Transformative Approaches Project
Dialogue: metaphors of transformation in conferences
Transformative Approaches Project |
1. Imagination barrier
Earlier notes have stressed the special need for software capable of
facilitating more complex forms of conceptual communication in a conferencing
environment. This argument is based on the assumption that just as aircraft
were faced with the technological challenge of the sound barrier, software
faces the challenge of the imagination barrier. The sub-sonic conferencing
problems have been largely solved. But we do not yet know how to ensuring
the stability and integrity of conferences functioning at a high imaginative
level. The conventional organizational and conceptual structures tend to
get shaken apart.
2. Restricted access to significant innovation
There would seem to be a number of fruitful steps that can be taken,
as indicated in earlier notes. When it is recognized what strategic advantage
they offer to the networks that use them, it is probable that resources
will be devoted to their development. It is very probable that such software
will be restricted to those major corporations for whom strategic advantage
is a vital consideration. It is also probable that versions of such software
will be developed by certain alternative groups. It seems less likely that
the core of the electronic networking and conferencing constituencies will
have access to such facilities or perceive the need to do so. Unfortunately
this is also likely to be the case with users in the international community
The difficulty is that it is always possible to argue that concrete,
short-term, simple procedures are sufficient in a crisis-management environment.
Much of what passes for international projects and programmes is in effect
reactive, crisis management. Upbeat reporting of their successes is always
possible. But in strategic terms it is rather like a chess novice playing
a grand master. The novice can be allowed to delude himself by many short-term
gains as he progressively sinks into a more and more disadvantages strategic
situation from which recovery is hopeless. This is the dilemma of sustainable
4. Countering deficiency of imagination
The real challenge for conferencing in relation to the crises of our
times is to provide people with tools to counter the imaginal deficiency
from which we collectively suffer when dealing with complexity. The texty,
linear-environment of massaging and documents has a poor track record.
Eminent experts, with suitable budgetary encouragement, can now be found
to negate the importance of any problem, whether over-population, acid
rain, low-level radiation exposure, or smoking. Their "facts"
are no longer a reliable basis for action.
5. Insight through metaphor
In this context, there is a most intriguing unexplored resource. That
is the use of metaphor as a guide to the elaboration of more complex conceptual
frameworks and organizational structures. In effect the arguments already
made with respect to tensegrity, resonance hybrids and imagery rely to
some extent on the power of metaphor, especially visual metaphor. Metaphor
is renowned as a key to creative thinking and innovation. Information systems
have traditionally been ruthless in eliminating the ambiguity of metaphor
from the communications they support. But the classical triangle of text,
data and graphics processing is only 2-dimensional. Imaginative insight
can be usefully placed at the apex of the (tetrahedral) pyramid based on
that triangle. Metaphor is the prime vehicle for such insight.
6. Carrying complex insights by metaphor
How then can we marry metaphor processing into conferencing environments
as a way of breaking through the imaginative barrier? There are clearly
possibilities for doing so with computer assistance. But it seems doubtful
that advances will be made fast enough on these fronts. However one great
advantage of metaphor is that, like rumour and humour, it travels rapidly
through any network, whether computer-assisted or not.
Consider the fashionable focus for the international community at this
time, namely sustainable development. How is this complex notion to be
carried and addressed in the imagination, and especially in the media.
Metaphor can be used to highlight our collective difficulty in developing
strategies to bring it about. Metaphors such as "global village"
or "gaia" do not give focus to the strategic dilemma and the
operational opportunities. Due to our imaginal deficiency, sustainable
development is best understood at this time through the metaphor "having
our cake and eating it too". This corresponds to the corporate interpretation
of "sustainable competitive advantage". Both are tragic examples
of poverty of imagination in a complex environment.
7. Shifting the conceptual centre of gravity of conferences
Imagine a conferencing environment in which text (including speech),
data and graphics were treated as infrastructure "plumbing" and
the conceptual centre of gravity shifted to an imaginative level sustained
and disciplined by the computer-assisted use of metaphor. A major concern
in the conference would be to ensure the circulation of meaning through
metaphor. Complex notions would be expressed briefly by metaphor. The challenge
would not be who could dominate the discussion in quantitative air-time
terms or resolutions passed. Rather it would be a question of who could
produce the most seductive metaphor to capture the strategic complexities
and the opportunities for the formation of hitherto impossible coalitions
Computer could do much to assist the management of such creative environments.
Essentially they have three tasks. Firstly to render a repertoire of metaphors
appropriately accessible, in the light of their structural and patterning
characteristics. Secondly, to provide a disciplined communication framework
to channel forces hindering the emergence of imaginative new patterns,
and providing a protective framework (a "matrix") for such patterns
in their embryonic stages. Thirdly, to give stability to the stages between
the imaginative level and the organizational and operational implications
(a sort of "Jacob's ladder" or "gearing down" facility),
which need to be articulated at the "plumbing" level.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential