Metaphor overkill

31 May, 2007

Why is it that so many people in the IT industry explain themselves using metaphors? The more manager you become the more metaphors people tend to use. I have heard them all the past years: From trains leaving the stations, to riding in the wrong cars, shaking the porcelain closet, building houses (sometimes complete cities), playing with lego, making food, flying birds and so on (feel free to post your favorite metaphor)….
Of course metaphors have their use, but please don’t use metaphors by default. Interestingly enough according to Dave Thomas at QCon (unfortunately I missed this talk) especially highly intelligent people tend to explain themselves using metaphors. Keep that in mind the next time someone uses a metaphor to explain themselves to you…
So I say only use metaphors when you are not understood. Instead of saying that the train is almost at the station, just say the deadline is coming close. Don’t say how many miles per hour you’d expect us to program (which is of course silly unless the team is actually in a train), but say I thought you would go twice as fast. People can understand that. Try us!

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Akanksha Gupta
Akanksha Gupta
15 years ago

i think beauty lies in simplicity and that is what is explained in this article. nice one!

15 years ago

Hi Lars,
Most of the time if a situation is too complex to understand, it’s probably better to find the right abstraction. This determines your subject and focus better than using metaphors.
BTW, you there’s a contradiction here: “The more manager you become the more metaphors people tend to use” and “Interestingly enough according to Dave Thomas at QCon especially highly intelligent people tend to explain themselves using metaphors”
Do you agree with Dave? 😉
Keep on blogging!

15 years ago

Hi Lars,
Try explaining SOA to businesspeople. The use of legoblock helps. Try telling wat an ESB can be. Stories with titles “lets take the bus” help. That’s not because the people you try to explain it to are fools. Or the one that use the metaphor is a fool. Any intelligent fool (a contradictio in terminus too) can make things look bigger and more complicated. Don’t you think We want to speak the same language and meet ‘somewhere’ where we can understand each other? And add some humour.
You IT guys tend to use a lot of 3 and 4 letter acronyms. Kind of secret language for whom is not in this business.
Managers tend to use more metaphors because they want their message to be sexy, hopefully inspiring and appropiate to the culture of the company. And you must know culture is about stories (trains, travel)
Managers in the IT industry perhaps use a bit of both because the act in both worlds?
I dont like the excessive use of metaphors myself (because i’m not intelligent?) I like the use of quotes: How about this one: “Things should be made as simple as possible but not any simpler” From A. Einstein.
Ok, i will end with some metaphors:
In the heart of the matter, a sunny smile and lets not fight like cats and dogs.
Be well and benevolent

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