Schlagwort-Archive: Metaphor

The button – the ideal metaphor for an interface

One of the greatest discoveries of mankind, beside the hand axe and the fire, was the needle. Sewing individual pieces of pelts to fitting clothing not only protected against the cold, but also made the personal status visible. This stable seam permanently held the separated fabric edges together – which was not always desired. For this reason, the seam became more flexible by tying the parts temporarily. Today there are different connections: Hooks connected with an eyelet and push buttons as well as the most common, the hole buttons, flat discs that are inserted through corresponding holes. Not only clothing requires flexible junctions, but also relationships between systems of all kinds – people, artifacts and software.

All connections are based on similar building blocks as the buttoning.

  • Established joint
    If you intend to join two open ends or parts of fabrics or skins, you can glue, weld, sew, staple together, weave, knot, connect, tie, plug, hook, zip, plug, entangle or, for our example, button them up. The button is a reliable approach that can be easily applied. In business, processes and IT interfaces are implemented through set transfer points, coordination rituals and contracts that can be resolved and terminated at any time. This is possible, when there are fixed handover points – places or connectors.
  • Agreed rules
    Interfaces only work when the individual components, the button and the hole, fit together. The oversized button that does not fit the buttonhole cannot create a connection. The buttonhole that is too large will not hold the button reliably. In business, the interfaces are even more sensitive. The coordination is the pre-requisite, in order to let an interface fulfill its purpose in the IT or in the processes. This is possible, when there are common rules at the interface – a particular IT protocol or a common language.
  • Common goal
    All connections have in common that two or more parts combine to form a unit in order to pursue shared goals. The clothing should protect you, the charging station should charge the electromobile, a joint venture wants to capture a market or two parties want to govern together. The units connected in this way share a common destiny with rights and duties that are only valid as long as they are associated. This is possible when everyone fulfils his or her purpose – in an economic community or in a partnership.
  • Foreseeable timeframe
    Despite the naturally inherent transience of relationships, parts can be more firmly or loosely connected with each other. If the parts are to remain together for a longer period of time, durable solutions such as gluing, welding, joining and sewing are recommended. If only temporary cohesion is desired, all types of flexible connections such as hooks, zippers and buttons are the right choice. The interfaces in the business are always connected with expenditure, which have to pay off. Pursued irrevocable mergers are to eliminate such interfaces from the outset by repositioning themselves, breaking up redundant elements and subsequently undoing the union only with a lot of disadvantages. Temporary alliances build on form-free agreements that provide the temporary working basis. This is possible, when the groups in advance become aware of the duration of the relationship – a merger can always be retransferred or a temporary relationship can exist for a very long time.

Bottom line: There are more and more opportunities to connect individual groups with each other. While in the past the interplay was designed for a long time, today we have to deal with more and more short-lived associations. The current trend of platforms is a good example of the relationship dynamics – global networks, knowledge sharing between competitors, temporary memberships. At the same time, they can dissolve at any time and merge again as needed. On the one hand, the necessary mechanisms must function reliably and, on the other hand, can be resolved at any time. A good example of such a connection point is the button that connects safely and can be released again at any time. This makes the button an ideal metaphor for an interface.

 

The Boulder of Sisyphus – the ideal metaphor for disruptions

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus tricked the gods and closed the portal to the Hades by captivating the god of death, Thanatos. After his liberation and other sacrilegious acts, Hermes finally sentenced him to roll up a boulder onto a mountain. Shortly before he reaches the summit, however, the boulder rolls back down into the valley again and again – and this for all times. Today one also speaks of Sisyphus work, if one has to carry out a heavy work without foreseeable end. It was Albert Camus, who gave the story a hopeful perspective – „La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.„1 We are happy because the task fills us. The boulder of Sisyphus is nowadays visible in many small and large disruptions – every new version of a software destroys the rehearsed routine; the cultural techniques, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, are taken over by the always available smartphone; the Internet dissolves the business models of the fourth estate. Thus, the metaphor takes on an additional meaning with the disruptive rolling down of the rock.

In the past, this issue was named after the late Latin word for rolling back and turning back – revolution. The word disruption shifts attention to what ultimately leads to the profound transformation, the destructive change. Those affected find it difficult of let go the old and get used to the new, because they eventually find their work around for their routine after the last interruption.

  • Effort
    The uncertainty that makes the target group suffer comes from the need to put the current basic assumptions into question. At the beginning, the reference points are missing, which are used to practice the new procedure. Since such changes happen repeatedly in different areas, we are regularly exposed to the associated uncertainty – and the fact that at the beginning we often do not react appropriately. With this effort in mind it creates instinctive resistance among those affected and burdens the implementation. And this despite the fact that in the course of our lives we are lucky to overcome almost all disruptions.
  • Performance
    It is not sufficient, however, to embrace the new. We also want to deliver above-average performance. The further we move uphill from the bottom of the valley, the more routinely we control the burden. Some manage to compete with and constantly outdo themselves. The practice gained in this way will foreseeably call into question the next disruption. The half-life of school knowledge is twenty years, university knowledge 10 years, technology knowledge four years and IT knowledge after two years – after 10 years without constantly learning, the IT specialist no longer stands out from the layman. This decay is caused by the many small disruptions that we do not consciously notice. And this, although we all make a destructive contribution by creating improvements here and renewals there.
  • With the summit in sight
    I don’t remember, whether Sisyphus has the summit in sight and whether he always recognizes the same path. Probably his entire concentration is in moving the superhuman load. This would correspond to the growth fanatics, who believe that a mountain has no summit – which leads to the fallacy that the rock cannot roll back, since it never really approaches its climax that lies in infinity. As soon as viability is recognized as a purpose of life, one gets closer to the perspective of Camus and perceives rolling back as a progress on the way, which requires our infinite engagement. Although we always have one goal in mind that should be achieved in our daily live, the summit, the path becomes the goal due to the myth.
  • Rolling down
    The fact that the rock rolls down fits to our experience. Actually, we know that no mountain is infinitely high. In order to make the task of the eternal rolling up comprehensible, it requires the disturbance that transports the rock again into the valley. In addition to the endless path, rolling back causes compassionate frustration. After all the effort and practice, we lose control over the rock and it destroys the apparent progress. However, if we do not see the renewed extension of the path as a step backwards, but as a major hurdle on the way up, then this disturbance only ensures our task. The path remains infinite. Nevertheless, this moment also offers a rest.
  • Forever
    The special about such circles is the fact that there is no beginning and no end. Just as the year goes on and on, the day that replaces the night and so on, Sisyphus drags himself up the slope. The certainty of rolling down again provides his purpose that he must fulfill with all his energy. Also in the dealing with today’s disruptions, we can’t help but getting involved and making an effort – from the very first moment and knowing well that the next disruption are already on the way. The end is not foreseeable.

