Sports Analogies LO16686

Michael N. Erickson (
Mon, 26 Jan 1998 08:18:04 -0800 (PST)

Replying to LO16660 --


I'm a cartoonist who works in an intensive engineering environment, and I
depend on metaphor and analogy to do my work. I've concluded that
metaphor and analogy are the "right brain" counterpart to "left brain"
facts and data processing. Various people in this conversation assert
that all this metaphor cloggs up our ability to see reality. I think I
agree with Steve Eskow, and believe we can't comprehend reality without

On Sun, 18 Jan 1998, Dr. Steve Eskow wrote:>
> Steve Levy--and his wife--speculate on why some of us--mostly, they
> suspect, macho males--use sports analogies.
> Steve suggests that there is something out there which might be called
> "reality" ,which we can find if we stop insisting on looking for it
> through the tinted glasses of metaphor. (How about that "tinted glasses"
> metaphor?)
> >
> Can we really do without metaphor and look at reality without it?
> Consider, for example, the metaphor is Steve's paragraph: how many are
> there?
> The obvious ones, of course, leap out at us.("Leap"? Hmm...)
> "Heightened": clearly a spatial metaphor, implying that there is something
> called a "state" (another metaphor, of course) that can be "higher" or
> "lower". Is "higher" better than "lower," and if yes, why?How do I measure
> this height: or is there "really" no "state" and no "height" in that
> "reality" you're asking us to look at directly. .....

God gave us two sides of a brain for a reason. Without facts and data we
can't measure anything or schedule anything or design and build anything.
Without metaphor or alegory, we can't get our minds around the really big
complex things we encounter in our life. So many times I've worked with
engineers who are quite litterally "wrapped around the axel" with the
complexity of their work (hows that for a metaphor?).

Things are so complex that they find it impossible to plot a reasonable
course of action or make coherent decisions that will move the design
process along. So along comes this cartoonist (me) who askes them to talk
about this complex stuff analogously. (trying to say "what is this

Once the engineer gets over the initial scepticism or gives in an plays
the "game", and starts coming up with analogies, it is amazing how the
whole dynamic begins to change. This "thing" we don't really understand,
is like this other "thing" we DO understand - in the following ways...

I can't express how amazing it is when these intensly facts and data
oriented folks start talking about monsters and flying rhinos, and as they
begin to explore their work from an analogous perspective, they begin to
think about it differently and start making connections in their minds
between big ideas and other big ideas-that were there all the time, but
they couldn't see them before. These folks actually get into creative
space and start breaking their mentel blocks and create wonderful stuff.

The truth is that we will NEVER see reality. We only have our 5 senses
and our emagination-and our heads are full of pictures that we hope
interpret all the sensory stuff into some sort of cartoon that describes
reality. Senges notion about mental models is true-we must continuously
re-evaluate those pictures, and if we refuse to use part of our mental
tool set to do that, then we are severly limiting our capacity to improve
and grow, design, change, etc.

So please don't knock the use of metaphor. It's really powerful when it
comes to exploring really big ideas. The best example that I can find
where metaphorical thought comes to life is in the christian Bible, where
Jesus tells parables. "The kingdom of heaven is like..."

Since the metaphysical concepts these stories discuss are well outside
human experience and ability to measure, sense or validate with our
sensess (or instrumentation) the only way to view them is through the
notions that: "this thing we don't know is like this other thing we DO
know, in the following ways..."

Don't limit yourself to things you can see, touch or measure. You mind is
capable of learning and exploring well beyond those limits-provided you
are willing to take that risk.


Michael Erickson
Organizational Cartoonist, Boeing DCAC/MRM


"Michael N. Erickson" <>

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