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Creative BusinessCreative Metaphor

Metaphoric communication is not just for the big messages

July 25, 2011 — by Daryll Scott0

I once worked with a friend and, at the outset of projects it became obvious that we had very different ways of thinking. At the creative stage I was enthusiastic, optimistic, interested in possibility and unencumbered by commercial reality. He was grounded and immediately looked for pitfalls or anything that was unrealistic.

I later valued his approach, he would prevent a lot of errors in advance and when things ‘went live’ they tended to work perfectly. However, during the creative stage I found his deductive critique exhausting, and his careful approach could be very prejudicial – he would make his mind up with little exploration.

I attempted to address the differences in our approach but conversations ended in disagreement; and we were personal friends, so we must have been communicating really badly do disagree so strongly.

Eventually I resorted to telling the following story:

A man is working in his garden and realises he needs a wheelbarrow. He doesn’t have one so his wife suggests that he borrow one from next door.

The man is resistant to the idea, but, unable to come up with a good reason why not he reluctantly shuffles around to the next-door neighbour’s house to ask to borrow a wheelbarrow.

During the short walk, the dialogue in his head goes something like this:

I know what he’s going to say; he will have some excuse why he can’t lend it to me; full of cement or goldfish or something; and even if he did lend it to me he will be round first thing tomorrow morning to get it back; but when he borrows my stuff he hangs onto it for months; and when he returns it it’s filthy or broken or something.

He arrives next-door and rings the bell. His neighbour opens the door and with a welcoming expression says, “Hello Dave, what can I do for you?”

To which he replies, “You can keep your f###### wheelbarrow.”

My friend laughed for about a minute and from that day forward, critical and prejudicial comments were referred to as wheelbarrow moments.

The joke, used as a metaphor, gave us a language to talk about our differences on a day-to-day basis in a way that was accepting and fun, rather than personal and disagreeable.

Some years later I got married and noticed an enormous box on the table of wedding gifts. I was deeply curious and when I finally opened it, it was a wheelbarrow with a gift tag on the handle that read ‘you can keep this’.

The metaphor lives on long after explicit communication is forgotten…

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