Bottom line: What would Sisyphus do, if the rock would remain stable on the top? Wouldn’t that be worse? He has the strength to make the necessary effort. We know that he can provide the required service. And obviously he also bears the frustration just before the summit when the rock breaks away from him and rolls down again – forever.
The most important trigger for disruptions is technical progress, which is already so fast that not all of its new features become implemented. Since development time is not accelerating quite as fast, we can consider that the next disruptions are already in preparation. At best we prepare for this and we see the advantages instead of complaining about the efforts. Thus the myth of Sisyphus becomes the ideal metaphor for disruptions.

1) Albert Camus, The myth of Sisyphus
“The battle to the summits itself is enough to fill the human heart. We have to imagine Sisyphus happy.”

The brand stamp – the ideal metaphor for cultural imprint

Common sense is influenced, when you daily take in fictional images of the media that are internalized by the mind like all other experiences – the self-healing powers of righteousness, the role models that achieve everything and the prescribed Hollywood happy ending. At the same time, you are shaped by the practical actions and behaviors, which take place around you. All this burns in permanently. In the end, you will not get rid of it. This makes the brand stamp an ideal metaphor for cultural imprint.

The cultural stamp becomes apparent in the things of everyday life: the context, the actions, the typical skills, the shared beliefs, the established roles and the perceived affiliation.

  • Affiliation
    The sense of belonging is the most sustainable pattern that anchors one in a particular culture. In the own team one is identified by the same shirt and the shared attitudes. This excludes all others who do not belong – especially those who emphasize their own identity. The attachment with one’s own group creates security and is maintained, for example, by a common symbol or shared rituals. This most primitive coinage is the hardest to change, if at all.
  • Role
    Actually, there are similar roles in all cultures – family, religious, social, economic or technical roles. Fearful little minds overlook these similarities and pour oil into the fire of the differences again and again. Although roles provide a good basis for a better understanding of the various cultural imprints. How is the Imam different from the priest or rabbi? How is the little sister (小妹妹) different from the Arab sister (شقيقة) and the sister in Mexico? The roles provide a good starting point for change.
  • Conviction
    The beliefs are the mental guiding principles fir everybody. They include values, mission, vision, strengths / weaknesses / opportunities / threads, goals and anything else that influences opinion- or decision-making. However, we never share all beliefs with other people. The individual properties lead to ever new, unique character traits. It is not enough to limit yourself to the stereotypes of the roles. The actual variety creates a large number of options, of which only a small number become reality. That’s why you have to watch closely and look for creative solutions. Change becomes possible, when the convictions start to shake and new mental conclusions emerge.
  • Capabilities
    While not all capabilities (I.e. skills, knowledge, experience) result from a formal education, these talents are always the basis for the desired outcomes. Skills include elementary sensory-motor (e.g., movements), cognitive (e.g., arithmetic, reading), cognitive-motor (e.g., writing, music-making), social (e.g., dealing with others), and perceptual (e.g., pattern recognition, kinesthetic differences). The knowledge consists of a variety of technical and general knowledge, the experience and the insights that are acquired in the course of practice. The key to new skills is persistent learning. Change can be prepared relatively easily with appropriate training.
  • Actions
    To better understand the cultural imprint, the actions are observed. This can be done by direct or hidden observation. The actions carried out can be interpreted based on the activities (e.g. planning, discussion, production or reporting), the linguistic expression (e.g. the expression of beliefs, desires, intentions, states), and the choice of words (e.g. key, stigma, abstract words and synonyms) as well as the style (e.g. gesture, facial expression, posture, volume, and tone). Through clever task distribution and a conscious corporate wording as well as a special code of conduct changes can be introduced easier
  • Context
    The context describes the environment in which one acts. This includes people (e.g., professionals, character heads), places (e.g., cities, architectural styles, and infrastructure) and things (e.g., vehicles, IT, gadgets). To which extent actions, abilities and values ​​are appropriate, can be determined through the context. Sometimes you have to adjust it, so that the desired changes take effect.

Bottom line: The cultural imprint has a great influence on the activities that are carried out. Roles bundle the individuals into a manageable number of groups, who feel connected to each other. The beliefs mainly include the values that have an effect in the role. Capabilities are the prerequisite for the actions that take place in a particular context. The responsible person for the change needs to take all these aspects into account to actually make a difference. Just as a branding can only be removed with a lot of effort, it is difficult to get rid of its original coinage. This makes the brand stamp to an ideal metaphor for cultural imprint.

Crossroad – the ideal metaphor for a decision

When the working world gets rearranged, the basic conditions seem to change fundamentally. Yet start-ups have always relied on the limitless dedication of their employees, based on the hope of being involved in something very big that will eventually pay off. Then comes the moment that had cost Ronald Wayne retrospectively almost 100 billion US dollars (as of May 2018). As one of the three Apple founders, he sold his 10% stake shortly after its founding in April 1976 for 800 dollars out of fear of liability obligations. In retrospect not necessarily the best decision. However, it clarifies the consequence of a real decision that nowadays many employees with Virtual Stock Options in newly established companies are facing – a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Sometimes you have to choose one from several options for yourself – with all the related consequences.

Based on crossroads, some difficulties can be shown.

  • Alternatives force a decision
    In the simplest case one chooses from two possibilities. One path leads to the left and the other to the right. The unpleasant is the sacrifice of the possibility that you let go. There are other conceivable solutions – not left or right, but off roads cross-country. As soon as you become aware of this, there are endless possibilities to choose from. In any case, one has to decide for one.
  • Foresight is an important factor
    The choice of the way is made easier, if you can well oversee the further way on a clear summer day. You rarely see all the way to the end, but at least the next few meters are clear. The likelihood of crashing surprisingly is close to zero. It is another case, when there is thick fog. You can hardly see your hand in front of your eyes, let alone the way or where it goes. Now the decision involves a much higher risk that the way ends after a few meters at an insurmountable hurdle. Unfortunately, a normal decision-making situation is more like thick fog. The futures you envision are always assumptions, since the needed facts have not yet condensed to a reliable picture of the future. Nevertheless you have to decide – and be it that you freeze.
  • The mood affects subconsciously
    If you are front of a crossroad on a Sunday walk, then you will make a relaxed decision and won’t be annoyed, even if you have chosen the longer or harder way. In the worst case you go back to the crossroad and take the other way. Quite different when you are on the run. The pressure increases, because you are rushed. Now a crossroad can be crucial to the outcome because you can not go back – either because of the lack of time or because, in the meantime, facts have been emerged that are irreparable. In your own interest, it is generally recommended to take the pressure out of the decision-making in order to make the best possible choice.
  • The decision power does not make it easier
    As long as you have the full decision power, you can actually decide as you think it is best. And still, it’s usually difficult to choose – especially, if there are two attractive alternatives. It is not surprising that in case of a wrong decision, individuals use the back door of externalization – to blame the circumstances or other people for the own decision. It gets really difficult when the others are even involved. In this case, the interests of all decision makers must be reconciled. Often, their actual expectations remain unnoticed – what should be done; what should be the result; what should be the consequences. It’s best to put all your cards face up on the table and decide then based on all facts.

