idea is one of the most important steps in addressing the idea and yet I've see groups in which people engage in prolonged sparring over decidedly different perceptions of the concept itself.

That is why one of the best questions early on when communicating about a proposed project is "Which metaphor would you use to describe this?" If you don't clarify that, you may spend a great deal of time discussing a river when your associates are discussing a bridge.

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