September 14, 2017


I have always loved metaphors and analogies. Stumbling upon a really great metaphor always feels like discovering hidden treasure (see what I did there?... :-))

Metaphors are pervasive
Research says that we use 6 metaphors a minute (!) - at first this seems impossible, but once we tune into metaphors, it soon becomes apparent just how pervasive they are.

I spent some time to do some digging and finally found the original reference for the 6 metaphors per minute statistic in Pollio et al 1977. The book says that speakers ‘use about an average of 1.80 novel and 4.08 frozen figures per minute’. So that equates to more or less two novel i.e. expressions unique to the individual and four "frozen" expressions i.e. expressions so baked into our cultural language that we're no longer aware of them.

Let's see how good you are at metaphor spotting: Read the paragraph above and see how many you can find before you continue reading ...

Here are some of the more obvious ones ...

‘Frozen’, also 'did some digging' and "baked into". I didn't actually take a spade to dig around for facts nor did someone actually put metaphors in an oven.

Less obvious ones include "the book says" ... (books don't actually speak); and perhaps even less obvious "I spent some time" - such a common expression that we no longer realise that we're metaphorically equating time to currency.

Metaphors are powerful
Robert Shaw wrote

“You don't see something until you have the right metaphor to perceive it"

I think of metaphors as scaffolds of thought; they are generative in that they allow for the emergence of new understanding by scaffolding the novel with the known. I find that in my work of answering the "so what?" of complexity, metaphor and analogy are the tools I most often employ to open people's minds to new ideas. I also find that more than the theory, or even the stories I use, people remember these metaphors.

Creating an anthology
So I've decided to create an anthology of sorts here on my blog - to share over time the metaphors I use in my complexity work.

Join me on this journey by sending your own favorite metaphors (or by adding them to the comments section). Be sure to follow this blog or subscribe to my mailing list so that you don't miss out.

So let the metaphor journey begin!

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