Bottom line: We are certainly not talking about the expensive decisions that Ron Wayne made. Well? – Who really knows. It is important to understand that decisions function like the bifurcations of a path – you can not go both ways at the same time. And then the remaining, innumerable alternatives to go off roads. The decision depends largely on foresight, mood and decision-making power. In any case, one should decide and be satisfied with the choice, like Ron Wayne, who said in retrospect “I would have been wealthy, but I would have been the richest man in the cemetery.“ Hopefully, it has become apparent from the decision aspects that the crossroad is an ideal metaphor for a decision.

BMX – the ideal metaphor for agility

Bicycles are a good example of how everything is becoming more and more fragmented. Here a small change and there a new principle and I already have a recumbent that connects a relaxed seating position with even therapeutic effects, increases safety and lowers the effects of accidents. The so-called track bicycle is designed to turn consistently fast laps – without brakes and gear shift. Due to the support of an electric drive, more and more people have rediscovered the bicycle, the e-bike. The technical possibilities are brought to the limits with the BMX bike – special materials and everything that increases the stability of axles, fork, crank and pedals.
The BMX bike shows its strengths in any terrain, in the city and in the hall. The riders master their bikes in all imaginable situations – halfpipes, stairs, and mountain tops and in the forest. This makes BMX (Bicycle Motocross) the ideal metaphor for agility.

However, the benefits of the BMX bike do not automatically make it the best bike for all applications. The same applies to agility in the company. Agility is hard to get working in the following cases.

  • Governance is binding
    The corset of rules and standards take companies the creative breath away. There is no room for agility, as innumerable external and internal regulations must be followed. The agile employees run the risk to break one or the other law out of ignorance – which of course constitutes misbehavior of the employee. Imagine a BMX rider worrying about compliance – and agility is nipped in the bud.
  • Processes set a stable framework
    The procedures are the determined steps for the most effectual action. Doing the right thing right is the corresponding mantra. After many years, these processes have been buried deep into a company. Always the same procedure can be handled in the shortest possible time with the least effort. Special cases bounce off the crash barriers and are therefore made impossible. Let’s imagine a BMX rider on a highway – and his willingness to bring in agility evaporates.
  • Hierarchs will not let go
    Big companies have a natural tendency to build a hierarchy. The officials receive special privileges – selected rewards and insignia of power (e.g., company cars, assistants, bonuses). They should make decisions, lead others and be responsible for the results. If you leave the task, the authority, and responsibility to the employees, it leads to fear of loss of the bosses, because they do not recognize what would continue to justify their status. Imagine a BMX rider who has to get permission to change direction – and all the manifestations of agility disappear.
  • Micro managers strive for total control
    A more complicated special case are the micro managers, who interpret their task in such a way that they have to influence everything down to the smallest detail (see also here). Cutting a long story short: Imagine the BMX rider with someone who constantly grabs the wheel – and already the agility lies on the ground.
  • Who doesn’t act at all makes no mistakes
    It is clear that the big companies counteract the image of the business servant. The path of least resistance is the result of our natural anxiety that is deeply rooted in our brain stem. There are many arguments to avoid acting and thereby making no mistakes – except perhaps the mistake of doing nothing. If one is then required by superiors to act in a certain way, they have the responsibility. Imagine a BMX rider who is afraid to fall – and immediately any potential for agility freezes.

Bottom line: Of course, everybody wants the autonomous, self-employed, risk-taking employee, who would not be much different than a BMX rider. At the same time, the path in which the riders should move is cemented with regulations. On the flag is written agility. However, the conditions are against this approach. Strict governance limits the leeway. Processes and their IT implementations determine every step. The leaders are not ready to let go and involve themselves at all levels. The employees have found their workaround – around the work. Agility can not function with these conditions. Just as a BMX rider can not act properly in a straitjacket. Since BMX clarifies the boundaries of the entrepreneurial actions of individual employees, BMX is the ideal metaphor for agility.

The Ice cover – the ideal metaphor for risk

As soon as the temperatures fall below zero, an ice cover forms on water. In standing waters faster than in wild ones. Over time, more and more ice crystals arise and the ice cover is getting thicker. The rule of thumb indicates that a single person can enter an ice cover of at least 5 cm. About 18 cm is sufficient for cars to go onto the ice surface. From the shore you can neither see the bearing capacity nor the depth of the underlying water. Whether and where it is safe is pure speculation. In this respect the ice cover is similar to a risk.

Although it is possible to imagine ice covers and risks, it always is only estimation whether the worst will happen or not. In both examples, the following aspects should be considered.

  • Probability
    In all cases, the probability of occurrence is 100% as soon as the worst happens and the risky initiative fails, which actually is no longer a prediction – be it crossing a frozen lake or building a new airport. A reliable prediction is possible, if you even do not put yourself in that danger. Then the probability of occurrence is 0%. The remaining incidents can not be predicted reliably in terms of time or space. There is no choice but to prepare appropriate contingency plans depending on the foreseeable case. Hedges on the ice cover can be a safety rope or a prepared ladder, which bring you out of the danger zone. In business, appropriate measures are put in place to reduce the occurrence probability. Alternatively resources are prepared to counteract in the event of a crisis by shortening the damage duration and reducing the damage.
  • Possible damage
    The consequences of an adverse event differ according to their level of damage. An incident can in the worst case cost the life – by drowning in the water, because you can not breathe in the required time frame; or when you lose in business due to wrong speculations, because you have misinterpreted the signs of the times, ignored the Internet with your mail-order business and eventually the entire company faces bankruptcy. If there is no incident, then the potential size of the loss does not matter. The actual damage that can occur between these two extremes is hard to predict, because most of the time you cannot see the real consequences. The size of contingency preparation depends on the player in the decision maker – more or less rope and ladder on the ice cover or provisions in the business.

Dealing with the thickness of the ice cover and risks burdens. On the one hand, you are hampered by a rope and burdened by the transport of the ladder. On the other hand, resources are blocked in case of the worst and thus are no longer available for daily business. In both cases, preparation ensures viability.

Bottom line: Dealing with frozen waters and with risks consists of similar issues. On the one hand, it has to be estimated what the probability of an incident is. On the other hand, the possible amount of damage has to be assessed. Both are estimates that could be wrong. From the outside, the ice surface gives no indication of possible dangers. Exactly as the daily business does not provide indicators that it can come to a surprising slump. It is irresponsible when no presuppositions are made, because then you will be surprised by the harmful event – you break in the ice or suffer serious business losses. These similarities make the ice cover the ideal metaphor for a risk.

The dream – the ideal metaphor for boundlessness

Even if we have the impression that we completely zone out at night, we process the events of the day. On the one hand, you „sleep on“ and strengthen evaluations, and on the other hand, the imagination makes a journey. In the dream you develop scenarios that can be considered beyond the possibilities of reality. If you get this condition into a team, then you can look far beyond the horizon. Thus the dream is the ideal metaphor for boundlessness.

In the dream you are in a space that is released from physical and mental limits, and that gives you the opportunity to let your thoughts run wild. This overcomes the limits in the following aspects.

