Analogies and Metaphors

One of the great secrets of eminent speakers and leading management gurus is the ability to use vivid examples to illustrate a particular theory or idea. These anecdotes help to make difficult concepts come alive and to be more contextually relevant and interesting to readers, listeners and viewers alike. What I would call the wonderful and whimsical art of story telling.

A simple way to employ story-telling techniques is to use analogies and metaphors. These draw on people's familiarity with day-to-day experiences and contexts. Common examples are food, nature, marriage, art, and music. By painting these mental pictures, you are better able to connect with your audiences and to allow them to better understand more abstract concepts.

Business journalists, consultants and politicians are especially adept at this. In fact, many key management ideas and theories draw from other disciplines. They include military strategy (Sun Tzu's Art of War, Guerrilla Marketing), ecology (Value Chain, Business Eco-system), sports (leadership coaching, mentoring, teamwork), and performing arts (experiential marketing, experience economy) amongst others.

The language of love is especially steeped in metaphors and analogies. Many of us would have heard of the famous Songs of Solomon in the Bible, which uses plant and animal parts to describe two lovers in hot pursuit of each other. There is of course tonnes of soppy sweet nothings and teenage love poems which use metaphors and similes - eg "You are like the sweet dew of the morning" or "Your hair smells like a thousand roses blooming in the garden". Shudder.

My personal favourites are - you probably would have guessed - nature metaphors. I believe that there is no new idea under the Sun that cannot be related to the seasons, ecology, wildlife and even microbial activity. Even the new media can be related to a tropical forest, as seen in my earlier post!

A word of warning though. When using metaphors, be careful that you do not descent into yawn-inducing cliches. A cliche or stereotype is an example which has been so overused - to the point of ad nauseum - that it no longer has any effect on anybody. Hmmm... maybe I should start telling myself that more often!