King Lear, Act IV, Scene 6 (Enter Gloucester and Edgar in peasant’s clothes)
Gloucester When Shall I come to the top of that same hill?
Edgar You do climb it now. Look how we labour.
Gloucester Methinks the ground is even.
Edgar Horrible steep. Hark, do you hear the sea?
Gloucester No, truly.
Edgar Why then your other senses grow imperfect by your eyes’ anguish.
Gloucester So may it be indeed.
In this scene in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edgar, son of the nobleman Gloucester, pretends to take Gloucester to Dover Cliff after one of Lear’s daughters, Regan, and her husband Cornwall, have blinded him due to his alleged treason. Edmund waits as Gloucester prays to the gods to forgive him before falling to the ground – in the mistaken belief that he has thrown himself off Dover Cliff. Gloucester quickly revives from his ‘fall’ – but is still unaware that there was no cliff to fall from.
The imaginary cliff in King Lear was a useful metaphor for the process I used in the first half of my PhD: and soon I became aware that other post-grads were using some equally intriguing metaphors. Mountains, fog, mazes were all pretty common – but one colleague saw his as a gigantic toad sat in the middle of a one way street in front of a brick wall. I’m not sure if he ever completed his process.
The metaphors we use to steer our businesses by are critical and whatever your metaphor of choice, you need (to be liberal with the words of the Pink Floyd track) to Be Careful with that Metaphor Eugene.
Using Titanic metaphors for developing your business will end in tears (floods of them); if you see your business as a canoe paddling down the river, try and adjust your thinking of rough times as white water rapids rather than as an imminent waterfall; if it seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel, try to encapsulate it as and end of the tunnel, and not a train rushing down the track to meet you.
Shaping your own metaphors is a powerful way of learning, developing your business and telling your own story in your own (or even Pink Floyd’s) words.