  • Need for change
    In the dream the wall of the external driver, which build up our consciousness and the objective concerns, is torn down. Then technology overcomes the currently feasible. Culture eradicates limiting beliefs and actions. The entrepreneurial structure is freed from its structural and operational barriers. The economy opens previously unattainable fields of action.
    This is especially true for the change fields. Completely new strategies can be explored with hitherto unimaginable conditions. The business model can open in every direction and create completely new co-operations and services. Especially in the self-image, the limits can be reset, if you do not let yourself be limited by accustomed actions, skills and beliefs.
    In the dream, it becomes possible to simulate the what-if, without having to be thwarted by pragmatic arguments in the beginning.
  • Ability to change
    By letting go the traditional knowledge and skills, solutions can be applied that were previously unthinkable. If the existing ideas regarding the change ability of employees and executives burst, doors open in all directions. This applies to the technical skills, to handling abstract procedures, to social interactions and above all to overcoming the division of labor based on a holistic approach.
    In a dream, it becomes possible to imagine the company as an agile whole that opens up new fields of expertise, regions and markets.
  • Readiness for change
    If one manages to work through and solve the problems in the dream, then one can use this particular form of reality, which is no longer associated with limiting notions, to find the entry point at which the concerned parties are ready to engage with changes. The formal impulses are the starting point, which can go far beyond the current incentive systems. Above all, outside of the limiting portfolio of initiatives, substantive elements can be found that carry the workforce along. Not to mention the personal satisfaction that is generated by appropriate appreciation.
    In the dream it becomes possible to imagine the workforce completely committed without resistance.

Bottom line: The dream overcomes the limits of everyday life. The need for change is accepted, generously interpreted and satisfied with unusual solutions. The abilities that are otherwise perceived as limitations are hidden and are no longer hurdles for genuine novelties. The assumptions regarding readiness to change are missing and exciting solutions can be worked through with committed employees and executives. If you manage to lead a team into the daydream, then new visions can be worked out in respective workshops, without getting major concerns in the way. This makes the dream an ideal metaphor of boundlessness.

The stage of life – the ideal metaphor for maturity

An important tool in VUCA’s time is the intuitive understanding of the maturity levels that all artifacts and individuals go through. Everything starts with an idea that grows and finally sees the light of day before it is in the world. There is also nothing that lasts forever – except for some ideas. Everything forfeits over time – be it the mechanical components, which deteriorate, or ideas, which become obsolete through revolutionary new ones. The stage of life provides the ideal metaphor for the maturity.

The stages of life that a person goes through can be divided in different ways, e.g. past life, sexual immaturity. sexual maturation and reproduction. For the applicability of this metaphor the actual classification is not crucial, but the fact that all life cycles can be divided into steps. The following framework extends from the cradle to the grave.

Right at the beginning, the question arises as to when the life cycle actually starts – at procreation, during pregnancy or at birth. The elements of the business (for example, a new business model or project) also sneak into their lifecycle. New products are developed for a long time in isolation, revised and publicized at some point. The pregnancy needs in business very different times. Projects are often preceded by a preliminary project, which is preceded by a pre-preliminary project, which is ….

  • Childhood
    The most important development starts with the birth, which is characterized by enormous creativity and very big development steps. Based on a wealth of impressions, the baby develops into a child – it learns to laugh, talk, walk and much more. In order to run smoothly, the child needs boundless curiosity and the joy of experimenting.
    Also the early phase of a business consists of manifold learning – e.g. what happens, who is involved and what you can do by yourself. This stage requires great gentleness from the stakeholders, so that the business has a chance to try ourselves and mature. This early stage shapes the fundamental values ​​that reverberate in each stage.
  • Schooldays
    In different parts of the world, education starts sooner or later, more or less formal, with or without a curriculum. It all starts with the basics (reading, writing and arithmetic), which are later refined in certain areas that make up the personal area of expertise.
    In business, too, initiatives work better if there is enough room to build the foundations from which the next USP will emerge. The Post-It is a good example – an adhesive that does not stick as a basis for a product that is nowadays used globally. Who would have provided sufficient resources for this project?
  • Qualification
    Vocational training, an apprenticeship or a study are focusing on individual subject areas – mathematics, natural sciences, languages, business administration, crafts, etc. At the end of this concentration you get experts with a clearly defined area of ​​responsibility and learned approaches for finding solutions.
    The business model and its components must also be developed and promoted by the management – for example, knowing the needs of the customer or finding opportunities for additional income. Especially, the workforce must have the opportunity to learn so that they can at all master the new tasks. The best business model is of no use without the specialized participation of the employees.
  • Work life
    On the first day of the working life, you have nothing but the theory and the experience you could make until then. For most, this is limited to theoretical training content that often does not fit the new job. The result is a long series of mistakes, mishaps and injuries, from which one (hopefully) learns.
    The same applies to the elements of the business that are being constantly brought off the ground or are changing. It takes time for an altered routine to become established. By mastering the business, more and more comprehensive tasks can then be implemented, which in the end contribute to a VUCAneous working reality.
  • Pension
    After the active working life is over, there are sometimes opportunities for employment – whether as a space cowboy or with an expanded hobby. In any case, the burden of everyday life goes down.
    The same applies to the elements of the business. An IT system is replaced after years by a new one. The processes are changing due to new devices and user interfaces, changed processes and new fads.
  • Senility
    This section is anxiously suppressed by many people as it goes hand in hand with the visible decline in performance. Sight and hearing diminish, the ability to react declines and in the best case one is still agile enough to master everyday life autonomously.
    Business may also experience such degradation – the IT system, which is unpredictable; the processes that are too slow for the requirements; the machines for which there are no more spare parts available. Without the immediate replacement by a state-of-the-art solution, you put the business at risk.

The end of everything is its disappearance. What remains is the legacy that can linger for a long time.
This is also true in business life. For example, some data structures that were developed for technical reasons create sustainable beliefs that influence the business, even though they are no more needed.

Bottom line: The different phases of life, from childhood to old age, take place everywhere, but have obviously been sacrificed to the belief in infinite growth. For this reason, it is clever to remember and understand that everything and every one go for better or worse from cradle to the grave. In order to describe the life cycle, maturity levels are helpful. For this reason, the stage of life is the ideal metaphor for maturity.

The Bridge – the ideal metaphor for transition

The main reason for a bridge is crossing a hard-to-manage gap, such as a river, a sea or a valley. In most cases, ways should be shortened, eased or simply made possible. The natural difficulties vary each time and need a different type or variant of bridge. The longest bridge with 36 km is the Hangzhou Wan Daqiao, which spans Hangzhou Bay on China’s east coast. The highest bridge is also located in China, the Beipanjiang Bridge in Guizhou, with a height of 565 m.
The chasms that are bridged in business are in no way inferior to the physical bridges. These business challenges are transitions from old to new, involving many employees and internal regulations. The bridge is an obvious metaphor for such transitions.

The following conditions support the safe crossing of the threatening abysses.

