Metaphors are used to capture attention and explain complex things by
comparing them to something familiar to the audience. The business
metaphors chosen often have nothing new to say and are just a
different way of saying it.
These metaphors tends to look for parallels when we would learn more
by focusing on the troubling differences. Military metaphors are
common but business is not like war. However strategic, combative and
targeted business is it is not about life and death.
I am guilty of writing articles that use the Mafia and the film the
Godfather as a business metaphor. I have recently referenced Star Trek
and the Borg to explain the difference between integration and
assimilation in organisations striving to promote equality and
diversity. I favour sports metaphors particularly football. Clearly
organised crime is not simply an extension of normal business
practices minus the violence. The illegal drugs trade and gang culture
is about money, power, loyalty and betrayal which may make for
comparisons with the board room but the context is completely
different. The Premiere League with its language of league tables,
performance, motivation and focus on charismatic leaders is so
prevalent in the media it’s hard to resist making comparison with
other business. But the funding and business model of clubs is based
on making a loss and only being viable due to the ,” generosity” of
Russian Oligarchs or a policy of sports wash by totalitarian regimes.
Military metaphors may convey , urgency, passion, resilience and
leadership but they also convey aggression, unquestioning obedience
and the end justifies the means morality when what businesses need is
to cooperate, to encourage initiative, to negotiate and to be ethical.
A similar comments could be made about comparing the violent world of
organised crime and how successful businesses operate. When it comes
to sport comparing the successful leadership styles of managers like
Brian Clough or Alex Ferguson is more interesting than relevant, the
fact is the age of the charismatic leader in business has had it’s day.
The use of business metaphors can paint a picture that the audience
can immediately relate to. Metaphors need to be used with caution if
mixed messages are not to be sent to employees and partner
agencies/organisations hence current thinking that military metaphors
are best avoided. The metaphor rarely gives a new insight but there is
value in finding a different ways of saying the same thing. Finally
deconstructing a popular business metaphor can be a helpful aid to