Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Bandwidth" and other unhelpful metaphors

I have a friend and colleague on a non-profit board who frequently complains that our organization “lacks bandwidth” to do this or that.

The image has limited his perception of our problem. I have the feeling that he isn’t alone — that the metaphor, and other computer images like it, are common in organizations.

The problem with the bandwidth image is that it suggests a solution that

a) requires money (one buys more bandwidth) and

b) is probably technological (in this case, the size of a data pipeline).

The fact is that our organization doesn’t require more money (although that would be nice) and its needs aren’t technological.

Simply put, we need more concerned, dedicated volunteers to join us. A simple invitation or an alluring event might do the job.

I’m increasingly sensitive to how our chosen metaphors narrow and distort our perceptions and hence our options. They cramp our understanding and bar us from solutions.

Warnings about the dangers of choosing the wrong metaphor are hardly a new. Vis George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their “Metaphors We Live By.”

When we find ourselves stuck in our thinking it is often because our defining metaphor has led us astray.

The answer to the problem often lies in asking more questions: What metaphor are we relying on? Is it helpful or misleading? Does it unduly narrow our options? Do we need to change the metaphor?

What would happen if we untethered ourselves and used no metaphor at all?

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home