In the old Prussian infantry regiment No 6, the Potsdam giants served the King of Prussia. Named after the minimum length of six Prussian feet and extended by their particularly red miter, they formed an imposing formation. Those who never got to see the Long Fellows at that time were 20 cm shorter and could assume an average height of 1.67 m. In contrast, the Long Guys measured about 1.88 m. The normal size is determined by the environment in which the people are. Normality lies in the eye of the beholder.
Personal experiences and cultural, technical, economic, political, legal, or ecological patterns make the difference.
The cultural normality Shared values or lifestyles are the basis for group cohesion. For some people, fixed dates are insignificant (polychronic). Others value a binding time allocation (monochronic). Additional differences arise from language – high-context, when little is usually said because most are considered known; low-context when every detail is typically communicated. Other dimensions of normality are the actions in and interactions with the environment; whether the focus is on the group or the individual; the handling of space; the power structures; the mental models; the belief systems that are difficult to change.
The cultural circumstances determine the normal.
The technical normality In today’s VUCA world of developed countries, it is hard to imagine that everyday technical life on earth is very different. Take, for example, the Khoisan, the hunter-gatherers who have been hunting with bows and arrows and communicating with clicking sounds for 10,000 to 25,0000 years in southern Africa. At the same time, more and more people in industrialized countries are using electronic ‘prostheses’ that help them think and understand and execute spoken commands. Apps provide smart home applications, language translation, assisted driving, and navigation systems. Everyday technical life is mainly permeated by I.T., which ensures operations, accelerates product life cycles, and enables product innovations.
The available technical possibilities determine the normal.
The economic normality In early history, the economy consisted of bartering – exchanging hunted prey for crops for tools for clothing for kitchen tools for jewelry. Barter was replaced after the 7th-century B.C. by coins, since the 7th-century A.D. by bills, and since the 15th-century by cashless payment systems. In parallel, ever larger quantities were offered by craftsmen, then manufacturers, and eventually companies. With industrialization, the maximally differentiated division of labor passed its zenith. In the course of digitalization, mass-produced individual orders (Serial customization) become possible.
The prevailing economic system determines the normal.
The political normality Classifying a country as a democracy assumes comparable political conditions – e.g., in Germany, Sweden, and Spain. Already in the primitive Greek democracy, not all people were equal (more here). Let’s look at other countries, such as North Korea, Belarus, China, or even the USA and Brazil. The different living conditions become apparent – competition supervision, political stability, tax laws, trade barriers, security requirements, and subsidies. The current political system determines the normal.
The legal normality Legal understanding is closely linked to political normality, i.e., determined by national borders. Legislation, the treatment of minorities, consumer, antitrust, labor and employment protection laws, tax guidelines, competition regulations, and other legal influences, regulations, international and national standards, local ordinances, and mechanisms for monitoring and ensuring compliance vary from location to location. The law is different everywhere – except that people must comply with it.
The physical presence of people and equipment determine the normal
The ecological normality The natural environment depends on longitude, latitude, and altitude. In addition, the natural conditions are threatened by industrial damages. Whether or not it is man-made, even the last doubters must acknowledge that the climate data indicates a dramatic climate change. Weather extremes and a changing temperature threaten local livelihoods.
The overpowering nature determines the normal.
The Gaussian bell curve is the best-known expression for statistical normality. For example, properties such as age, intelligence, or population income are evaluated here. Life expectancy depends on the type of calculation, i.e., the average life expectancy of women at birth is 84; the most common age at death, however, is 90. The regular intelligence quotient is between 85 and 115. A typical income is between €15,000 and €100,000; the gross average income is in Germany €3,975 (women €3,578/men €4,146).
Statistical normality is determined by comprehensible figures – depending on the calculation method.
Bottom line: Long story short: There is no general normal. It is always a selected determination that can be decreed differently at any time. This explains the many alternative facts that cannot be avoided for the above reasons. Debates are inevitable. And dogmatic opinion-makers can take any point of view they want. Since we cannot prevent this, we need new ways of dealing with this relativity. We can start by no longer arguing about vague facts, figures, and dates. As soon as we ask several experts, we get a variety of consistent explanations. However, it is not a matter of agreeing on what is normal but instead finding a joint solution. A problem doesn’t go away by arguing about the relative normal, but only if the problem gets solved.
A metaphor effects through the mental links that the addressees add, especially if the images are coherently from one subject area, the so-called metaphor field. The most effective topic areas can be determined with the targeted audience through conversations, evaluations of publications, and the consideration of previous statements. The mental worlds found provide clues to real, emotional, and strategic interests. Many images are available through the thoughtful choice of subject areas to increase the impact on the targeted groups.
The following overview offers possible topic areas and some food for thought on the use of metaphor fields.