  • Clear requirements
    Clarity arises from the description of the specific requirements and, above all, the expectations of the deciding stakeholders. The easiest thing is to determine the physical data, such as length, width, height, or the load-bearing capacity – although sometimes the decisiveness is missing. Most important, however, are the decision makers’ hopes, which are difficult to grasp. These include the ideas of what should be done, what should be the outcome and what consequences they foresee. It is essential to know the requirements, since they ultimately set the bar for the accomplished transition.
  • Documented topography
    A bridge is determined by the start and the end point. The description of the circumstances will cover the whole area, but not always with the required details. This applies to transitions of all kinds. The initial situation describes the foundation, on which one side is based for the crossing. In the business environment, this is the old world with its problems – the hierarchical structure, the legacy IT, or outdated procedures. The destination describes the fixed base on the other side. In business this is the state with its intended advantages – agile forms of working, modern IT, end-to-end business operations.
  • Stable recipes
    The abyss to pass determines which bridge type is used – suspension bridge, cable-stayed bridge, arch bridge, plate bridge, etc. The bridge type is selected, depending on the requirements. Sometimes a cable car is sufficient for the crossing. However, if a large number of people and heavy vehicles have to pass the crossover, then a stable construction is required that brings everyone for a foreseeable future safely to the other side. The same applies to changes in companies when the staff has to adapt to the new business requirements. This cuts all employees to the quick, because they have to rethink and to act in a new way.
  • Decisive implementation
    The change from one side to the other is dangerous and risky. It only succeeds, if it is decisively pursued. It is not enough to wish for a bridge. You have to take the necessary steps. This requires sufficient financial and time resources as well as adequate staff. Such projects are reliable for a long time, if the implementation is not spared at the expense of quality and if the necessary accuracy is omitted. The failure of the project has serious consequences for the involved parties – at the first crossing or later, for example when the life is shortened drastically due to inferior material.
  • Built-in maintenance
    Nothing lasts forever. For this reason, measures must be installed from the outset, which come from the requirements – the expected load and the planned lifespan. Bridges have expansion joints, stretchable asphalt or vibration damping mechanisms. Regular transition monitoring is an additional measure to identify and counteract difficulties at an early stage. In business, this requires ongoing status checks of the transformation activities.

Bottom line: The transition from one side to the other of a chasm needs clear requirements, the documented topography, stable recipes, a decisive implementation and the appropriate maintenance. Ever new abysses require ever larger and higher bridges. However, you hear again and again of bridges that reach the end of their lifecycle prematurely, because the planned utilization exceeds by far the original estimates. In the transition from old to new, the decision makers have to face a similar situation. Above all, the upcoming digitization will take many companies to their limits. The bridge provides the ideal metaphor for these transitions from old to new.

The flame – the ideal metaphor for enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is the fuel that propels the economy. Since 2001, the Gallup institute unfortunately determines in its Engagement Index that over two-thirds of employees have a low emotional engagement to their company. About 15% have none at all. Only 15% have a high emotional engagement to their company. The supervisors have a great influence on it. Gallup estimates that bad bosses are annually responsible for economic costs between 80 and 100 billion euros due to employee resignation. Obviously, they do not manage to ignite the enthusiasm of the employees. It would take not more than an appropriate matchstick. The rough surface of everyday life is already available. The inflammatory transmission of fire makes the flame the ideal metaphor for enthusiasm.

Technically, it is clear what to do.

  • Igniting
    Before people are able to get excited, you have to attract their attention. Unusual and surprising connections awaken them from their everyday lethargy. Now they need a personal advantage and the opportunity to contribute. The fire sparks off when the employees are part of the planning, development and decision-making. As soon as the highly flammable components, the employees‘ need for appreciation and the appropriate attention of the bosses, rub against each other, a spark is ignited that jumps from one to another.
  • Flaring
    The power of enthusiasm is the tinder that leads into a self-reinforcing cycle – employees excite employees, who delight customers, who stimulate business that excite employees, etc. In order to use these self-reinforcing mechanisms, the employees need enough room, where they can meet autonomously, support each other and decide. It all starts with a small flame that is fed by flammable material in order to evolve into a big fire, until finally thick pieces of wood release the desired energy.
  • Warming
    For a pleasant working day of the employees, they need meaningful and diverse activities, decision-making independence, a pleasant working atmosphere, an appropriate salary and security. In addition to the simple components of compensation, the executive behavior plays a major role – attention, respectful treatment and employee appreciation. These aspects have a similarly warming effect, like the illustrative fireplace where people have been gathering around from time immemorial.
  • Enlightening
    At least, about 15% of the employees are fully committed. This may be the reason why, despite a tense mood, results are still generated for which customers are willing to pay. These successes captivate additional employees. This requires the appropriate role models that result from respectful treatment and executive appreciation. In order to illuminate the room with the fire, one should offer the employees a stage where they can shine.
  • Burning
    It would be naive to forget that enthusiasm consumes step by step the resources of the employees. If they lack recovery time, i.e. no refueling with combustibles, they become at the end of the day a pile of ashes, where nothing flammable remains. This results in depersonalization (indifference, cynicism, distance), emotional exhaustion (irritability and impotence), and suffered failures (meaningfulness, perceived ineffectiveness) or, in one word, Burnout. Employees who burn brightly without new fuel are also at risk of burning out. That’s the price of the fire. It does not stop eating.
  • Fading
    The results of the study show that about 15% of the employees have a high emotional attachment to their company. As long as the fire burns, the existing energy should be used to disseminate the enthusiasm in the company. The most important lever has the management level. The respectful interaction with employees has a significant impact on their well-being. Once the fire has completely disappeared, the only question left is whether the company has enough time to start all over again – or simply disappears.

Bottom line: The flame follows the same steps as the employees’ enthusiasm – starting with a fuze that ignites the fire; the tinder that flares up easily; the warmth that keeps you in a motivated state; the light that shows you the way; the refill that prevents everything from burning out; to the certainty that a fire eventually goes extinct, if you do not take care of it. These phases and the contagious nature of fire make the flame an ideal metaphor for enthusiasm.

The bait – the ideal metaphor for an appeal

Experienced anglers have a variety of baits available: spinners, wobblers, jerk and swim baits, streamers etc. Basically, these baits attract fish by simulating food. Instinctively, the fish reacts, snaps it and is hooked on the hook. The bait is selected depending on the fish one wants to catch. Anglers know that the bait has to appeal to the fish, not the angler. In the same way influence groups act, who want to attract attention of a certain target group.

Even if there is a certain amount of reserve in daily business of luring target groups, everybody is consistently using marketing means in sales, in a presentation, in budget discussions, in team building, in the appraisal interview, etc.
The following four points are applied.

