December 17, 2008
METAPHOR: A Bridge Over Deep Waters

All of the creative thinking techniques we teach at Idea Champions are based on the innate capacity of the human mind to make connections, find patterns, and imagine alternatives.

One of these techniques involves using metaphors to give us insight into what our challenge or opportunity really IS under the surface.

But the human capacity for metaphor-making is more than merely an ability. It's the foundation of thought itself. As psychologist and linguist Stephen Pinker states in his The Stuff of Thought, "Metaphor is so widespread in language that it's hard to find expressions for abstract ideas that are not metaphorical."

The word "metaphor" comes to us from the Greek and means to "transfer" or "carry over."

"Transfer or carry over what?" you may ask.

"An image," is the answer.

A metaphor is both an image that is carried over to help us understand a thought AND the bridge upon which it is carried over.

And what does this bridge of metaphor connect? It connects the right brain, which deals in images, to the left brain, which deals in rational thought.

Is that cool or what?

In a new Harvard Business Press book, Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal about the Minds of Consumers, Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman, a father and son marketing team, reveal seven basic deep metaphors, -- "metaphors that structure what we think, hear, say, and do" that should help guide marketing efforts to connect with consumers.

These seven deep ("deep" because they are largely unconscious) and universal metaphors are:

1. Balance
2. Transformation
3. Journey
4. Container
5. Connection
6. Resource
7. Control

If your marketing campaign isn't offering your prospective customers at least one of these qualities, your prospective customers probably aren't connecting emotionally to your product or service. Which means they're probably not buying it. Egads!

Does your product or service help customers regain their balance? Can it transform something into something better? Does it provide them with the experience of a journey or give them a container? Does it help them connect with others, provide a necessary resource, or give greater control over something?

Bottom line: if you want to improve your marketing efforts, you could do a lot worse than invest a few bucks and a little time to study what the Zaltmans are saying.

Once you're clear about what you want to offer your customers on a deep metaphorical level, you can then craft your pitch, offering, or strategy in a more meaningful way.

That is, you can cross that bridge when you come to it.

Posted by Val Vadeboncoeur at December 17, 2008 11:11 PM


I look at it this way. A metaphor is a dream that you're having with your eyes open. The dreams we have at night are metaphors without words. Dreams are very confusing until you complete them, i.e. put the words back in. Anyway, it's an interesting topic.

Posted by: Clyde List [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2008 10:28 PM

Well, Eastern philosophy tells us that what we call "reality" is actually much like a dream and that, in our normal state of consciousness, we are pretty much "dreaming we're awake;" the goal to spiritual practice being to wake up and live in a higher consciousness, one where we experience the unity of all things and where all things come from.

Similarly, the Aborigines of Australia believe that what we call reality is not real, or as real as what they call "the Dreamtime" and that the Dreamtime creates this reality, much like the beliefs of...

...Plato who talked of this world as being derived from a higher plane of existence called the "Ideas." Everything we see in this world is a reflection from this higher plane from which everything in the manifested world originates.

Which brings us around to metaphors. Seems that we are hard-wired to see the connections between things, that is, to see how two seemingly disparate manifested things might be derived from the same Platonic "Idea," to put it Greekly. And, seeing that connection, come up with a new idea that's built on something as old as the Universe itself, proving, once again, that there is nothing new under the sun but that creativity is an act of dis-covering what is already there but blind to most who "cannot see."

And now that I've alluded to the Christian hymn, "Amazing Grace" that reminds me...

Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Happy Kwaanza! Happy New Year!

Posted by: Val Vadeboncoeur [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2009 01:12 PM

I am an artist and blogger, and I live by a magnificent bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge, which I walked tonight. I live actually between two bridges, both of which are quite evocative for me. It is exactly this: the richness of the metaphor of bridge. Great piece. Thanks for writing it!

Posted by: [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 6, 2011 09:08 PM

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