Societal Society is composed of various groups and actors that form communities spatially, economically, and culturally. You find the analogies in multiple roles (e.g., gender, socialization, relationship, professional, and cultural), social forms (e.g., family, horde, tribe, village, clan, and nation), the comparable phases (e.g., development, growth, consolidation, and decay), and other characteristics. In enterprises, social groups evolve in the biz functions or on hierarchical levels or across them based on subject areas and other commonalities (e.g., gender, age, and education). Social metaphors promote team building – e.g., the company as a family; the company’s entrepreneur; life’s not easy at the bottom.
The art of building provides commonalities along the life cycle of artifacts – designing, creating, constructing, and building buildings, cities, and landscapes. The results range from sketches, models, and shells to facades, interiors, facilities, plumbing, and networks. Different building shapes additionally stimulate the imagination: e.g., the tower; the bridge, the pillars; the palace, the castle, the country house. Architectural metaphors follow everyday experiences: e.g., all show and no substance; co-operations require bridgeheads; ideas stand on shaky pillars.
Physical Bodies are the material building blocks and functions of living things and artifacts: mammals with their limbs and organs, e.g., the heart, the brain, and the gut; things with their components, e.g., commodities or artistic objects, and the activities associated with them, such as chopping, storing. Popular images of people are, for example, he lacks backbone; putting their heart into their efforts; the gut decision. Things like the bucket, the sieve, the knife, etc., provide mental links through their functionality – e.g., the nervous system for IT networking, arm length for the scope, the dull knife for lack of effectiveness.
Technical The constructed, man-made world of tools, machines, and computers represents a mechanistic worldview. In recent decades, technology has been the guiding metaphor for organizations: division of labor, the interaction of the parts of the organization, and the targeted performance improvements. Typical analogies are input and output; the gear train; the tanker with its huge turning radius; the speedboats with their agility; the interfaces between different systems; networking; the catalyst as an impetus for change. The human being becomes the small cog of the organization; the helicopter provides the overview; the three-legged stool stands for TAR of a role (i.e., task, authority, and responsibility).
Economic With its value-creating processes and responsible parties, the economy consists of meaningful images: money, investment, economy types, markets, suppliers, buyers, and intermediaries. In the enterprise, as in the economy, supply and demand as well as the Invisible Hand apply with all the associated mechanisms, e.g., in pricing or self-regulation for a fair distribution of services. The development becomes insightful through general values: e.g., the winner gets it all stands for the win-lose; everyone is in the same boat for the dependence on each other; the tide lifts all boats equally for the uniform effects of economic fluctuations.
In all disciplines, science provides insights and regularities for our understanding of the world. Scientific theories include explanatory models, experiments, and values. To get as close to the truth as possible, science strives for objectivity, clarity, comprehensibility, and openness. Metaphors can be derived from this: e.g., the laboratory as a safe testing field; the research project for fruitless investigations; the bee colony for groups; the selfish gene as an image for the self-life of information (memes).
Ecological Our natural environment with its phenomena offers analogies for the increasingly organic themes. It starts with the different spheres of sea, land, air, or space. Natural catastrophes such as tsunamis, avalanches, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, meteorite impacts, black holes, etc., occur there. The vastness of the sea or the infinite expanse of space can be applied to biz situations. Besides, natural processes provide meaningful images – the caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly; the organic growth of cells; the cycle of becoming and passing.
The art of war is a particular form of occupation with corresponding analogies for biz: organizational forms, equipment, and machinery, and approaches to action. The structure of military formations derives from their preferred locations: naval, land, and air forces (and now in space), as well as from the chain of command, communication, and escalation ways: roles (e.g., general and soldier; adversary and allies), procedures (e.g., reconnaissance, situation briefing; strategy). The approaches to action provide strategic, tactical, and operational perspectives (e.g., situation plan; scenarios; troop movements). Typical metaphors include victories or defeats; the decisive battle; war as a continuation of politics by other means; the fight to the bitter end; the battle is lost, but not the war.
Bottom line: Metaphors transfer properties and characteristics from a subject area into a biz topic. Due to the analogies and scope of an association, the target group members enrich the issue. To develop this imagery coherently, the subject areas of the metaphors should be chosen carefully. Approaches arise on the one hand from the worlds of the target groups’ experience. On the other hand, the metaphor fields should be rich in images so that different aspects can be used. In this way, a comprehensive imagery language is created over time, which enriches the biz task. For example, a technical target group has a particular penchant for technical metaphors: e.g., the moon landings with almost half a million contributors, the difficulties to be solved (Houston – we have a problem), or the required vision or mission. The smart choice of the metaphor field and the stringent reuse encourage the common striving towards the goal. We do not forget a good metaphor.