Metaphors are as old as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but it is only in recent decades that their role has been fully understood. Today psychologists understand that metaphors are not just a figure of speech, but rather they have the power to convey meaning, access emotions and shape experiences. That is why the metaphor plays such an important role in the pitstop.
What is a metaphor? Well, here is a great definition: A metaphor is “a weapon of mass understanding”. That is how author Anne Miller describes a metaphor and its power (1).
Whenever one thing is described in terms of another, that’s a metaphor (1). If you are frustrated you might say that you are ‘flogging a dead horse’ – if you are hungry you might say that you could ‘eat a horse.’
“The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.”(3)
Metaphors are a part of everday life. Indeed it seems we are hardwired to use metaphors in our thinking as well as our speech. In describing a person you might say that they are ‘slippery as an eel’, ‘gentle as a lamb’ or ‘cunning as a fox’.
‘…the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor’. (3)
Open the pages of Shakespeare, the Bible or any other old book and you will find the metaphor plays a central role to play. As human beings, we seem to be hardwired to think in metaphor, and to communicate using metaphor.
‘…as generations of storytellers, leaders and people have discovered, we are also hardwired to respond to metaphor—often unconsciously’.(2)
Metaphors are particularly handy when we need to talk about something that is abstract, complex or emotional. We reach for them without actually realizing it.
However metaphors are not just a matter of words or language. They convey meaning. That is what gives them their power.
The metaphors we use influence the questions we ask and the answers we find (4).
The most important aspect of metaphors are the benefits of using them with teams in the Growth Pitstop™, or anywhere else. When people think and talk in metaphors the possibility of accessing new ideas, insights, emotions and connections emerges.
Using metaphors offers the prospect of new insights and awareness, new dialogue and new ideas and innovation. The use of the formula for growth metaphor in the pitstop gets people talking, thinking and seeing the issue of performance and potential in a new way.
Here are some of the reasons why metaphors are powerful:
1. Metaphors can communicate complex concepts, thoughts or emotions without a lot of words. They put abstract concepts into concrete and familiar (or easy to relate to) terms. This is important in dealing with an issue such as strategy that can mean different things to different people. It is also important for working with managers and teams from a diversity of backgrounds and with different native languages.
2. Metaphors condense information and convey meaning through image or association. Some of the most common associations with the racetrack are speed, competition and winning. Others include technology & innovation, driver skill & passion, risk and danger, as well as; discipline, teamwork, money, glamour and so on.
We believe that these associations are more powerful and relevant than the metaphors traditionally used in business: ‘war’, ‘dog eat dog’ or ‘survival of the fittest.’ By contrast the narrative of the Pitstop Meta-model™ is designed to focus on competition, speed and winning. Even the fact that car used to communicate the growth formula is red can have symbolic meaning.
3. Metaphors can allow us to think in deeper and more profound ways(1). They can provide new insights and ideas – the type of break through thinking that organizations need in terms of growth.
4. Metaphors can help us to say things that can be difficult to express. They take the concrete and make it abstract. The power of the growth formula metaphor in de-personalizing and de-politicizing the issue of performance is key to enabling new movement and unlocking revenue potential.
5. Using a metaphor can interrupt old patterns of thinking or talking about something. It can get you thinking about something in a new way and help you to to find (or attach) new meaning to it. This explains why break-through’s and ‘ah-ha!’ moments are a regular feature of the Growth Pitstop and Strategy PitStop.
6. Metaphors can access, trigger or reveal emotions that might otherwise remain hidden. They can act as a bridge between the conscious and the subconscious mind. This is key to understanding the underlying attitudes and motivations in respect of growth; what we call the growth mindset.
7. Metaphors that are visual engage with a more imaginative, intuitive and holistic mode of thinking. They go beyond the linear, logical and analytical approach that can stifle creativity and innovation. This is an important part of the pitstop’s ability to engage with both the ‘left and the right brain’.
Even more exciting is the research showing that metaphors don’t just reveal our thinking – they also shape our experiences. The tantalizing notion is that changing the metaphors we use could change our reality (as we experience it).
Bottom line, how you and your team talk about growth or performance and in particular the metaphors it uses (but may not be aware of) matter. The Growth Pitstop process is designed to put a renewed focus on competition, speed and most of all winning through the deliberate use of the Formula One metaphor.
The subliminal meaning of the Formula for Growth metaphor is let’s start talking (and thinking) more about competition, speed, potential and most of all winning.
(2) Clean Language:Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds, Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees, 2008
(3) Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson, 2003