  • Natural triggers
    Most effective are the stimuli that are part of the human nature. These include, for example, the reciprocity rule and the scarcity principle. The reciprocity rule uses small presents that oblige unconsciously the recipients of the gift to make a reciprocal gift – and already the cup of coffee at the barber pays off, since it stimulates for two additional treatments. The scarcity principle often shows up in high-quality offers. The interest increases when the availability is going down. If luxury goods sellers are reducing their offers, customers accept increasing waiting times and prices – and spent gladly the night before the sales opening on the street, only to be among the first, who are allowed to buy the new product without any price reduction. They even become skeptical, if the luxury good is immediately available without limit. Accordingly, the angler uses the natural attraction of known baits to attract a certain fish.
  • Personal advantage
    The personal advantage goes from monetary benefits, to personal acknowledgement, to sensual well-being. For creating the financial stimulus response, all it takes is a sign with one of the following hooks: SALES, UP TO 50% REDUCED or 3 FOR 2. For attracting personalities all it needs is a bouncer, who opens respectfully the door for selected people or forbids the entry to others. The bodily well-being uses our sensory channels to attract and retain us – an appealing illumination and coloring of the location, the pleasant, discreet background music, a high quality floor covering that lets you hover, a meaningful atmosphere that gives you enjoyable exhalation, to the small food samples, which act at the same time as a natural trigger. Even the fish seems hoping for fat prey.
  • Mental association space
    You can not look into the mind of the target group. However, due to behavior, language, and appearance, one can derive certain assumptions that can be incorporated into linguistic magnets that push the target audience in the desired direction. The assumptions can cast linguistic baits, which prepare the target audience for an offer. For example, your competitors know that services like ours have their price – a high price is not surprising. No one said we were cutting jobs. Jobs may be cut back. Next month our prices will rise. Benefit from the currently lower prices. We also offer televisions. There seems to be more. If everyone were able to join in, then … Someone does not seem to be able to. At the moment, I can not exclude that one or the other anglers talk to their prey with magical formulas.
  • Ease of use
    All those offers are enticing, which are usable without a lot of preparation. For this purpose a clear and simple usage, which is understandable for different characters, is just as important as the simple connection to the personal environment. If an Internet radio has obvious controls that have a unique function and is easy to integrate into the home network, then it’s appealing. For the fish, the bait becomes a temptation, because it does not escape and therefore is easy to catch.

Bottom line: The angler attracts the fish with a specific bait. Also in everyday life people have to be won over and over again for something. The required attraction can be generated through the use of natural triggers, the offer of personal benefits, the utilization of the mental association space, and the ease of use. The lure is oriented on the characteristics of the target group as in fishing. Since people call these marketing measures often luring, the bait is the ideal metaphor for an inducement – and as long as this attraction is used for ethically acceptable goals, nothing speaks against it.

Game rules – the ideal metaphor for the elements of Governance

All team sports have the playing field, the types of player, and the rules of the game in common. From the beginnings of football in China, 4000 years ago, rules are not passed on. However, it is believed that it was initially a training program for soldiers. From less than 1800 years ago, rules are known, which had to get control on the physical powers of the players’. Then, for over a thousand years, the game was forgotten in Europe. The restart in 1848 began immediately with the establishment of football rules, which are refined until today. They include a specific culture, the distribution of the playing field, general parameters and possibilities for sanctioning, as well as clear roles. The actual game is developing within this framework in thrilling variants – the same way as the business in the framework of the governance. This text also expands the purpose of the Governance!

The governance provides the following elements: the principles, the business alignment, various definitions and above all defined roles.

  • Principles
    In soccer the fair play, the compliance, as well as the aggressive and defensive strategies are common principles. In business they define the culture and the self-understanding of a company. They should answer the following questions: Where are we within 10 years? What are our characteristics? Where are we from? What is our history? Why do we exist? What’s our purpose? What makes us successful? What’s our USP? How do we see ourselves? What are our values and beliefs? What are the attributes of our products? The principles behave like cement that stabilizes the mortar in a way that it holds together.
  • Business alignment
    The teams agree on which half of the playing field is assigned to which team. The objective is to score a goal. Also in business the areas come to an agreement – endorsed by the leading team. The following aspects are important: What is the purpose of the unit? How do we exchange our ideas? How do we cooperate? Which roles (TAR) are available? How to find an agreement? The business alignment works like the mixture ratio of sand, lime and water that depend on the usage.
  • Glossary
    The different sports have comprehensive, special jargons, which one has to learn. The business also uses a special vocabulary. The glossary determines this terminology of the company. Therefore the following questions are important: Which terms are crucial for the cooperation? How do we get clear formulations? How do we guarantee completeness? When is a term described correctly? Also mortar consists of a set of terminology that describes the variants (e.g. masonry mortar, plaster mortar) as well as the components (e.g. sand, lime).
  • Critical success factors (CSF)
    The game is determined by factors that the coach wants to improve through intensive preparation, e.g. passes, goal accomplishment and other standard situations. In business the CSFs are the key figures of the success that are crucial for surviving and which improve the competitive ability. In the following areas the threatening aspects can be found: within the processes, in the market, at the customer side, within the applied technologies, within the information, within leadership etc. You also have to take care of certain CSFs, when you use mortar, e.g. the temperature or the mixing ratio.
  • Metrics
    In team competitions the scored points, i.e. goals or baskets, are the ultimate measure. The more comprehensive metrics in business provide generic metrics. Based on a Balanced Scorecard the growth, customer and financial perspectives as well the internal perspectives such as status of the life cycle, the processes, the quality and the governance are described. The relevant metrics are for example the individual mixings of the mortar.
  • Guidelines
    The rules of the game in football are globally valid and evolve continuously, as one can see in the video replay referee. The guidelines in the company are more extensive, cover all fundamental regulations and are reachable to all members of the unit. The older the enterprises, the more rules have been accumulated concerning organization, personnel, report system, laws, values, and the management of IT, risks and changes. The same way various use cases determine the composition of the mortar.
  • Roles
    Striker, goalkeeper, referee and linesman are an extract of the roles in soccer. In business, the roles provide a generic approach to individual job descriptions. They consist of tasks, authority and responsibility. Tasks are well defined, if the functions, goals, processes and available resources are clear. The authority regulates the powers concerning decision, control, information etc. The responsibility determines the qualities that should be fulfilled, like completeness, correctness or timeliness. There are also various roles when you use mortar: brick layer, master of concrete, foreman, etc.

Bottom line: Governance, with its principles, business alignment, general determinations and roles, provides a simple basis for the interaction of the different areas. Game rules, as in football, provide similar definitions like e.g. the marked out playing field and the roles of the different participants. For that reason, the game rule is an ideal metaphor for the components of governance.

The forest – the ideal metaphor for system complexity

The small grove in the city park can be easily surrounded. The woodland that stretches from Scandinavia to the farthest corner of Siberia, is a huge challenge. And yet, both form a whole consisting of the same, various components – trees, bushes, plants, mushrooms, game, birds, reptiles, snails, insects, spiders, worms, etc. Together they make up the forest, which we do not understand, if one separately looks at only one section – the oak, the hazel bush, the hares or the viper. The same effect is produced by all other systems, e.g. organizations, cultures, the World Wide Web, projects, sciences, and economies. For many, the look at a tree, a branch, a leaf or a sprout is more meaningful than the look at the forest. As a result, one can no longer see the forest for the trees.

