I have been wondering many times why it seems so difficult for certain people to change some of their old habits in favor of new (better) ones. Even if you provide numerous rational arguments why a new habit could be beneficial, people just don’t seem to be able to dislearn the old habit. This has a lot to do with the inner workings of the human brain and is documented behavior called the Ladder of Inference. The Ladder shows how most people often tend to fallback to single-loop learning instead of double or even triple-loop learning and thus are not open to new realities, however valid these are. People’s assumptions and beliefs filter any new experience and are one of the main reasons why it is sometimes so difficult to convince someone. So it would be nice if we could influence people to climb down the inference ladder, learn them some NEW insights, and let them reclimb the ladder again with new insights. I have the hypothesis that delicately choosen metaphors can help in conveying a new meaning or a new message to a theme under consideration. If supported by the right kind of visualization, metaphors are worth their value in gold and should stimulate to abandon single-loop learning practices. Or to speak with Thomas Kuhn: you don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it. So we need to have some kind of metaphor management here: not only carefully selecting the metaphor that needs to be explained, but also the supporting visualisation that helps people convey new meaning. A good metaphor is then nothing more than a model of some new reality you want to explain to someone else. A good metaphor should leave behind some permanent trace in the receivers brain. In that case it will not only be remembered very good but can also be re-visualised in new contexts.
Lets say you want to explain the difference between interoperability and integration. A metaphor that can help visualizing this example topic could be according to the figure below. I like to refer to this figure as “Interoperability eats Integration” and will write about this in another post.
Suppose you explained that the small fishes on the left represent Interoperability (let’s call this the Interop fish) and that the big fish on the right represents Integration (let’s call this the Integration fish). Now you can easily start explaining differences and commonalities. For instance, the Interop fish could be used to explain that it has a high redundancy (it doesn’t matter if one or a few small fishes get lost, because the others still “interop” together to form a big fish). The integrated fish however represents a single point of failure and is more vulnerable in that sense. The interop fish is highly modular, loosely coupled by the integrate fish is only one tightly coupled module. The interop fish is highly adaptive to it’s environment and can quickly change direction. The integrated fish, because it’s big and slow, will not be able to adapt as quickly. So especially for larger organizations, having a (small) collection of highly effective metaphors should be able to help achieving better collective mental models, especially around complex themes.