Art in business: The power of metaphors

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RAYMUND B. HABARADAS

RAYMUND B. HABARADAS

Having taught business and management subjects for almost two decades, I have experimented on different ways to make the learning process more interesting and engaging for my students, especially those taking up MBA. One of the more effective techniques, based on the feedback of my students, is the use of creative exercises in class.

Last week, in my Management Action Research class, we discussed how issues could be framed either as problems or opportunities. We learned that individuals in the workplace, given their diverse backgrounds, would see issues from different perspectives. Using the fable of the “Six Blind Men and the Elephant” as a take-off point, I highlighted how managers and employees in many business organizations can sometimes suffer from a very limited view of an issue or problem situation, given the specialized nature of their tasks. To get a broader understanding of organizational issues, it helps to construct these issues jointly, through both dialogue and debate, until organizational members come up with a consensus on how to move forward.

After using the elephant and the six blind men as an analogy for how employees view organizational issues, I proceeded with discussing ‘metaphor’, a common form of analogy that is utilized in various aspects of our lives, such as music, literature, and advertising. To illustrate, I read George Peele’s “What thing is love?” while flashing the poem onscreen, and asked my students to identify the metaphors Peele used as a vehicle to describe the abstract concept called ‘love’. This generated active participation and light-hearted laughter in class, setting the mood for our next exercise.

Handing out scratch papers to my students, I asked them to fold their own papers so as to create quadrants. For each of the quadrants, I asked them to complete a sentence by drawing an object that will serve as metaphor for the certain aspects of their respective organizations. In the first quadrant, they must complete the sentence “My company is…”; in the second quadrant: “My boss is…”; in the third quadrant: “My co-workers are…”; and in the fourth quadrant: “My work is…”. I then asked them to form groups of four or five so that they can share their metaphors with each otherand generate patterns and insights from their discussions.


Some metaphors were expected, such as “ants”, “sheep”, and “pain-in-the-ass” for co-workers; “eagle”, “king” and “witch” for their bosses; and “chopseuy”, “tornado” and “roller coaster” for their work. Some used references to pop culture, such as “penguins of Madagascar” for co-workers; “Starbucks planner” and “Iron Man” for their bosses; and “wrecking ball” and “Zombie apocalypse” for their work. In most cases, their answers are quite revealing. One used the “butterfly” metaphor because she thought her work allows her to achieve her full potential; another used “dumbbells” because he felt that his work made him strong, and ready to face tougher challenges. And would you like to work for a company that is like a “playground” or one that is like a “prison”?

Notice that in one class session, I utilized creative forms (e.g. stories, poems, drawings) to expand the horizons of my students and to encourage them to think out-of-the box. While accounting, as the traditional language of business, is valuable in capturing firm performance; figures of speech, such as metaphors, serve an equally valuable, and powerful, role in drawing out fresh perspectives in understanding complex business problems, aside from generating energy and enthusiasm among organizational members. Through these metaphors, I am hopeful that my MBA students will have a better appreciation of workplace dynamics, and will see their potential role as change agents in their respective organizations.

Raymund B. Habaradas is an associate professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teachesManagement of Organizationsand Management Research. He does research on SME development, corporate social initiatives and social enterprises. He welcomes comments at rbhabaradas@yahoo.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

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1 Comment

  1. Extra power perception is the best to role all daily needs especially running a business controlling by own effort.