Learning / Life / Studies

Metaphors and Learning

Allegory_of_caveI was just revisiting some of my old presentations on change, problems, dilemmas, unknowns, uncertainty and ambiguity.  In 2000 – 2004  I participated in Systemic Business Salons arranged by David Ing, and where we met to discuss things of common interest, to challenge our thinking.  I prepared some presentations in order to remember, also preparing presentations helps me to learn, think, look things from various perspectives. I enjoy using pictures to challenge my thinking as well.  Most of the thoughts, references  were introduced by  David Hawk.

I downloaded presentations to www.slideshare.com/MinLii

While looking into these presentation – I also found my notes on metaphors and decided to revisit metaphors and learning.  Somehow, it’s good to get back to these themes time after time, and every time  I find something new, understand things from another perspective.   World view  changes based on experiences in life.

“The power of metaphors rest in their ability to generate new understandings and new actions”

A metaphor by itself has no intrinsic meaning, but it can be full of possibility. It can give people a capacity to explore and think beyond, generate new insights and new opportunities. Metaphors are neither right or wrong, true or false, they always have strengths and but also limitations. The limitations can be used as “growth points” for new insights. Metaphors provide views to “multiple truths”, also contradictory items. Different metaphors create different conceptual domains, can be utilized for learning and change management.
Metaphors can be used actively in discussions, dialogue, stories, learning materials etc. and supported by communication, in selection of words, key messages, images etc. Metaphors can be judged in terms of
insight and leverage – what metaphor allows you to do (new understanding, new actions…)

Examples of metaphors from various areas

From mythology

  • Icarus paradox – when excellence becomes your weakness
  • Plato’s Cave – limitation of understanding of various levels of reality

From arts & literature

  • Alice in Wonderland: Queens cricket game – changing rules in turbulent business environments
  • Faustus: selling your soul – human motivations

From nature & science

  • Animals: Platypus – challenging the current theories, categories and thinking
  • Plants: Spider plant – the similarity of the whole and the parts
  • Ecosystems and gardens – networked societies and businesses, emphasis on care and livelihood
  • Science: Chaos theory, systems, fractals and butterfly effect – change in complex and dynamic systems

From social systems

  • Sports and games: sailing, martial arts, team cycling – human behavior, team work and competencies in changing environment
  • Music organizations: jazz bands, symphony orchestras
  • Weather forecasting – dilemmas of forecasting, short term and long term changes
  • War (Clausewitch, Sun Tzu, guerilla war and terrorism) – elements of strategic thinking
  • Disaster relief – sense and respond, dynamic temporary organizations reflecting to unexpected changes

Using metaphors can be powerful. They inspire discussion and dialogue. However,they can easily be confusing and misleading as well.  Since our perception also related to metaphors vary.

One thought on “Metaphors and Learning

  1. @minlii Thanks for the flashback. Those salons were some of the most rapid learning sessions that I’ve ever had. In hindsight, it was a real luxury to take a day off and focus on interactive learning. We all had questions, we each had some answers … and the series of sessions gave us time to make real progress on harder research issues.

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