Release Your Metaphors

Recently, Josh Ross noted how the metaphor of business as war is changing into a metaphor of voluntary cooperation. People are speaking about making their businesses more social. At the surface, this might seem like when the conversation was about making Web sites more interactive. This isn’t fashion. It isn’t the latest technique for improving retention. It’s a rip tide pulling us into the future and Facebook has been paddling madly in the same direction.

Sadaam Hussein

As Josh rattled off several business-as-war metaphors, I thought of the work of Lloyd deMause at The Institute for Psychohistory. In particular, I reflected on the powerful metaphor of the Killer Woman who appears in popular culture prior to cultures launching into war. These metaphors are gels filtering the light of truth. You may be aware that something’s not quite right, but the mood is certainly colored.

In business, it feels natural to slip into aggressive language towards our competitors and our clients. Some of us slip easily into the role of crusader, sacking the infidels at all costs. If we’re lucky, someone hasn’t paid attention from the beginning. They stumble into the bad movie unfolding and ask everyone, “why are you watching this terrible shit?”

I recall a year where the company I worked for was on a wonderful run for a client flush with cash. We were expanding into new departments and ready to please. Christmas approached and managers were eager to dispose of budgets. A request came to build something like a hit piece on the client’s competitor. The idea rolled along for a while. Usually, the engineering team was the last to hear of projects, sometimes not until creative was finished. My team was were the latecomers wandering into a bad movie. To the credit of the entire team, we regretfully refused to sacrifice our integrity.

Josh says our habit of discussing business as war obscures the truth, makes us complete the mission without regard for the greater value. The new social metaphor aligns with human needs. People need relationships. They need to cooperate. We need to trust each other. We need to know our authentic selves. Without an aggressive metaphor to get in the way, we gravitate towards this type of interaction.

"Making the world more open and connected"

I heard Mark Zuckerberg say the purpose of Facebook is to encourage greater connectedness and openness between everyone. This isn’t a strategy for ending war metaphors. It’s a strategy for ending war. I heard Stefan Molyneux say that the way we end violence is through multi-generational improvement of parenting. This is the corollary to deMause’s theory that war is a symptom of child abuse.

I knew I had to write this piece when an unsolicited ad for Guy Kawasaki‘s new book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, dropped into my inbox. He says his book “explains how to create delightful, voluntary, and mutually-beneficial relationships with people.” Ten years ago, Guy released a book called Rules For Revolutionaries.

Metaphors matter. The leading edge of our culture is using more life-affirming metaphors. I won’t ask you to execute the old metaphors. Release them. Free them to help us in other ways. Embrace the new metaphors. This is how we change the world.

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