The following aspects apply to the forest and all types of systems.

  • The edge of the forest – A system has boundaries
    The boundaries of large woodlands, such as the Black Forest, the Amazon Rainforest, or the Taiga, are more difficult to detect than those of small woods, e.g. the Bois du Bologne, the Tiergarten or the Yoyogi Park. The boundaries are fluid. With appropriate maps, the woodland is precisely ending. The same determination is needed by all systems. An economic area, such as the EU, requires clearly defined demarcation lines since it is not aligned to continents. In the middle of Europe is Switzerland. Melilla, an exclave of the EU, is located in North Africa. The definition of the edges of a forest or a system is the prerequisite for assigning responsibilities clearly.
  • Trees, bushes, plants, animals – A system consists of systems
    It would go beyond the scope of this article to itemize the components of a forest. The crucial aspect is that these elements represent systems on their own that together constitute the forest, but at the same time they have their complex, individual life. Whether the trees are social beings, which communicate with each other and have feelings, as a German forester imagines, may be a matter of believe. In any case, it has been shown that the flora and fauna together make up the forest. It loses its viability when the interaction is disturbed. The same applies to all types of systems. A society is kept together by individuals through their legal system, their art and science, who have similar convictions and gods. If disturbances occur in this fabric, it results in a clash of civilizations with the known consequences. For effective control of a system it is crucial to identify subsystems with their needs.
  • Nature – A system lives
    The fascination of a forest is the ability to autopoiesis. If an ecosystem, like a forest, is left to itself, its components arise out of nowhere. In the right climate and with sufficient water the plants and the creatures emerge. A good example is the Icelandic island of Surtsey, which arose in 1963 out of a series of volcanic eruptions. The newly created land was populated surprisingly fast by plants and eventually by birds. The whole thing works by the fact that everything on Earth is part of a large system called Gaia. The same applies to man-made objects. Take the World Wide Web as an example. It is still based on the concepts that were developed in 1989 – http(s), URLs, hyperlinks, email, etc. And it is still evolving – the WWW is living. People in charge of a system should always be aware that the system has its own dynamics, even without their constant influence.
  • The day, month, and year – A system has cycles
    The most important cycles of a forest are determined by the earth – the day, the month, the year, the life. The changes of day and night, the course of the sun and the seasons as well as the phases of life are firmly anchored in the behavior of the forest and its elements. Everything is set in order to gather the strength in summer that brings one across the deprivable winter. Knowing these cycles makes it possible to adapt to them. Everything grows out of nothing, goes through adolescence, is productive for a certain time, and somehow descends and disappears. The forest as a whole is accustomed to this. Everywhere is something in growth and on the way of passing away. The same applies to projects. They begin as an idea, become a complex whole and are resolved in the end. The consideration of the cycles of the overall system and its components is important for its control.
  • The jungle – A system tends to equilibrium
    If a forest is left to itself, it tends to a balanced state. The trees, bushes and plants become an impenetrable whole. Only the fact that there are disturbances in nature, such as thunderstorms, hurricanes, rivers that cross the shores, animals that eat the young sprouts of a tree, and, of course, man who mercilessly intervenes in the ecosystem, the forest comes into equilibrium, i.e. nothing happens anymore. The same applies to the sciences, which are constantly finding to new insights. Our Stone Age experience was different from the medieval or today’s. The consequences of quantum physics are not yet foreseeable. The crucial finding here is that disturbances are good because they keep the system alive.
  • The surrounding – A system continuously interacts with its environment
    As already mentioned, a forest is at least embedded in another system – Gaia. Looking at the forest independently of its environment, we lose an important engine for its further development. Just as the island of Surtsey was infected with life by the sea and the air, a forest is continually pressurized by its environment. This can be the cars that drive around it or the vehicles that discharge their emissions in the next city. Even the fauna invades the forests, like the wolves, which are now wandering through Europe without the insurmountable borders. The same applies to economies. An economy needs the energy from the outside in order to grow. If the money moves inside the system only from the right into the left pocket, wealth does not increase. It takes trade with the surrounding systems to generate a value from a product or service. If the costs are zero, as in the case of today’s digital services, and if sales happens outside of one’s own system, then the surplus grows immeasurably. Losers are those who produce nothing and are supplied from the outside. The interplay of one’s own system with other systems is critical to their prosperity.

Bottom line: The forest has an unimaginable diversity. At the same time, its elements are familiar to us. This makes the complexity of systems difficult to understand. A system has determined edges, consists of other subsystems, lives in cycles, strives for equilibrium and is in continuous interaction with its environment. Thus the forest is the ideal metaphor for system complexity.

The key – the ideal metaphor for a solution

A key without a lock is as useful as a lock without a key. In any case, these two objects serve to prevent entry of unauthorized persons. The key then becomes the symbol of the possibility to block or open access – whether the key belongs to somebody or not. Since only valuable things are locked away, the key is connected to get to a treasure. These can indeed be valuables, but also explanations, recipes or solutions.

The following features make the key the ideal metaphor for solutions.

  • Clear purpose
    The fact that a door or box is closed provides the indication that there is something valuable or interesting behind. The treasure that you get with the key is the real purpose. A solution also has a purpose. These can be economic objectives, improvements or a project.
  • Custom-fit design
    The simplest locks can be opened with the simplest keys. Since unauthorized persons gained access with the help of a picklock, the locks became increasingly complicated. For this reason, today different key types – pin tumbler lock, lever lock, tubular, or ceremonial keys. Solutions also work best when tailored to the target group and, above all, to the problem.
  • Precise implementation
    The understanding of the lock and its purpose is not enough to implement the mechanism. In order for the key to work, it must be precisely fine-grained. Only when all corners and edges correspond exactly to the lock, it opens. The same happens to a solution. For the desired effects the results have to be worked out neatly. You have to answer the right questions that fit the mindset and language of the target group, as well as the intended purpose.
  • Everyday use
    If the implementation and the material of the key are correct, the key will last long in the everyday application. The same applies to comprehensive solutions that have described well all aspects such as the intended application, the operation and the results.
  • Defined procedure
    Even the procedure is similar. To create a key, you first need a pattern, in the case of a solution it is the concrete situation that it is all about. Then one examines the whole and finds solutions, from which one chooses the most probable. Now the implementation is planned and installed. The key is now ready to work out the cuts and edges. In the solution the corresponding components – a business process, data model or responsibility matrix. What remain are then only the guidebook and the use of the new key.

Bottom line: The key opens doors and boxes, thus allowing access to certain results that lie behind the locks. The solution has the same function. Its purpose is to achieve certain results. This similarity makes the key to an ideal metaphor for a solution.

The River – the ideal metaphor for the business process

A water flow that evolves from the well to a creek, to a powerful stream has characteristics, which also constitute a business procedure. In its bed the water always flows from the mountain to the sea, where it evaporates to clouds and returns to the mountains, where the whole cycle begins again. At the same time, the river carries with its mass of water rocks and other sediments, supplies the surrounding cropland with water and nutrients and allows with a certain size the transportation of people and goods. Business processes also have certain characteristics of the river. This makes the river an ideal metaphor for the business process.

