Facilitator Journal | Issue #0157 | June 15, 2004 | 8,000 Subscribers...
This week we explore the concept of metaphor as a powerful group process
tool for facilitators. Our article, "Changing
Figures of Thought: How Generative
Metaphors Uncover New Potential,"
explores the six steps of generative metaphor development and some
keys to helping groups redefine their metaphors to better serve their
Also this week, Hannah Wilder will be our guest at our next Micro-Skills
Tele-Seminar this Thursday, June 17th
at 1:00 PM EDT,
where we'll learn some perspective on the dynamic relationship between
Politics (Power), Cultural Diversity, and Sustainability
that might help us work with global leaders as coaches and facilitators.
I wanted to also let you know that I'll be presenting at the
upcoming International Association of Facilitators conference in Scottsdale
this June. If you plan on attending, please considering coming to
my presentation, "The Random Acts of Facilitation Playshop,"
Saturday afternoon (you can register on the conference site) and/or
send me an email about us connecting live at the conference as I'd
love to meet you in person.
any of you have any interesting stories or experiences about facilitation,
group process, work groups, team building, training, etc. that might interest
our readers, please email
them to us.
Figures of Thought
How Generative Metaphors Uncover
The exploration and management of "Metaphor" is a powerful group
process tool for facilitators as agents of change. Whether you're engaged
in facilitating experiential learning, problem-solving, strategic planning,
or change management, everyone is operating within a given set of metaphors
or mental models that define their reality. From this perspective, one
approach to tapping into higher individual and group potentials can occur
by facilitating the change of one's metaphors.
First, let's take a quick look at the definition of "metaphor"
just so we're on the same page.
Metaphor: 1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase
that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus
making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world's
a stage” (Shakespeare). 2. One thing conceived as representing another;
a symbol, e.g., “The ship plows the sea, or ``All the world's a stage.''
The second definition
best fits our purposes here where a metaphor can be considered a "figure
of thought." Because we think in images, helping people become conscious
of the images (metaphors) that best represent their collective experience
can be very revealing and empowering. This is true because our images
define the boundaries of our experience, filtering and allowing in only
a subset of all available information. Changing our images or metaphors,
changes our filtering system and hence our experience.
So by facilitating the development of new images that generate new potential,
we usher in "generative metaphors."
Here is an example provided by Johan Hovelynck of the development of generative
A few years ago
I gave two friends of mine a hand finishing the electric wiring in their
house. For this purpose long and narrow plastic pipes had been laid
through the brick walls while constructing years earlier. Every single
one of these pipes contained a string, that would allow us now to pull
the wiring through. Unfortunately, one of these strings had been pulled
by accident and left us with a 8m long curved pipe without a means to
pull the electric wire. We first tried to just push it through, but
the wire wasn’t rigid enough to make that work. So we reinforced it
with wire and tried again. It lasted a while before we got frustrated
with this strategy, realizing it wouldn’t work despite efforts to reinforce
the wire with all sorts of things. Amidst the frustration came the idea
- first as a joke - to flush rather than push the wire. Water! From
‘water’ our thinking shifted to ‘air’, and only a few minutes later
we had tied a tiny piece of fabric to a sewing thread and sucked it
all the way through the pipe with the vacuum cleaner. The wire followed.
Sometimes it pays off to take jokes seriously... The original set-up
being a string to pull, our initial image had been one of pulling and
pushing: our minds were set on ‘mechanics’. As it became increasingly
clear that our mechanical thinking didn’t allow us to solve our problem,
we accommodated ‘hydraulic’ and ‘pneumatic’ metaphors. All of a sudden
it became easy: the point was in our problem-setting rather than in
in his book, "Generative metaphor: a perspective on problem setting
in social policy," describes the process of metaphor development
in different stages that are easily recognizable in the above story.
Immersion in the Experience. A first important phase
consists of people’s immersion in the experience. We were pushing and
pulling wires with different methods. Despite our getting better at pulling
and pushing, the feeling grew that this would not work.
Triggering the Generative Metaphor. In the midst of this,
the generative image was triggered: sucking. We stopped looking at our
problem as if it were a mechanical one, and re-imagined it as a pneumatic
Unarticulated Sense of Similarity. It seems important
to notice that, at first, we didn’t have a precise idea of where to go
with this idea, but we somehow felt it could apply to our situation. Schön
called this ‘an unarticulated sense of similarity’.
Naming and Framing. An immediate consequence of this
new perspective was a change of vocabulary: we ‘reframed and renamed’.
We didn’t talk about strength, length and rigidity anymore, but about
weight and volume.
Explicit Account of Similarities: "Mapping."
Only then, Schön points out, follows ‘an explicit account of similarities’:
we ‘mapped’ how the image of sucking would apply to a situation that until
then we had looked at as one that needed pulling or pushing.
New Solutions. The result was a new approach, and a solution.
Jokes often carry new metaphors. In the story above, the image
that eventually led to the solution was first presented as a joke. The
"flushing" idea wasn't meant seriously. It was an attempt to
lighten things while feeling stuck. Jokes often carry new metaphors: after
all the point of a joke is an interruption of the expected line of thought.
