Metaphor - Atkintek

Peter Atkinson
MG1051 Organizational Behaviour
Today’s Lecture
• Why Metaphor?
• How Metaphor Works
• Using Metaphor for understanding
• Exercise
Why Metaphor?
• We think in metaphors, often
without realising it
• Metaphors are integral to language
• Finding metaphors in what people
say tells us how they think
• Using metaphors in what we say
reinforces our message
Things Like Metaphors
• Metaphor: a figure of speech that describes a subject by
asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same
as another otherwise unrelated object.
– All the world’s a stage
• I. A. Richards - metaphor has two parts: the tenor and the
– World = tenor
– Stage = vehicle
• Similie: It’s like banging your head against a wall!
• Metonymy: something is called by the name of something
associated with it rather than by its own name
– American film industry = Hollywood
Thinking in Metaphors
• Why did I break up with my boyfriend? Well,
the relationship wasn’t going anywhere.
• New York City is a zoo!
• My room mate is a caveman.
• My last school was a sausage machine.
• Being a student at Brunel is like being given a
bowl of cherries
Other Side of Metaphor
• When you use a metaphor you are proposing
a simplified view
• This simplification allows you to focus on the
aspect which you want to emphasise
• By doing so you exclude other aspects which
may be there in reality
How Metaphor Works 1
• My car is a garden shed!
• My car is like a garden shed because:
– It often fails to move
– It is roughly assembled
– It doesn’t have any engineering sophistication
– It was cheap to buy
How Metaphor Works 2
• My car is a garden shed!
• My car is not like a garden shed because:
– It is a vehicle not a building
– It has wheels not foundations
– It is made of metal not wood
Dead Metaphors
• In my examination I had to write an essay about
the importance of milestones in project
• In – examination is a container
• Examination - inspection
• Essay - attempt
• Milestone – stones laid out at one mile intervals
along a road
• Project – throw forward
• Management – handling, especially horses
Conceptual Metaphors
• Metaphors that work on you unconsciously:
“Studying for my test tomorrow is draining”
Brain = a tank or reservoir
“Inflation is bad for our economy”
Expanding in size = value of money decreasing
“She is in danger”
Danger = a place
“He had a breakdown”
Mind = machine
”The experience was shattering”/”He’s cracking up”
Mind = brittle object
Common Conceptual Metaphors
• State = container “I was in a panic”
• Time = moving object “I just want to get through the next
Communication = conduit “I couldn’t get through to him”
Activity = substance “Studying is hard”
Argument = war “Whatever I say, I can’t win”
Theory = building “What foundation do you have for saying
• Relationship = journey “I get along with my boss”
Spatial Metaphors
• The car is in front of the tree
Ups and Downs
• Unconscious use of spatial metaphors:
Happy is Up – Sad is Down
Conscious is Up – Unconscious is Down
Health and Life are Up – Sickness and Death are Down
Having control is Up – Being subject to control is
More is Up – Less is Down
High status is Up – Low status is Down
Good is Up – Bad is Down
Rational is Up – Emotional is Down
Organizational Metaphors
• “I have built this business from the bottom up
and I have built it on firm foundations. The
trouble is I can’t get it to move forwards!”
• “By the end of this campaign we should have
increased our market share. Our target is 50%
of the UK market.”
• Human Resources
• Apple (brand name)
Morgan’s 8 Organisational Metaphors
Using Metaphor - example
• Consultant looking at a business that needed fundamental
(transformational) change not a little amount, a step-at-a-time
(developmental) change
• “What the manager really wanted was for people to leave behind
the old ways, and to reinvent the organization. But he kept talking
to them about building upon past successes, and exhorting them to
greater efforts at further development. The change metaphors he
was using with his staff were inconsistent with the type of change
he was trying to implement”.
• His diagnosis was for the manager to align his language, and his
metaphors in use, with the type of change he wished to achieve.
Akin and Palmer (2000) “Putting Metaphors to Work for Change in Organizations”.
Using Metaphor
• Group exercises:
• Think of an organisation you are all familiar with
eg. London Transport, NHS, Brunel University…
• What metaphor could you use to describe it? –
give at least 3 examples of how your metaphor
helps to understand it
• If you wanted to improve your organisation, what
metaphor would you use to describe how you
would like it to be? - give at least 3 examples of
how the metaphor would help you to change it
• What have we learned about metaphor?
– Vehicle + Tenor
– Can work unconsciously
– Language is inherently metaphorical so that, for
example, we don’t even notice when we use the
body metaphor
– Metaphors tell us how people are thinking
– Metaphors help to change people’s minds
• Further Reading
– G Lakoff and M Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By, Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
– G Morgan (2006) Images of Organization, Thousand Oaks, Ca.:
– G Morgan (1981) The Schismatic Metaphor and Its Implications
for Organizational Analysis, Organization Studies, 2.
– H Oztel and O Hinz (2001) Changing Organizations with
Metaphors, The Learning Organization, 8.
– Y Gabriel (2006) Myths, Stories and Organizations, Oxford: OUP.
– Y Gabriel (2000) Storytelling in Organizations: Facts, Fictions and
Fantasies, Oxford: OUP.

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