The following aspects illustrate some of these properties.

  • There is always a start and end point
    The sum of the wells defines the starting point of a river. The discovery of the sources of the Nile shows that it may take some time for finding the real origin. On the other hand, the wells are determined by agreeing on official starting points. Something similar happens at the estuary, when the river widely spreads out and pours into the sea with various large streams. Business processes also often have several start and end points, which must be agreed upon. It is crucial that nothing happens before the start and after the end. Otherwise, the scope of the process is wrong.
  • The natural flow finds its way
    In former times rivers meandered through the landscape. That way the courses of the river have always shifted and thus modeled large valleys. Nowadays they try to curb the river with dams in order to prevent flooding and changing river flows. Basically, all rivers flow from the mountains to the sea. This results in a natural route, which still constitutes the river. Business processes also follow the common sense of the people. For this reason, processes already exist, before they are designed and described. The decisive factor is that these natural conditions are considered in order to avoid unnecessary friction losses.
  • The descent maintains the flow
    Some rivers seem not to be moving. Others overcome great heights and develop a tremendous energy that carries everything away. The descent determines the speed of the flow and the forces that evolve. Nature formed waterfalls, which expose everything that is transported in the river to severe stress. Without a slope, the streams spread to vast water surfaces, where a completely different flora and fauna lives. Business processes also differ in their speed. The slope is determined by the degree of automation. As soon as a procedure is processed by a computer, speeds are reached which we can no longer track, e.g. when virtual stock exchanges buy and sell in milliseconds. The requirements for the process are crucial. Correspondingly, the processes are accelerated by computers or slowed down by human participation.
  • Against the current costs more than with the current
    All things flow in a stream without the need of additional energy in the direction of the sea – except perhaps for control. As a result, rivers became early on transportation routes. The incurring effort is then the average of the expenses required for getting downstream and back upstream. Sometimes swirls appear which must be overcome. Business processes also have a tendency to flow quickly from the start to the end. As soon as the affected people resist and move outside of the official procedures, they need considerably more effort. It is crucial to take care of the natural flow and to get from the start to the end with as little energy as possible.
  • The river transports something
    A natural river carries rocks, earth, trees, and dead bodies, just everything that is in it. Sometimes this result in the formation of barriers at certain places, which then forces the river to leave its existing bed and find a new path. People have learned to use the river and to transport a wide variety of goods. In order to make the most of this possibility and to ensure the six inches water under the keel, the rivers were straightened out and regularly dredged. The business process also transports something – mainly information. But also materials follow the flow. Designing processes corresponds to straightening waterways. IT programs and defined task sequences determine the process. It is crucial that at the right time, the right information and materials are there, where they are needed.

Bottom line: The intuitive understanding of a river can be well transferred to business processes. The well and the estuary determine the range of the river. The best way can be found through the force of the water, which is a result of the descend. Driving against the current requires a lot of energy, while floating with the current takes little effort. The immense amount of water that is flowing towards the sea without interruption, define the river productivity. Due to these characteristics, the river is the ideal metaphor for the business process.

Water – the ideal metaphor for data

Heraclitus created with Panta rhei (Greek: Everything flows) the bases for a new world view more than two and a half thousand years ago. You cannot step twice into the same stream. The simple insight that results is that everything is in permanent coming and going. It is at first sight always water that flows in the river – however always different one. The same happens with our current, virtual flows that are filled with data. That makes water to the ideal metaphor for data.

Let’s look at some characteristics of water and data.

  • Physical state
    Water can be found in three conditions: solid, liquid and gas. The melting point is the transition from solid to liquid and the boiling point between liquid and gas. Data takes shape the same way. As long as nothing can be expressed as zeros and ones, because they were not yet determined or expressed, there is nothing that can flow – like ice. Data reaches its melting point, as soon as someone expresses its thoughts in the form of language, pictures or sound, or after a sensor provided measured data. Now the data can flow – disseminated, exchanged or received. If the temperature rises further, then it reaches sometime the boiling point. The data becomes fuzzy – like steam. The sensors produce in this case an indefinite noise that cannot be captured in the virtual space.
    In order to receive useful data, it, as water, has to be converted into liquid condition. Either you have to heat it, so that it becomes visible – by measuring or questioning. Or you must cool it in order to consolidate it into to processible data.
  • Quality
    Let us limit ourselves to the simple distinction between pure, in the sense of potable, versus contaminated, in the sense of poisonous, water. We differentiate between objective and false data. In general we believe in pure data, if it originates from trusted sources. Obviously contaminated data is supplied by sources that are suspicious – research results, because they were created by a biased source; news, because they were published by a politically depended press.
    Unfortunately the quality is often based on an evaluation by third parties that is doubtful – if for example one press agency accuses another to be politically manipulated. On the other hand, contaminated data is used – even more than you can drink water that is poisoned to a certain degree.
  • Channels
    The water is continually running in a circular flow – water evaporates above the sea, rains down on the mountains, and produces creeks, rivers and streams, which sometimes flow over water falls back into the sea. The sea of data exists in the public and the protected virtual area. Clouds are formed in the world Wide Web with the Internet of Things that are collected in programs, are mixed up with new data in the processes, and are getting back through interfaces, like water falls, into the cyberspace.
    With Cloud computing, we are approaching more and more this state – even, if still many do not entrust their data to the cloud, due to strong concerns about the security. These internal dams offer no more protection on a long-term basis, since all data has to flow from time to time through the cyberspace.
  • Dangers
    An obvious danger comes from very strong contaminated water that poisons the users within shortest time. In the last years also the unimaginable power is shown to us by water floods, tsunamis, or dam failures after strong rainfalls. We quickly forget that no water represents a still worse threat – above all, if countries mutually cut water resources, as you can see at the distribution problems in the West Bank, at the dams of the Mekong in China or at the Aral Sea. The spreading of false information contaminates likewise the attitudes and insights of the audience. At the same time more and more data is flooded through the Internet. The attempt to sort this data leads on the one hand to filter bubbles that fade out a large part of the data. On the other hand the filters provide the possibility to manipulate the public opinion by subtly filtering critical contents, like for example the censorship of the embedded journalism. And eventually the lack of data results in dangerous misjudgments.

Different thinkers have taken care of the question “How real is the reality?” But nevertheless many people still argue with categories like “Right” and “Wrong”. The truth lies as always in the eye of the beholder. With the new conflagration of propaganda, we probably have to live with the fact that new terms, as “post factual” or „alternative facts” are trying to hide this dilemma. We should not forget that some people are not shy to sell good and bad data and unsuspecting people are consuming them without questioning – like water.

Bottom line: Data behaves obviously like water – there are similar physical states, qualities, channels and dangers. Data flows, data streams and data overloads can be controlled by particularly created riverbeds and dams as well as by filters. Thus, water is the ideal metaphor for data.