If the new image is carried further into task strategies however, it tends
to open up new options.
Leave the problem. Another way to cope with growing frustration
is to take a break. Here again it seems that this interruption is a chance
to break with the line of thought the group is getting stuck in as well
as with the frustration itself: generative metaphors seem to regularly
come up right after breaks.
Metaphors hold possibilities and restrictions. As group members
enact their images, they may get stuck in the situation they created.
Help them find an image that depicts their dilemma, then a new one that
might serve them better.
"Stuckness" as an entry to metaphor change. When people
are stuck, they may be more receptive to seeing things differently or
to intervention by the facilitator to help them explore new perspectives.
Therefore, it's important for facilitators to be sensitive to "stuckness"
indicators which might include: disengagement, silences, repetition of
events or conversations that don't offer a solution, facial expressions,
sighs, changes in voice sound, etc.
How might you use generative metaphors in your work with groups or in
your own life situations this week? Please email
us your thoughts or experiences on this.
Facilitation Expert Series
Like a Global Leader:
Understand how political,
cultural, and sustainability issues affect teams, organizations, and their
leaders. Featuring Hannah
Executive Cross-Cultural Coach, Speaker, Author, and President of Advantara
Executive Development Worldwide, Inc. and The Academic Global Executive
Coach Training Institute
Attend this one-hour tele-seminar on
Thursday, June 17th at 1:00 PM EDT (NY Time) with Hannah
Wilder and Steve
"Just in Time" Learning
companies move from national to global they are being called on to operate
with new savvy in politically and culturally diverse contexts. They are
also being watched by stakeholders, clients, and international business
and political bodies for their record on corporate and environmental responsibility
and sustainability. Consequently,
as of 2002, 140 U.S. based Fortune 1,000 companies have established some
form of sustainable business practices. 73% see sustainable practices
important and are planning to develop some level of these practices in
Increasingly, facilitators and coaches will be called upon to be familiar
with and support business clients and colleagues in understanding the
dynamic relationship between Politics
(Power), Cultural Diversity, and Sustainability. A company's reputation
as a global citizen is having an increasing impact on its economic success
as media, stakeholders, and clients watch for flexibility and sustainability.
this one-hour tele-seminar with Hannah Wilder, PhD. and
Davis to explore how political,
cultural, and sustainability issues affect teams, organizations, and their
leaders on Thursday, June 17th at
1:00 PM EDT (NY Time). Some of the points we'll discuss are...
What's the link between political, cultural, and sustainability issues
and why is this important to coaches and facilitators?
has a lot of connotations, not all of them appealing, especially these
days. What do you mean by the term" and how is it important for global
executives and their teams?
Explain the models and dynamics of "Power" and it's implications
for policy-making in organizations.
What do you mean by the term sustainability and how does it apply to developing
global leaders and managers?
Expose the myth that embracing sustainable practices only pays off in
Explain the concept of the Triple Bottom Line: 1) Economic, 2) Social,
and 3) Environmental.
We are starting to hear a bit about intercultural coaching. What's the
relevance of this for developing global executives?
What are the most common mistakes that global executives and coaches make
with regard to cultural issues?
Expose the myth regarding Women as leaders in the international arena,
and their performance in top positions.
So what do you recommend we do as coaches and facilitators to approach
these issues with the leaders and organizations we work with?
What kind of training or coaching is needed to play in this arena?
And, answers to any questions you bring to the teleclass.
Affairs Resource Library.
Links to over 2200 articles, including those on world religion, media.
2. "Culture Shock in Corporate America."
Article by Susan Davidson based on her research with foreign nationals
entering the US corporate arena.
3. 25 Articles on Global Leadership and
4. Managing Diversity. An
article about managing diversity using a Strategic Planned Change Approach.
5. Politics, Cultural Diversity and Sustainability:
Article about Supporting Global Corporations and their Leaders in Becoming
Conscious Global Citizens
About Hannah. Hannah is
President and CEO of the global executive coaching company, Advantara
Leadership Development Worldwide and Founding Director of Academia Global
Executive Coach Training Institute. With a background in global marketing
and communications, Hannah has worked with executives and executive coaches
in diverse functional areas in the private, public and non-profit sectors
from over 45 countries in North America, East and West Europe, Africa,
Latin America, and Asia. She is a widely published author, keynote speaker,
and frequent presenter on global executive coaching. Visit here websites
at: .www.advantara.com and www.academiacoachtraining.com.
for details about this interview, the bonuses, and registration.
We Live by, by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson
People use metaphors every time they speak. Some of those metaphors are
literary - devices for making thoughts more vivid or entertaining. But most
are much more basic than that - they're "metaphors we live by",
metaphors we use without even realizing we're using them. In this book,
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson suggest that these basic metaphors not only
affect the way we communicate ideas, but actually structure our perceptions
and understandings from the beginning. Bringing together the perspectives
of linguistics and philosophy, Lakoff and Johnson offer an intriguing and
surprising guide to some of the most common metaphors and what they can
tell us about the human mind. And for this new edition, they supply an afterword
both extending their arguments and offering a fascinating overview of the
current state of thinking on the subject of the metaphor.
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