Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Tag: metaphors for training

Metaphors, Business Impacts and Behavioral Anchors

Dan Rockwell, who posts up a lot of very interesting blogs on leadership, posted another one — Jim Collins on Bullets before Cannonballs

He starts it off:

Weak leaders rely on cannonballs. Wise leaders shoot bullets first. During difficult times weak leaders look for big solutions, giant leaps, and dramatic success. Wise leaders take small steps before making giant leaps.

Shoot bullets: Bullets are miniature cannonballs. They’re inexpensive, easy to make, and easy to shoot. Setup is quick. Outcomes are obvious. Test your assumptions by shooting bullets. Difficult times motivate desperate leaders to act on untested assumptions. Wise leaders test ideas and assumptions in low risks, low cost ways. (my re-paragraphing).

My reaction to it was not really great, even though I like the key learning points and I like Jim Collins’ writings and thinking.

Guess the “bullets” thing is more a case of bad timing as much as anything else, given what is happening in the world these days like Aurora and Wisconsin. I think that there are some better ways of presenting the concept metaphorically and I will share why in just a second.

Maybe we should be talking about pebbles and rocks… Or snowflakes and avalanches or raindrops and flash floods or something… But using a metaphor of violence with the current state of things in the country and the class warfare going on all around us is perhaps not the best. Heck, I remember when, “Going Postal” was a common phrase for losing it and going in and shooting one’s fellow workers — and there was a cartoon with a car and two guys parked in front of a US Post Office and the comment was, “I’m going in. Cover me.”

I had a slide I always used when talking about how to motivate people. I used it to set the stage for a better discussion and what it showed was a fist full of money on the left and a gun in a hand on the right as shown below.

How we generally motivate people, A and B.

NOT that I believe either of those were actually correct, but they represent common thinking among most organizations. My thinking about motivation was always about engagement and involvement and ownership, even back to the late 70s.

But I delivered a session for a Savings and Loan on the West Coast and there was this stunned silence from the room when I showed that illustration while talking about ownership and employee engagement. It was a very unusual and surprising reaction, based on 100 or so previous presentations using the same image and concept.

I understood clearly after the end of the session when one of the organizers told me about the robbery and shooting they had had a month earlier. No one thought to mention it to me before the delivery but the one slide essentially froze the whole presentation in the minds of the participants. It was a totally negative behavioral anchor to what should have been a neutral or even funny metaphor.

So, I guess I have not shown that image in a long time — 15 years? I should start using it again, since it really is “timely” in many ways…

But I carefully avoid that metaphor of guns and bullets when trying to make a good learning point because I have gotten a bit gun-shy, I guess. One never knows the mind of the audience or the basis of their personal experiences…

And why are we choosing to use metaphors of violence, anyway?

Guns, bullets, cannon balls? Personally, I’m more comfortable using images of caterpillars changing into butterflies, the idea of Square Wheels turning into Round Wheels, Geese flying in a “V” and on and on.


Oh, when you see a flock of geese or pelicans flying, often one side of the “V” is longer than the other side. Do you know why that is?

There are more geese on that side…  We tend to make things so complicated when they are often just so simple!

Caterpillars can fly, if they just lighten up.

Have FUN out there!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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Metaphors as Tools for Organizational Improvement

Ah, LinkedIn. Sometimes, a post in there just triggers some good thinking on my part (or at least makes me generate a response which I can then use as a blog piece…). This time, it was a post on the Power of Metaphors.

A lot of what I do is all about metaphor – it is about using my Square Wheels One cartoon as an inkblot test to generate perceptions and also about using a facilitation process to elicit and process ideas for organizational improvement and personal development. Call it “facilitative coaching” or some such thing…

Here is what I said in my response:

‘We’ve been playing with a metaphor of a wooden wagon being pulled by a guy with a rope and being pushed from behind by people who cannot see where they are going. The wagon rolls on wooden “Square Wheels” while the cargo of the wagon is round rubber tires.

The metaphor resonates in all kinds of different situations, from boardrooms (where the rope is very very long) to the shop floor (where the View at The Back is very common among workers and supervisors) to situations of counseling and coaching (where “stepping back from the wagon” is most helpful, to the situations where people need to discuss the best practices that already exist and put the wagon up on blocks for a while to play with different ideas.

The pretty darn consistent message that I get from people is that they will remember the workshop many years later. In December, I met a senior manager at a company in Mumbai who remembered a session I delivered in 1994 at an ISPI meeting. I don’t mean that he remembered attending a session that I delivered, I mean that he remembered the cartoons I used and the issues and opportunities that I discussed.

Metaphors are most powerful, and especially when one uses them in a way that is active and not simply the passive receipt of the story. I tell a Moose Joke (you can get the slides free) to close many of my sessions and that is well received. But few people will remember it.

When they sit and contemplate the Square Wheels One cartoon, and generate ideas as a tabletop of participants, and then list the Square Wheels that they perceive are operating in their workplace or their situations and then generate some round wheel possibilities and share them amongst the others to find some Best Practices, those things are remembered really well.

And having fun playing with ideas is important. After all, caterpillars can fly if they would just lighten up!

If only I could remember how to swing a golf club that well…

For the FUN of It!”

Yes, I DO think that we can use storytelling and other kinds of metaphorical interventions to allow people to think of new ways of doing things. And you must know that “their ideas are always better than your ideas.”

By that, I mean that they can come up with ideas that they own and with that ownership, they are much more likely to actually DO something differently regarding that situation, rather than simply nod their heads and pretend that you have their commitment. It is why the issue of commitment so closely ties to the issues of involvement and engagement.

I think metaphors are a great way to lead people forward and to generate the ownership and peer support that will more effectively drive intrinsic motivation toward mastery and improvement.

We can help people move forward by involvement and engagement and new perspectives

Or maybe this one would be a better depiction:

Leaders can lead and involve and engage and implement

Have fun out there!

(see our tools on coaching at http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/Square_Wheels_for_Coaching_p/17.htm)

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