Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0157 | June 15, 2004 | 8,000 Subscribers...

Dear friends,

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 life situations.

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.

In this Issue:

Feature Article: Changing Figures of Thought: How Generative Metaphors Uncover New Potential

Thinking Like a Global Leader: Our next one-hour tele-seminar with Hannah Wilder happens Thursday, June 17th at 1:00 PM EDT.

Resource: Metaphors We Live by, by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson. Self-Guided Teleclasses.

If 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.

Have a great week!

Steve Davis

Group Process Skill
Changing Figures of Thought
How Generative Metaphors Uncover New Potential
The Point

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 metaphors...

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 problem-solving.


D. Schön, 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 problem.

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.

Key Points

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

Facilitation Micro-Skills Tele-Seminar: "Think Like a Global Leader: Understand how political, cultural, and sustainability issues affect teams, organizations, and their leaders. Featuring Hannah Wilder, Global 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 Davis.

"Just in Time" Learning

As 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 their businesses.

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.

Attend this one-hour tele-seminar with Hannah Wilder, PhD. and Steve 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?
"Political" 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 the long-term.
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.

Five Free Bonuses!

1."International 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 Ethics.

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: and

Click here for details about this interview, the bonuses, and registration.


Metaphors 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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